Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 1

KeskusteluClub Read 2023

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Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 1

tammikuu 1, 9:02 pm

Hello, hello, and welcome to my 2023 reading thread! I tend not to do anything especially fancy with these introductions, and I don't see any reason to break with that tradition this year, either. I don't have any special reading goals -- even fewer than usual, in fact, as I'm not even doing the ROOT challenge this year -- or any particular themes, or anything. I'm just planning on reading my usual eclectic mish-mash, and hoping to maybe get books off my TBR shelves faster than I put books onto them, for once. Because they really are very, very, very full now.

That's it. That's all I've got. I'll be back when I've finished my first book of the year. Until then, Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!

tammikuu 1, 10:08 pm

Happy New Year to you too, Betty. I enjoy your eclectic mish-mash, and look forward to following along again this year.

tammikuu 1, 10:20 pm

>2 labfs39: Thanks! Looking forward to more eclectic mish-mash, and to any responses you may have. :)

tammikuu 1, 11:12 pm

Star is dropped! Have a great reading year :)

tammikuu 2, 1:36 am

Happy 2023! I'm looking to following your reading again this year.

tammikuu 2, 6:56 am

I've dropped a star too. I may have to occasionally drop in and confess a binge book haul to someone I know will understand...

tammikuu 2, 10:09 am

Fanciness not required, I'll be around!

tammikuu 2, 10:26 am

Happy New Year, look forward to following your threads in 2023.

tammikuu 2, 11:08 am

Hello to all of you, and thanks for stopping on by!

Happy New Year, everyone!

>6 Jackie_K: Oh, boy do I understand. Far, far too well. I was sort of debating maybe also logging my book acquisitions here this year, as well as my reads, but I really don't think I can face it. :)

tammikuu 2, 11:45 am

Happy New Year! Eclectic mishmash is good :-D

tammikuu 2, 3:03 pm

Had to come by and push the ⭐ button. Looking forward to your TBR journey!

tammikuu 2, 3:48 pm

>10 FlorenceArt:, >11 avidmom: *waves happily at you* Welcome!

tammikuu 2, 4:42 pm

Happy new year, Betty! Another year, another chance for SETI.

tammikuu 3, 9:54 am

Happy New Year Betty. Wish you a good mish-mash.

tammikuu 3, 12:53 pm

>13 LolaWalser: Happy New Year! And that's a nice thought. I'm fed up enough with humans, really. Some aliens would make a really nice change. :)

>14 dchaikin: Thanks! Happy New Year to you!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 8:18 am

All righty, on with the new year's reading!

1. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

A novel about a deeply dysfunctional family, centering on various family members' relationships with Victor, who was a criminal, philanderer, abuser, and all-around terrible person, and who currently lies unconscious, waiting to die.

I think my experience of this one was marred by too-high expectations, something that, ironically, was the product of going into the previous Jami Attenberg novel I read with too-low expectations. That one was All Grown Up, and it looked like a very chicklitty sort of novel (which is very much not my thing) about the sort of person I'd likely have no interest in or connection with, but to my great surprise, I loved it. The writing was excellent, the characters felt very real, and it ended up being quite emotionally affecting.

So, naturally, I was expecting a similar experience from this one, which instead was just sort of... not bad? I do like the way Attenberg can casually and chaotically jump around from POV to POV, a practice that normally irritates me, and make it actually work for the story in a way that, for the most part, feels meaningful and right. But while the characters were at least somewhat interesting, they lacked that feeling of realness, and in return I lacked a strong feeling of investment in any of them.

So, it was all just a little bit disappointing, even if I do still think Attenberg is a good writer and am still interested in reading more of her stuff.

Rating: 3.5/5

tammikuu 4, 4:06 am

Hi there and a happy new year! Just dropped a star to follow your reading again this year. I hope I'll be better at posting, though.
I can relate to what you said about going into a book with certain experiences. For me they can sometimes actually influence my rating of a book, both if the book exceeds my expectations and if it falls short.

tammikuu 4, 6:11 am

>16 bragan: The touchstone for All Grown Up goes to another book and the reason I know this is that this my first BB for 2023. Yay!

tammikuu 4, 1:01 pm

>17 OscarWilde87: Yeah, I've found that it can make a big difference, and it seems to me extremely possible that I would have been a lot more satisfied with this particular book if I didn't somehow expect it to be as surprisingly great as the previous one. But, of course, that may be hugely unfair. After all, how can something be surprisingly great if you're expecting it to be great?

>18 rhian_of_oz: First book of the year, and already the touchstones are giving me trouble! Thanks, I'll fix it right now.

Also, it's nice to know, I suppose, that the book bullets are already flying! I do recommend All Grown Up, for sure.

tammikuu 6, 12:39 am

After all, how can something be _surprisingly_ great if you're expecting it to be great?

:) Such a conundrum

Hope you’re next book works better.

tammikuu 6, 2:04 am

>20 dchaikin: The answer, probably, is never to expect things, but that may be just a tad bit difficult. :)

tammikuu 6, 9:03 am

Happy New Year, Betty. I haven't read Attenberg yet but maybe in 2023. I hope this year is a good one for you.

tammikuu 6, 2:12 pm

>22 BLBera: Thanks, and I wish you very much the same! All Grown Up seems like a better place to start with Attenberg than this one, so I recommend that one.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 12, 6:22 pm

Took me a while to get through the second book of the year, but then, there was a lot of it:

2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

A fantasy novel set in a world with both European-style fire-breathing dragons, and Asian-style dragons that have an affinity with water. The fire-breathers are a terrible force for destruction. The water dragons are on the side of humanity against them, but try telling that to the kingdoms full of people for whom it's a religious tenet that all dragons are just plain evil. Some reconciliation is going to have to happen, though, as the most terrible of all the fire-breathers is about to rise from a thousand-year captivity and lay waste to everyone unless they can come together to deal with it.

This one didn't completely knock my socks off or anything, and there are doubtless a whole bunch of plot things I could critique if I felt moved to do so. But never mind all that. Because here's what it did do: it kept my attention and my interest more or less consistently for a full 800 pages. Which is really extremely rare. In my experience, most books that long probably really shouldn't be anywhere near that long and almost inevitably drag in the middle or wear out their welcome by the end. It's really nice to see one that doesn't. It's also kind of nice to see one that so thoroughly showcases so many varied female characters in such a matter-of-fact way.

Rating: 4/5

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 8:53 am

3. The Who Revealed by Matt Kent

My introduction to The Who came in the 9th grade, when an extremely cool English teacher had us spend a surprising chunk of the school year doing a deep dive into the rock opera Tommy. The idea, of course, was to engage kids in learning how to analyze and think deeply about works of fiction by using something they already liked and cared about: rock music. It was very successful. In my case, though, it worked entirely backwards. Nerdy, uncool me already knew how to think deeply about works of fiction. What that class did for me was to teach me how to appreciate rock and roll, and I carry a love for The Who in my heart to this day. So I couldn't really resist this coffee table history of the band when I came across it cheap.

Now, I never really expect all that much from this sort of thing. You don't need much for it to work. You collect a bunch of cool pictures, throw together a not super in-depth overview of the band's history, grab some quotes and interview snippets, maybe include a small interesting story or two, indulge in a little nostalgia about their discography, and you're done. It doesn't have to be deathless prose or anything.

Honestly, it's a pretty low bar. And yet, I fear this one doesn't manage to clear it. There are lots of pictures, but not one of them comes with a caption. Which, OK, is often not really needed, but it would be nice to have a little context for at least some of them. There's no quotes or interviews and very little commentary. And when it comes to the actual history of the band and the many interesting and often disturbing stories to be told about them, well, those things are not so much "revealed" as "vaguely alluded to."

Oh, well, at least I got it cheap.

Rating: 2/5

tammikuu 13, 6:37 am

>24 bragan: I love this premise for a book! And while I am trying to reduce the number of books I have, I see that my library has it, so I have added it to my wishlist there - that doesn't count as Mt TBR, right?

tammikuu 13, 7:18 am

>25 bragan: someone edited our unrevealed? Anyway your review has me thinking about the album Tommy (#190 on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums, 2020 version. 🙂)

tammikuu 13, 8:57 am

>26 wandering_star: Nope, the wishlist is totally different from the TBR and doesn't count at all! *firm nod*

>27 dchaikin: Thanks to that English teacher, I have spent way too much time thinking about Tommy, but I regret none of it.

tammikuu 13, 5:45 pm

>25 bragan: The Who deserve better than that

tammikuu 13, 6:49 pm

>29 baswood: They do! It's really making me just want to read an actually good non-coffee table-book biography of the band. I wonder if there's one out there?

tammikuu 13, 9:30 pm

>25 bragan: Loved your cool English-teacher story. Bummer about the book. There has got to be better out there.

tammikuu 13, 10:06 pm

>31 avidmom: Best English teacher I ever had. I hope he realized just how good at his job he was and how much of an effect he had. Frankly, I'm amazed the school let him take the unconventional approach he did, but I really hope they kept letting him do it.

... OK, I just looked the guy up, for the first time in thirty-seven years, and discovered the school has a memorial award in his name given to "a senior who has made outstanding achievement in Literature." Guess they did appreciate the guy. That is awesome to know. More than enough to offset the minor disappointment of the bad book.

tammikuu 15, 3:19 pm

4. Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker

A collection of short stories, all of which qualify as some sort of speculative fiction, but often in odd or hard-to-define ways. it's a bit difficult to review this one, because my responses to the stories vary so much. The best of them are terrific, with the absolute standout of the collection being "The Court Magician," which takes a familiar fantasy trope and handles it in a way that feels so fresh and so effective that I actually find myself completely forgetting that I've ever seen it used before at all. Other stories are decent enough, but make much less of an impact. At least a couple show great promise, but end in ways I found unsatisfying, as if the author weren't entirely sure where to go with them. And a few are trying to engage in social commentary in ways that just end up feeling clunky and rather dull.

But here's the thing about this collection. It feels to me very much like Pinsker is absolutely fearless about trying any kind of idea, or format, or writing style. (A story told in the form of comments on an internet forum devoted to analyzing the lyrics of folk ballads? Sure, why not!) Some of it pays off wonderfully and some of it falls a bit flat, but I think I do love that she's willing to try all of it.

Rating: I'm going to call this one 3.5/5, because it probably works as some kind of weighted average of my evaluation of each story, but I'm not entirely sure that tells you very much.

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

tammikuu 15, 6:20 pm

>33 bragan: I just found "The Court Magician" online and read it - I agree with you, it is excellent.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 15, 7:28 pm

>34 wandering_star: I'd actually encountered that one before, in podcast form, was massively impressed by it then, and still was on second reading.

tammikuu 15, 8:37 pm

>32 bragan: What a great story about your English teacher! That is so cool. :)

tammikuu 15, 9:56 pm

>32 bragan: Oh! This makes me so happy. I love it when teachers embrace what kids care about to make learning exciting and less onerous. I'm glad there's a scholarship in his honor - sounds like he deserves it.

tammikuu 15, 11:20 pm

>36 avidmom: Yeah, it was nice to think about that class again. Although I do remember it surprisingly often.

>37 nancyewhite: Not a scholarship, just a small prize, but that's plenty cool enough. Just the thought that they remember his name makes he happy.

tammikuu 16, 9:39 am

A good teacher in HS is really golden. I'm still in touch with one of mine, a sculpture teacher who was just there for my senior year but really helped ground me and has remained a friend in the 40 years since. We talk twice every year on each other's birthdays, minimum. I'm glad your good teacher got that recognition.

tammikuu 16, 4:19 pm

>39 lisapeet: It really is a wonderful thing, and I think it's all the more significant in this case because that wasn't actually a very good school overall.

I haven't remained in touch with any of my teachers, but there certainly are ones, like this one, that I still think about a lot. Mind you, there are also some terrible ones that I think about a lot, too. It's an influence that can really stick with you, for good or ill.

tammikuu 21, 3:18 am

5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Sam and Sadie have known each other since they were twelve, and are probably the most important people in each other's lives even if they do repeatedly stop talking to each other for long periods of time. When they are speaking, they make video games together, including some fantastically successful ones.

I found the video game aspects of this novel far and away the most interesting thing about it. The kinds of game ideas the characters have, the way they approach the creative process of game development, the way they tend to think of the world around them in game terms... all of that is pretty interesting to me, even if some of the philosophical commentary stuff about games and society is kind of shallow.

But the main focus here is on the two main characters and their complicated relationship, and that just never quite worked for me the way it should have. I feel more like I'm just sort of told about the bond between these people and the love they have for each other without really experiencing it, while being shown the negative stuff -- the crappy things they do to each other, the stupid misunderstandings and uncharitable assumptions and lifelong lack of good communication -- in much more detail. I also feel like the author was trying very hard to make these characters feel flawed, interesting, and sympathetic, and, well, they are clearly deeply flawed but I never found them more than mildly interesting, and as for sympathetic... They, are, I suppose, but mostly in that way where, with real people, you have to keep telling yourself, "they've been through a lot, and you need to cut them some slack" until you've guilted yourself into not being annoyed with them. Since they're not actually real people, though, I don't think I have to feel guilty and am allowed to just feel annoyed. Which I do. I'm sorry, but the truth is they're just kind of annoying people.

Rating: a somewhat grumpy 3/5

tammikuu 21, 7:11 am

>41 bragan: That's interesting - I've heard nothing but rave reviews about this book, but I know what I'm like with fiction so haven't picked it up. Having a less rave review is really useful.

tammikuu 21, 7:43 am

>41 bragan: oh good, I feel validated! All of my "real life" reading friends thought this was a five star book and I was not impressed. I agree that there was something about the author's tone that really didn't work - when you said "I feel more like I'm just sort of told about the bond between these people and the love they have for each other without really experiencing it" I nodded along.

tammikuu 21, 8:07 am

>42 Jackie_K: It does seem to be super-popular, which I think raised my expectations in unhelpful ways and has just left me feeling more annoyed with it than I otherwise might be.

>43 japaul22: Yeah. It's not terrible or anything. There were things I liked about it, and the writing was decent. And yet, I feel like something important at the heart of it just did not quite work. And I think that may be it.

What's especially funny to me is that I read Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and felt like that was the sort of thing I shouldn't like -- main character with attitudes that usually annoy me, saccharine-sounding premise -- but I really enjoyed it. This one felt like it should in theory be more up my alley, and yet... eh.

Anyway, nice to know I'm not the only one who doesn't inexplicably think this one's the bees knees.

tammikuu 21, 10:07 am

>41 bragan: The video game aspects are what put the book on my to-read list, so I'm glad those were interesting. I'm a couple of hundred people back on the holds list, so hopefully by the time it comes to me the hype will have died down a bit.

Since they're not actually real people, though, I don't think I have to feel guilty and am allowed to just feel annoyed.

Ha! I love this :)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 3:42 pm

>41 bragan: >44 bragan: I was also decidedly meh about this book, and felt that it was quite overhyped. I thought the cover was amazing, and the premise sounded like it would be right up my alley, but it just didn’t land at all. I'm glad to see that other people had similar experiences to me, since it really seems like everybody was singing the books praises.

tammikuu 21, 10:02 pm

>45 rabbitprincess: I feel like they could have been a lot more interesting, honestly, but I was pretty easy to satisfy on that front, if not on others. So at least I had that.

>46 shadrach_anki: Yeah, the cover was so great! And clearly very much inspired by the text, too, so kudos to the designer, but I really do wish the story had lived up to it better. I don't understand where the hype for this one is coming from at all.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 23, 9:44 pm

6. Did You Just Eat That?: Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and other Food Myths in the Lab by Paul Dawson & Brian Sheldon

Despite the subtitle, this really isn't a book about testing food myths. It's about a series of small experiments the authors did with their students, mostly aimed at testing how much potential there is to transfer bacteria (and to a lesser extent, viruses) to food by doing all the different kinds of things you might expect to contaminate food, including dropping it on the floor and double-dipping your chips into it.

It's kind of an odd little book. All the experiments are presented basically as if they were being written up for scientific publications, complete with all the numbers and statistics and careful little details, but all the material between them takes this sort of very determinedly breezy tone, explains biology basics for the complete layman, and features lots of drawings of little cartoon germs. The cartoons are kind of cute, and I always do appreciate having the methodology of experiments spelled out when they're being explained to me (even though I do admit to skimming those bits after a while, as they got very repetitive), but I have to say that the combination of the two things was a bit weird, as if the authors were very unsure just who their audience was supposed to be (or maybe differed with the publisher about it?).

As for their conclusions, well, they pretty much all boil down to: the world is swarming with micro-organisms and they will get onto your food, your hands, and pretty much anywhere else given the slightest chance, and basically anything whatsoever that you imagine might give them the chance will. Halfway through the book, I was fighting the urge to go find a sterile bubble to live in and to figure out a way to never have to touch food again. By the end, I was struggling not to just give up and think, "Well, it's almost impossible to avoid this stuff and I've very seldom gotten really sick from it, so maybe I should just stop struggling and accept the inevitable germiness of my dinner." Which is certainly not the message the authors intend to convey. I do like the analogy they use about eating food that's fallen onto the floor: that it's like using a seat belt in the car. The seat belt doesn't matter if you're not in an accident, and eating the food off the floor doesn't matter if the floor didn't have anything dangerous on it, but since you never actually know whether you're going to get rear-ended, or whether there's e. coli hanging out on your kitchen tiles, maybe you should just do the safer thing, anyway. They also include some food safety tips at the end of the book -- beyond just "maybe don't eat off the floor" -- which I think are pretty standard, and which I was mostly following anyway, but which are probably useful to review.

Rating: 3.5/5

tammikuu 23, 1:03 pm

>48 bragan: I’m thinking of the Seinfeld germs episode. Anyway, I think I’ll both take your advice and not change any of my current hygiene choices, and, finally, try really hard not to think about this too much while eating.

tammikuu 23, 2:35 pm

>48 bragan:, >49 dchaikin:

I'm thinking of that Northern Exposure episode where the woman imagines her date as a giant microbe.

Some things just don't bear thinking about!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 5:08 pm

>41 bragan: Thanks for that review. I'm still waiting for a copy to come available at the library, but not with great excitement.

>48 bragan: I'm reminded of a family joke, "Does the five second rule apply to soup? Would you like some soup?" For some reason we all find this hilarious.

tammikuu 23, 8:49 pm

>49 dchaikin: They actually reference Seinfeld multiple times.

Anyway, yeah, I say just wash your hands, cook your meat to the right temperature, don't eat perishable stuff that's been sitting out all day, and don't touch your veggies with stuff that's touched your raw meat, and you're probably doing OK. Thinking about it too much otherwise might just make you crazy.

>50 LolaWalser: I just keep thinking of "Germs" by Weird Al Yankovic. :)

>51 RidgewayGirl: It's possible you might like it better than I did. Statistically speaking, it's even likely.

And I think every family has at least one wonderfully dumb joke like that. :)

tammikuu 23, 9:04 pm

There was a study reported last week finding that the place that's the most likely to be cross-contaminated in the average kitchen is the spice rack. People apparently don't think to wash their hands between handling raw meat and grabbing the spice bottles.

tammikuu 23, 9:43 pm

>53 KeithChaffee: I was going to worry there for a second, and then I remembered that I do, in fact, think twice between handling raw meat and touching anything. :)

tammikuu 23, 9:57 pm

>53 KeithChaffee: I love that little factoid.

tammikuu 24, 11:25 pm

This is when it feels extra good to be a vegetarian.

tammikuu 25, 9:51 am

>56 lisapeet: You probably have a less germy spice rack than a lot of people! :)

tammikuu 25, 10:30 am

7. Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman

A collection of fourteen little stories, most of which contain some surreal or fantastical element. Death is a recurring theme, as are bad/loveless relationships and characters with less than zero emotional intelligence.

The best of these were, in their own deeply strange ways, good enough that they left me sort of sitting there going "wow" afterward. But even the ones that didn't seem, to my rational brain, as if they should be particularly effective stories were still somehow weirdly compelling, and the combined result made for a decidedly memorable reading experience. I don't think this one is for everybody, but if "dark and strange and affecting in ways you don't necessarily even always understand" is your jam, this one will probably be your jam.

Rating: 4.5/5

tammikuu 25, 4:50 pm

>58 bragan: No idea whether I would like this, but this is a very intriguing review.

tammikuu 25, 5:32 pm

>59 FlorenceArt: They are very intriguing stories!

tammikuu 28, 12:29 pm

8. Head On by John Scalzi

The sequel to John Scalzi's science fiction mystery novel, Lock In. These books are set in a near-future world where an epidemic has left millions of people with lock in syndrome: fully conscious and mentally functional, but unable to move their bodies or physically speak. Fortunately, neural net technology allows these folks to remote-operate robot bodies and virtual avatars, allowing them to participate fully in life, even if they aren't always treated with complete equality.

This installment features a new sport, in which the opposing team has to rip a designated player's robot head off their robot body and use it as a ball to score goals. Which sounds sort of barbaric, but, of course, nobody actually gets hurt... until a player dies in the middle of a game. It seems like it may just be a random, ill-timed heart attack, but if so, why are so many people acting so suspicious about it?

I've come to realize something about my reaction to Scalzi's writing: I always enjoy his books okay, but somehow never anywhere near as much as I feel like I should. I think it's that his writing, while certainly readable enough, just never quite rises to the same level as his ideas. And this one isn't an exception. I do like the world-building he does in this universe, especially the thought he puts into the social and societal aspects of it. And the mystery story, while not 100% satisfying in all its aspects -- it does wrap up a lot of things a little too quickly at the end, for instance -- was interesting enough, and deserves some credit for keeping my attention pretty well even though it centers on sports, a topic that tends to make my eyes glaze over rapidly. But overall... Well, yeah, it was reasonably entertaining, but ultimately left me feeling just a bit like something that should have been there to make it really entertaining was missing.

Rating: 3.5/5

tammikuu 28, 1:33 pm

>58 bragan: So much my jam. Onto the wishlist!

tammikuu 28, 2:41 pm

>62 nancyewhite: Excellent! If and when you get to it, I hope you like it as much as I did.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 29, 12:05 am

>41 bragan: i agree. I was really disappointed in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Being an IT person, I thought I’d enjoy it. Also the idea of alternate universes, uand life being a computer game are topics that interest me.

It’s not hard to believe we are all pawns in some higher-being/s game. Avoiding hardships, getting random rewards, dodging bullets, etc etc.

But this novel doesn’t do Justice to the ideas behind it, and the characters are really annoying and unlikeable. It’s like it was written by teenagers 1/5

tammikuu 29, 2:10 am

>61 bragan: I only read Old Man’s War by Scalzi, and the story was OK. But the writing… I hope he got at least a bit better with time. As you say, it’s not outright bad but.

tammikuu 29, 11:07 am

>64 kjuliff: There are a lot of interesting possibilities in looking at life through the lens of video games, or using video games as a metaphor for life, and so on and so forth. But, yeah, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow really only just barely scratches the surface of that. Which would be fine if it were satisfying in other ways...

>65 FlorenceArt: I haven't read that series yet. I have several of the books on my TBR but just keep not getting around to them. I've never noticed his writing changing or improving much through any of the other books of his that I have read, though. There's never anything actually objectionable about it (aside from a bit of clunky exposition in this one for the benefit of people who missed the first book), but it's always just kind of feels like it's doing the bare minimum that it has to do to make things work.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 2, 12:14 am

>66 bragan: I think it was the thinly drawn characters in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow that turned me off. Cam you recommend any other novels seen through the lens of a video game? The idea of life being represented that way fascinates me.

tammikuu 29, 3:21 pm

>58 bragan: I loved the Sherman collection. I hear he has a three volume set of his stories that he has been selling. We talked to him at ReaderCon years ago (in the Burlington, MA the convention is in Quincy)

tammikuu 29, 4:59 pm

>68 avaland: If he has more, I may have to look for them! I knew Shearman from his work on Doctor Who, but I had no idea he'd even published any short stories until I found that one in my SantaThing stocking. Nice job, Santa!

tammikuu 29, 5:33 pm

>69 bragan: Yes, nice job Santa! I read this years ago and remember really liking it.

>61 bragan: I know what you mean about Scalzi. Maybe something to do with what a prolific writer he is? It's quite a thing just to be able to come up with so many ideas, but a shame that the writing doesn't live up to it.

tammikuu 29, 6:09 pm

>70 wandering_star: Maybe he just wants to get the ideas out there so fast he doesn't take his time with the writing? My guess he's just a lot more talented at the idea side than the writing side, but since he's able to do an adequate enough job with the writing, that's enough to make him successful with a science fiction audience.

helmikuu 1, 10:39 am

>24 bragan: I agree! This book being so varied perspective-wise really helped me move through it. There were definitely some character perspectives that seemed more interesting than others at times, but it never felt like pushing through.
Some of the lore in the book was also just so fascinating -- the orange tree (and the Mulberry Tree, the Hawthorn tree) of course, the water dragons, and Kalyba's story.

The book cover is also just so gorgeous.

helmikuu 1, 11:25 am

>72 liz4444: Yes to all that, I'd say! I don't think I'd mind reading more in that universe, honestly.

helmikuu 1, 11:32 pm

We must have talked about this before, Betty, but I don't remember the answer--did you ever get around to listening to Shearman's audio Doctor Who adventures? I was raving about The chimes of midnight and Scherzo to so many people!

helmikuu 1, 11:44 pm

>74 LolaWalser: I hadn't thought I'd heard any of his BFA stuff, but talking to someone else about the book recently, I was reminded that he did write those two, and that I did hear both of those about a millions years ago, during the brief period when I was kinda-sorta keeping up with the 8th Doctor ones. I don't remember them very well, but I do remember liking them.

helmikuu 10, 12:39 am

This one sat on my TBR shelves for far too long, and then seemed to take forever for me to finish, but it was worth both the wait and the time I spent on it. Even if I was the last interested person in the world to actually read it.

9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Throughout most of the 20th century, there was a massive ongoing migration within the United States, as millions of Black people left the South for points north and west. Isabel Wilkerson talks a little bit about this migration from a historical perspective, and about the ways in which it shifted the demographics of the US. But mostly she tells it through the detailed life stories of three people who lived it. There is Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper from Mississippi who left for Chicago with her husband and small children in 1937 after a relative was brutally beaten by their white employer and his friends for a crime he didn't actually commit. There is George Swanson Starling, who was stuck picking fruit in Florida after being unable to complete his college education, and who was forced to flee to New York in 1945 after his labor-organizing activities drew potentially murderous attention. And there is Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a doctor who married the daughter of a prominent, wealthy university president but who chafed constantly under the second-class citizenship he was relegated to in Louisiana no matter what his accomplishments might be and left to seek a new life in California in 1953.

I will admit, for a little while, I found the way that Wilkerson switches back and forth between these three stories, each with its own separate timeline, a little confusing, requiring a bit of effort to keep them all straight. But eventually all three stories came to very distinct life in my mind. They're told in great depth and detail, and with great respect for and understanding of their subjects, and they serve very well as illustrative examples of a large-scale social shift at the same time as they feel specific, individual, personal, and unique.

And they are eye-opening narratives. As a white person who was born in the north just as this migration was finally ending, well, it's easy to think that you have at least a good intellectual understanding of just how bad things were in the Jim Crow south (and, for that matter, how bad they were even in the north, in a much less systematized way). But not only does reading these accounts bring it home with much more immediacy, it also kept constantly making me realize that there were so many ways, large and small, in which things were even worse than I'd thought or imagined. It all gets rather harrowing in places, and frequently threatens to make me just despair of humanity, but Wilkinson's admiration for the strength and resilience of the people she's writing about does at least help to offset that some.

Rating: Taken as a whole, this is an impressive and important enough work that I feel I have to go with a 4.5/5.

helmikuu 10, 8:49 am

>76 bragan: I will admit, for a little while, I found the way that Wilkerson switches back and forth between these three stories, each with its own separate timeline, a little confusing
This switching around between stories has become a thing now. At first I found it interesting but now I’m starting to to find it annoying. I have to read Audiobooks and it can be really confusing because it’s difficult to flip back a few pages to stay oriented.

helmikuu 10, 11:46 am

>77 kjuliff: It really is a thing. And every single work of "narrative nonfiction" seems like it feels compelled by law to tell us the most exciting part first and then skip back to the beginning, which drives me crazy. But that's a whole other pet peeve-y rant, really.

helmikuu 10, 11:54 am

10. The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe

This is a sequel to the children's classic, Bunnicula, the story of the vampire bunny who drains vegetables of their juice, which I somehow only read very, very late in life. Actually, it's the third book in the series, something I didn't realize until I was about to start it. Apparently by not reading the second one, I missed the introduction of a new puppy to the cast of household pets. But never mind! I still enjoyed this. It's cute and amusing, full of silly animal hijinks and puns about vegetables, one of those kids' books, like the original Bunnicula, that I'm sure I would have enjoyed as a kid and which still manages to bring a smile to my face now.

I will, however, repeat the PSA I felt compelled to offer when reviewing the first book: No matter what the canine narrator of this story might think, PLEASE DO NOT FEED YOUR DOG CHOCOLATE. Thank you.

Rating: 4/5

helmikuu 10, 11:54 am

>78 bragan: it’s like a bug turning into a feature in a computer program. Perhaps the first writer who used this,wrote chapter one and decided more background was needed so put that in chapter two, and liked the effect.

helmikuu 10, 11:06 pm

In a tv show, starting at the middle, exciting part and then doing a "3 days earlier" sort of jump means they couldn't find a way to make the episode interesting in a linear fashion, that there was no "hook". I imagine it's the same in a book.

helmikuu 10, 11:42 pm

>81 ursula: Ha! I’m less cynical than you on this. I assumed it was a literary conceit. Interesting though, with TV series they usually need text stating “x days earlier”. But with novels we are just meant to work it out and usually it’s enjoyable fun.

But I remember when reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (?) where the MC dies several times in different places and different situations, getting very confused. It was only when I decided to read reviews that I worked out that Ursula dying everywhere from the birth canal to a shrubbery or wherever, was part of the novel and not cause for concern over my brain malfunctioning.

helmikuu 11, 1:21 am

>81 ursula: I've absolutely noticed that about TV shows, and I completely agree, it's almost always a sure sign of a story that wouldn't have been interesting enough to hold anyone's attention if they weren't busy asking "wait, how did we get here?"

>82 kjuliff: Interestingly, boring TV episodes aside, I don't necessarily have a problem with non-linear storytelling in fiction. I think most fiction writers who do that sort of thing are at least trying to do something legitimately interesting with it, and I've read enough science fiction to be very practiced at making sense of weirdness and staying patient until until it all comes together in my mind, so novels like Life After Life don't really throw me.

It's the way it's used in non-fiction that drives me crazy. It genuinely feels like no one trusts me to have enough of an attention span to deal with starting at the actual beginning. Nope, better pull out the most exciting bit up front, even though we have no context for it at that point, and leave it on a cliffhanger... and then when we get to the actual part of the narrative where that story fits, more likely than not it just gets all awkward and we completely lose momentum as the author has to stop and allude backward to stuff they already covered instead of telling it properly, making it all actually much less exciting that it would have been if I'd just encountered it in its proper place in the narrative.

(The Warmth of Other Suns actually does this only in a very minimal and non-sensationalized kind of way, I feel compelled to add, since it was my remarks on that one that brought the subject up. It's mostly just a quiet glimpse of some people getting onto trains. But, wow, have I read some things where it was done in the most annoying and gimmicky ways.)

helmikuu 13, 10:38 pm

11. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang

I enjoyed Weike Wang's previous novel, Chemistry, and this one has a lot of similarities to it: it centers on a Chinese-American woman with an unusual (and in Joan's case, almost certainly non-neurotypical) perspective as she deals with her family and career choices, and is written in a similar pared-down style that's more about what's going on in the character's head than anything else.

I have to say, though, this one just didn't capture me the way Chemistry did, I think because I found the nerdy chemistry student of the previous novel much easier to connect to than the protagonist of this one, a doctor for whom work is life and life is work. I did find I got a bit more into it towards the end, as Joan says some fairly interesting and insightful things about family and the experience of being a woman and the child of immigrants, and so on. But I also felt that it began to strike me as more like the author talking to me than the character. Not in a terrible, clunky way, but it did leave me wondering if I might just rather have read an essay by the author on her own experiences, instead. There is a basic concept that I approve of here, the assertion that Joan is okay doing what she wants to do and doesn't need to fulfill other people's expectations of what she should be. But the execution of that was, well... it was okay. But not quite what I was hoping for.

It's also not quite what I was expecting, as the novel is set at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, and I thought, when I picked it up, that it was going to be a novel about the difficulties of working in the medical field during covid. Turns out, the pandemic and Joan's experiences in it really only get kind of glossed over in the last twenty pages or so. Which may be just as well. The last time I thought I was ready to read a book about covid, I turned out not to be, and I wasn't 100% sure I was ready for it now.

Rating: a possibly slightly generous 3.5/5

helmikuu 13, 10:56 pm

>84 bragan: I liked this one a lot more than you did, but I agree in not being ready to read about the pandemic yet. I liked that the book ended just as covid took off. We know what she's going to be facing, but also know that she has more of a support system behind her than when the book began.

helmikuu 13, 11:52 pm

>85 RidgewayGirl: Yeah, it's not what I expected, but despite being a little bit lukewarm about some of it, I think I'm just as happy it ended where it did, at least more or less.

helmikuu 14, 7:54 am

re: Shearman...

After Tiny Deaths there was 2009's love songs for the shy and cynical and 2011's everyone's just so so special (he has has the titles in lower case :-) Both of the latter books are published by Big Finish Productions in the UK. Amazon seems to have a paper copy of Love Songs...I've not checked ebooks... (hmm, his birthday was 4 days ago, now 53)

helmikuu 14, 7:58 am

Kobo has an ebook of love songs; so Kindle likely will too.

helmikuu 14, 8:08 am

>87 avaland:, >87 avaland: Thanks for the info! I'd definitely be interested in those. Amazon's not showing the paper version of love songs as available at the moment, it looks like, so even though I'm not big on ebooks, that might be my only bet if I want to check them out.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 14, 8:40 am

(over-exuberance deleted)

helmikuu 14, 7:27 pm

>90 avaland: LOL! But I love some over-exuberance. :)

helmikuu 16, 1:01 pm

12. The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D'Anieri

I was all prepared to be disappointed by this book when I started reading it and realized that it was not so much a biography of the Appalachian Trail as if it were a person, as I'd assumed, but more a series of very short biographies of people who played important roles in the trail's history. Were these even interesting people? Did I really want to read a bunch of stuff about who belonged to what organization that made this or that decision about the trail? Was this not, as I'd hoped, a book for the general reader (meaning me, as someone who has set foot on only a very tiny portion of the trail itself, but who has a general interest in nature and National Parks and so on), but rather one mainly for those who have a very specific interest in the topic and all its boring-to-everyone-else details?

Fortunately, I was quickly reassured by the answers to these questions. The people were, for the most part, fairly interesting, as is the way the story of the trail is told through them. Most interestingly, the author uses all of this as a way to pose a variety of complex and important questions, ones that have very much shaped the history of the trail itself (and no doubt that of a lot of other places, too). Is taking to the woods a mere recreational activity, or does it have a more spiritual component in the way it connects us to nature? Is an activity like hiking the trail best when it's a challenge for the dedicated, or when it's accessible to all? How do you balance opening up wild places to people with keeping them wild? I'm not sure there are any good and solid answers to some of these questions, but that probably just makes them more, rather than less, worth thinking about.

There's also a very nice chapter at the end where the author abandons the biographical conceit and talks about the landscape of the trail itself and his own experiences with and thoughts on hiking it.

And now I really want to get out into the woods again, dammit. It's been a while.

Rating: 4/5

helmikuu 16, 1:07 pm

>92 bragan: Hmm, that looks interesting and has been plopped onto the wishlist.

helmikuu 16, 3:04 pm

>92 bragan: wow. That actually sounds really interesting to me. Nice review

>76 bragan: nice review and glad you enjoyed one of favorite books

>77 kjuliff: I listened to The Warmth of Other Suns and thought it was fantastic on audio. I didn’t find it confusing. As for the cut up narrative, Wilkerson makes good use of this. It allows her to visit the same story from slightly different perspectives, and I found that effective.

helmikuu 16, 3:36 pm

>93 qebo: It's fairly short, which I think also works in its favor in terms of not getting boring to me.

>94 dchaikin: I really don't want to exaggerate how confusing I found the narrative structure, either. I think my brain just wasn't very good at switching back and forth towards the beginning. I think the fact that two of the narratives featured people called George also sometimes tripped me up a bit, and I had to keep reminding myself that they belonged to different stories. I do think the choice to relate those three stories in depth as a window into the subject matter was a really good one.

helmikuu 16, 6:41 pm

>95 bragan: of course, it’s a good choice if you can pull it off. She really did. 🙂

helmikuu 19, 11:49 pm

13. Pastoralia by George Saunders

A collection of one novella -- the title story, which features a guy whose job is pretending to be a caveman in some kind of supposedly educational themed attraction and his less-than-enthusiastic work partner -- and five shorter pieces. All of them feature ordinary (or, honestly, pretty pathetic) working people with difficult (or, honestly, pretty pathetic) lives, all of them have that wonderfully off-kilter quality Saunders excels at so thoroughly, and all of them sit right at some kind of weird intersection between the hilarious and the deeply sad, although some tilt more strongly in one direction or the other.

It's great stuff. The only one that didn't completely grab me was "Winky," which starts, I think, much more strongly than it ends. But, really, even Saunders' not-quite-on-target stuff is better than a lot of folks' best efforts.

Rating: 4.5/5

helmikuu 22, 5:35 pm

>97 bragan: George Saunders is my new literary hero and I have to admit to having a literary crush on him.

helmikuu 22, 9:59 pm

>98 kjuliff: He does seem very literarily crush-worthy!

helmikuu 23, 4:45 am

>97 bragan: I’ve been hearing about this author for a while and thinking I should give him a try. One more nudge in that direction ;-)

helmikuu 23, 6:31 am

helmikuu 23, 12:34 pm

>100 FlorenceArt: Nudge, nudge! :)

maaliskuu 3, 3:45 pm

14. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang

This novel is set in an alternate version of 1830s England, in which the main difference from our world is the existence of a very particular kind of magic, one that involves silver-working and translation. Essentially, two "equivalent" words in different languages are engraved onto a bar of silver, and everything that is lost in translation between them -- all the connotations and associations and alternate meanings -- are what determines the bar's magical effects.

The story focuses on a young man with the adopted name of Robin Swift, who was born in Canton, where he grew up speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, and (thanks to a very conveniently provided nanny) English. When his mother dies, he is whisked off to England, where he is groomed for Oxford and a life of putting his language skills to work as a magical translator.

A chapter or two into this book, and I was expecting it to be something I would utterly love, something that I could just completely sink into and disappear. The main character and his situation were interesting, the world was interesting, the magic system (which I was still slowly learning about) was really fascinating and original, and the writing was smooth and pulled me right along. But that expectation didn't quite pan out, even though those things pretty much continued to be true, as it ended up not feeling like the kind of book you can "just sink into" at all. It's a book that, instead, wants you to think very hard about the points that it's making and their application to the real world.

Mostly, it's a commentary -- I might even go so far as to call it a polemic -- about the evils of colonialism and the necessity of fighting against them. As such, it actually works very well. Certainly, it's very well thought-out, and the silver-working magic, which requires the kind of bone-deep knowledge of a language most often found in native speakers, serves as a great mechanism to bring together characters from various parts of the world, to give them their own reasons for first accepting and then rejecting the roles they're expected to play for British Empire, and to perhaps find themselves in a position to actually affect the course of history. It also uses the fantasy conceit as a very stark way of highlighting how exploitative these colonial systems are. Basically, while nothing in the novel's message is exactly subtle, none of it feels like it's imposed on the narrative rather than coming out of the characters being who they are in the world that they're in. And Kuang at least doesn't shy away from the disturbing moral complexities of the title's question about "the necessity of violence." So in the end, it feels like something quite a bit meatier, and considerably less annoying, than an author simply lecturing from a soapbox at her readers.

So I did find it worthwhile, and while it wasn't exactly a zippy read, it did a decent job of keeping my attention through most of its 500+ pages. I may have found myself flagging a bit towards the end, but then it finished very strong, and I was pretty well glued to it for the last few chapters.

Rating: I could debate with myself about this more, but I think I'm just going to give it a 4/5 and call it good.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 6, 5:37 am

>103 bragan: Sounds good! Might look into it....

maaliskuu 4, 9:00 pm

>103 bragan: Excellent review! I felt the same about it although I came at it from the position of not being a reader of fantasy novels at all.

maaliskuu 5, 10:14 am

>104 avaland: It's at least worth a look, I think.

>105 RidgewayGirl: I think one of the interesting things about it is that it really only adds one fantasy element to a world that is otherwise very much like the historical one. But it's one really cool fantasy element, and one that works brilliantly with the history.

maaliskuu 7, 7:54 pm

>103 bragan: That's such a fascinating and different premise, I'd probably take a chance on it even with caveats.

maaliskuu 8, 11:12 am

>107 lisapeet: It's such a great premise, isn't it? And, despite a few caveats, it does do some interesting stuff with it.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 9, 9:44 pm

15. Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

An account of once and future Doctor Who/showrunner Russell T. Davies' work on the show from the 2007 Christmas special through the end of Season 5 of the new series. It's told in the form of a long-running, casual email exchange between Davies and writer Benjamin Cook, in which Davies answers Cook's questions about his job and his writing process, sends him drafts of the scripts he's currently working on, and generally offers up thoughts and reflections, as well as more than a few emotional outbursts about how stressed he is trying to get things finished.

I actually picked up my copy of this book in 2008, when it was first published, but for some reason I just kept never getting around to reading it. With Davies' return to the show, though, now seemed very much like the time for it.

I'll admit, at first I wasn't at all sure just how glad I was to finally be reading the thing. It seemed like this might be a deeper dive into Russell Davies' mind than I actually wanted. It's disconcertingly horny in there, for one thing, and he's prone to be a bit... wallow-y. Although, in fairness, he was kind of asked to be, and he's at least quite self-aware about it. And it didn't help, I'm sure, that the early parts of the book are mostly about his work on the script for "Voyage of the Damned,' which... well, let's face it, that's not really anybody's favorite episode, is it?

I did come to appreciate it at lot more as things went on, though. I always find it interesting to get a glimpse into a writer's thought process, and Davies does have some interesting and occasionally even insightful things to say about that process, and about working in television, specifically. It was also very interesting to get this much of a look into the nitty-gritty details of how a television script evolves from its first conception in the writer's brain through the actual filmed product that appears on our screens. I knew sort of intellectually how vulnerable the effective telling of any TV story is to the harsh realities of run time, and actor availability, and production schedules, and FX budgets, but seeing it unfolding in front of me here honestly leaves me boggling a little at the fact that any TV episode actually works and holds together and makes sense at all after it's been through all of that. Not that that's ever going to stop me nitpicking the ones that don't, mind you.

So, anyway. I am glad I finally got to it, after all. Although, boy, has it just made all my mixed feelings about RTD's return even more mixed. The depictions of how he finishes every script at or after the very last minute (whether or not he's had any sleep or, say, contracted chicken pox) may actually explain a few things about his stories, but it doesn't inspire huge amounts of confidence. And, on the one hand, this book prompted me to remember just how much I loved "Partners in Crime" and how entertaining Davies' particular brand of silliness can be when it comes off well. On the other hand, ye gods, "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End" were more of a ridiculous mess than I even remembered them being, and reading about them just gives me a front row seat to what I still regard as probably the most infuriatingly bad storytelling decision in the history of television. But don't worry, I'll spare you my rant on that subject. And, hey, who knows? Maybe he'll finally fix it, leaving me blissfully free to send all my nerd rage elsewhere. I can hope, right?

Rating: 4/5

maaliskuu 11, 5:26 pm

>109 bragan: We are all just waiting for the next show to be aired.

maaliskuu 11, 9:03 pm

maaliskuu 12, 12:55 am

>110 baswood: Was that a general philosophical statement or a comment on Doctor Who? For some reason I have never gotten round to following it.

maaliskuu 12, 4:17 am

>112 FlorenceArt: I think a lot of us have grown up with Doctor Who. I am not sure what a new viewer would make of it. I believe I have never missed an episode. T. S. Eliot might have measured his life in coffee spoons, I measure mine in episodes of Doctor Who.

maaliskuu 12, 11:48 am

>112 FlorenceArt: We're in a bit of a hiatus at the moment, awaiting the next episodes (or specials, or whatever) towards the end of the year.

Although I'm finally going to have to subscribe to Disney+ to see it here in the US, since it's not on BBC America anymore.

>113 baswood: There are much, much worse things to measure your life by!

The show does pick up new viewers all the time, and they generally seem less confused than you might expect them to be. (Less confused than I was leaping in with PBS repeats of Tom Baker episodes sometime in the 80s, probably.) That being said, I doubt now is the very best time to jump in, but it may be a great time to go back and start watching earlier Doctors.

maaliskuu 12, 1:34 pm

>103 bragan: glad you liked it, I also rated it the same. The questions that it asks about how change is made, how do you get people involved in change, what needs to happen in order for them to join. and in the end, is violence ever necessary?

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 1:41 pm

>106 bragan: yeah that fantasy element would have the power to change so many lives if it was used for that. and not for power over them

Oh and the sections dealing with language and how its used My background is teaching language to special needs kids and everything she talks about were totally on the nose. Also loved the footnotes tho they distracted me by looking them up, but they do add a lot to the story

maaliskuu 12, 5:39 pm

>116 cindydavid4: I've always had a really strong amateur interest in language and linguistics, so that element was particularly fascinating to me, too, and I also thought it was really well done.

maaliskuu 12, 8:39 pm

>109 bragan:

I heard good things about this, especially for the writing angle. Buut--unconnected (or not very connected), I'm not looking forward to Davies' comeback. I rate him less now, and Moffat more. Davies can't imagine women who are truly independent (i.e. don't need men) nor write them outside that needing-men agenda. This was driven home to me when I finally saw Davies' Queer as folk and Cucumber series--granted they are largely about men, but the women are terrible. I'll take Moffat's dominatrix fetish over that.

In addition, Davies made the Doctor commit genocide, and also turned him into floaty-Jesus Doctor... while Moffat brought Missy and Bill and did everything to normalize gender change in the series.

maaliskuu 12, 9:47 pm

>118 LolaWalser: I'll be honest, I'd more or less managed to talk myself into a cautious optimism by reminding myself of all the things Davies did that I did like -- starting with bringing the series back in the first place, which certainly earns him a lot of points with me! -- but reading this now did unfortunately remind me of a whole bunch of things about his stuff that I didn't like. And some of the ways in which he's weird about writing women do come through in the book, I think. (For instance: You can't go wrong with a comedy mother, he says at one point. Which, um, I think maybe you did a bit actually, Russell. Sorry.) So I may be back to feeling more trepidatious again now.

I always rated Moffat a lot higher in general, anyway. If only just because, well, they've both written quite a few things that can best be described as great big messes. But Davies' messes tend to be full of stuff that's ridiculous in a not-exactly-good way, and usually end up with me rolling my eyes at some point, even if there are specific elements I'm enjoying. Whereas Moffat's messes tend to be hugely entertaining things that leave me at the end genuinely not caring if they actually made any sense or not, because they were so much weird, wonderful fun. All of which, of course, is entirely down to personal taste, but my personal taste is mine and I'm standing by it.

Mind you, a lot of what Chibnall did annoyed me more than most of what Davies did. There are certainly things I give him credit for, and he was strong in certain areas where Davies was weak (including writing women), but I'm not a fan of his writing, on the whole. So maybe Davies will at least look a bit better to me by comparison. It's also quite possible his writing has changed and matured some over the intervening years. I haven't actually seen any of his post-Who stuff, but I have generally heard positive things about it. We can only hope...

maaliskuu 13, 12:38 am

>119 bragan:

Heh, sorry, didn't mean to bring you trepidation! I'm sure Davies Who v.Two will be popular and generally fine, he's too much of a pro to fail. It's more of a "me" problem than "he", if you see what I mean. Also time has passed and I'm becoming more bitter with age. :) I can't believe I ever found Rose and Nine romantic (I did!), now I'm just... ugh... she's such a CHILD. She LOOKS like a child!

And it amuses and amazes me that I've come to give props to Moffat, although there's the one awful thing I'll never forgive him that's not even Who, it's his version of Irene Adler (I had a mini-explosion after that aired, somewhere on LT I think). I almost "wrote to the editor"! (I asked a friend advice about writing him a letter. She said "darling lie down and count to five hundred thousand... ten times.")

I accept I'm in a minority of people who truly enjoyed Chibnall's era. Not every story was a hit (looking at you, Ranskor av WTF), but for me almost every one was! I loved the low pressure friendly relations, but also loved that Jaz fell for the Doctor, I loved the adventures, how genuinely new the monsters and the worlds felt (but the Daleks were also awesome), the greater sci-fi-ishness of it all, somehow... etc.

That said, clearly the new Doctor is another important "first" and he also seems like a super nice dude who won't have any trouble winning affection. But the sexy young blonde companion feels like a step back. At least it will be interesting to see how Davies will make her not-Rose, if he can.

maaliskuu 13, 11:06 am

>120 LolaWalser: Oh, the trepidation was already there, but then, it always kind of is at such times of change. :) Just a bit more than usual this time, and that's a "me" problem, too. For one thing, I never found Rose and Nine romantic. At all. Indeed, RTD's attempts to do "romantic" are one of the things I never cared for in his stuff.

I have to admit here, I laughed a bit at your reaction to Irene Adler, although I'm certainly not going to say that you're wrong about it! Sherlock had its good points as well as its very bad ones, but that was a very weird thing to do with one of the best characters from the original canon. To say the least.

As mentioned, I did like some things about Chibnall. I liked his decision to cast Jodie Whitaker, who I also liked, and I very much liked the way he handled having a female Doctor. I liked all the the companion characters he created, and I really liked the way he handled their departures (something both RTD and Moffat were, IMO, terrible at). I liked the way he made a point of having stories set in places that were not either England or outer space, and his commitment to increasing diversity both behind and in front of the cameras. The show also probably looked better during his stint than it ever has. And I completely loved "The Power of the Doctor," so at least he went out on a high note.

But, ye gods, does his writing annoy me on a plot and storytelling level, far, far too often, and frequently in ways that make it harder to enjoy the rest of it. And I am definitely one of the people who absolutely loathed the changes he made to the Doctor's backstory, although that, also, is for reasons that are very much my own personal ones.

Ah, well. One of the great things about Doctor Who is that it keeps changing, so that if you wait a while, you'll get something that you love, and in the meanwhile it will be someone else's turn.

And whatever I may or may not be nervous about, I am very much looking forward to seeing Ncuti Gatwa in the part, although I am super confused now as to exactly how and when he's going to show up!

maaliskuu 13, 11:16 am

16. Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith

Book number 17 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In this one, Fanwell accidentally acquires a dog, Mr. Polopetsi gets involved in a shady business scheme, and the ladies help a Canadian woman who spent her childhood in Botswana and has returned looking for people she once knew and places she half-remembers.

As usual, this is just pure, warm, comfort reading, perfect for when you're having a stressful day. It is also one of the installments where I'm genuinely curious to see how the investigation comes out, although, of course, that's not really about the plot, any more than anything else in this series is.

Seventeen books in, and I'm still amazed that I've never gotten tired of these, but I'm certainly not complaining!

Rating: 4/5

maaliskuu 13, 5:04 pm

>122 bragan: I'm glad to see you're still enjoying this series. I'm not as far in as you, I think I've read the first 5, or maybe 6, but I agree with you totally about it being pure comfort reading. It's the kind of thing that I should hate (not least, black African women written by white British guy), but it's just so undemanding. There's very little else that I can think of that can transport me so effortlessly in a couple of hours and just make me feel like maybe the world isn't *quite* so awful.

maaliskuu 13, 5:19 pm

>123 Jackie_K: I know, there are so many things about it that should put me off, too, and yet, every time, it's just like being wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket and given a nice cup of tea by someone I like. And it really does make you sort of feel better about the world afterward.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 13, 5:44 pm

>119 bragan: Moffat's messes tend to be hugely entertaining things that leave me at the end genuinely not caring if they actually made any sense or not, because they were so much weird, wonderful fun.

You've nailed exactly how I felt about Moffat stories. Back when I was a more frequent Who watcher, one of my friends who also watches Doctor Who would text me after watching the show, nitpicking at all the inconsistencies, and I would be mildly peeved because I didn't care, I'd had fun watching it! (Me, in my head: "It's a show about TIME TRAVEL! Asking it to make sense is a bit much, IMO")

I am woefully behind on the Whittaker Doctor; I stopped after the first episode of Season 13 because it had Weeping Angels in it. (I am TERRIFIED of Weeping Angels, and now all statues by extension. Thanks, Moffat.) One of my favourite parts of her era was Segun Akinola's arrangement of the theme tune. It gives me chills in a way that only the original theme has been able to do.

maaliskuu 13, 6:30 pm

>125 rabbitprincess: Nitpicking can be its own kind of entertainment, I suppose, but I definitely like it best when either the objections don't occur to me until days later, or they do while I'm watching and I just 100% do not care. Which is how Doctor Who should be, of course. It's fine if it's silly and doesn't make sense, but it needs to be silly and not make sense in exactly the ways that work for me. :)

maaliskuu 13, 10:44 pm

17. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book by Iona & Peter Opie

A collection of children's rhymes, first collected in England in 1946, including things like taunts and insults, riddles, skipping rhymes, and mocking verses about schoolwork. Most of them probably aren't exactly the sort of thing you'd find in Mother Goose.

The rhymes themselves are mildly interesting, sometimes vaguely amusing, and often (from the perspective of a 21st century American) entertainingly quaint-feeling in their language. There are a few brief notes on a number of them in the back -- something I wish I'd realized while I was reading through them -- but not enough to make this feel more like a work of scholarship than a collection of amusements.

It would all be diverting for a few minutes and then pretty quickly forgettable, I think, except that this edition, from 1992, also includes some delightfully offbeat (indeed, sometimes charmingly grotesque) illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

Rating: 3.5/5, but it really is worth a look just for the illustrations.

maaliskuu 14, 2:21 am

Oh, is "I Saw Esau" a rhyme? I thought it was pronounced as three syllables. It is in French.

maaliskuu 14, 2:33 am

>128 FlorenceArt: I've always heard it pronounced like "E-saw," more or less.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 14, 2:46 am

>129 bragan: That’s the problem with learning English from books!

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 14, 4:52 am

oh, what a nice book for my collection. Love kids rhymes!

maaliskuu 14, 12:21 pm

>130 FlorenceArt: I'm a native speaker of English, but I learned enough vocabulary from books that for at least the first couple of decades of my life, I had that same problem with plenty of words. :)

>131 cindydavid4: If an entertainingly illustrated book of decades-old children's rhymes is something that you immediately want to own, it is definitely a book for you!

maaliskuu 14, 5:26 pm

>128 FlorenceArt: "I saw Esau, sitting on a seesaw" :)

maaliskuu 14, 5:36 pm

>132 bragan: 'Misled' is the one that didn't click for me till well into my 30s! I'm sure there are others as well, but that's the one that blew my mind when I realised the pronunciation!

maaliskuu 14, 5:49 pm

>133 Jackie_K: Oh, nice!

maaliskuu 14, 6:18 pm

>134 Jackie_K: My biggest problem was there there were so many words where I was putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. (Or, you know, emPHAsis on the wrong sylABle. :))

maaliskuu 14, 7:42 pm

>132 bragan: yes! its a few decades younger than I usually collect but it sounds wonderful with Sandak drawings. Ill look aroung for it, thanks

maaliskuu 14, 9:10 pm

>137 cindydavid4: Even though it's a few decades old, I think it shouldn't be too difficult to find. At least, it wasn't for me, when I went looking for it after a friend mentioned it to me.

maaliskuu 15, 1:20 am

>127 bragan:

I've given that book as a present several times. Funnily enough, only because it was easy to find (I don't like Sendak). If you like that sort of thing, the Opies have a number of other books collecting children's rhymes (from which Esau was mostly sourced), children's games, songs etc.

maaliskuu 15, 1:25 am

>138 bragan: no I didnt explain well.The books I collect are from 1880-1929 the 'golden age of illustration" I don't usually collect ones that are later than that. But Im interested in this, so I more than likely get a copy easily. Thanks for letting me know!

maaliskuu 15, 2:32 am

>139 LolaWalser: Given that I thought the illustrations were the best thing about this one, I doubt I'll seek them out, although I do think the topic is kind of interesting.

>140 cindydavid4: No, you made perfect sense! I've just had people express interest in books I reviewed from the latter half of the 20th century that I picked up at a library sale or something, only for them to turn out to be out of print and unavailable, at least at reasonable prices. So I thought I'd mention that this one isn't! Which, now that I look at it, does look like I was confused about your comment. Never mind! The important point is: want book, can get book. :)

maaliskuu 15, 8:37 am

>141 bragan: and when I looked for a first edition, the cover was orange; one of my least fav colors. Sometimes that makes a difference. So I got the edition with the Maurice Sendak on the cover

maaliskuu 15, 8:49 am

>121 bragan: But, ye gods, does his writing annoy me on a plot and storytelling level, far, far too often, and frequently in ways that make it harder to enjoy the rest of it.

That was always my main issue with Chibnall, as well. He's great at character work; his weak spot in writing is plotting. Which is a problem when you're head writer on a monster/mystery of the week show.

Ah, well. One of the great things about Doctor Who is that it keeps changing, so that if you wait a while, you'll get something that you love, and in the meanwhile it will be someone else's turn.

That's one of the things I love best about Doctor Who. It's also the main reason I'm annoyed about the return of RTD and Tennant. Even if I'd loved every moment of RTD's entire run without exception, I would still think this is the wrong move for this show. I have my issues with RTD's first run, but more importantly, Doctor Who runs on change. That's what makes it special.

>125 rabbitprincess: I am woefully behind on the Whittaker Doctor; I stopped after the first episode of Season 13 because it had Weeping Angels in it.

I'm woefully behind, as well, though not because of the Weeping Angels. (Scary though they definitely are!) I finished season 13 and the specials up to the beginning of Flux, which I never started. I've been angry at the show since Spy Fall, but the momentum of the active season kept me going. Once the momentum wore off during the hiatus, it was difficult to go back.

maaliskuu 15, 1:43 pm

>143 Julie_in_the_Library: his weak spot in writing is plotting. Which is a problem when you're head writer on a monster/mystery of the week show.

Yep. Although, you know, you can actually get away with a lot when it comes to Doctor Who plots. Any reasonable viewer is going to go in prepared to suspend disbelief for a whole lot of stuff. But, in my perception, at least, the problem with Chibnall's writing too often isn't that it has plot holes or silliness or whatever. It's that the stories are the wrong shape, if that makes any sense. Like, he'll set up something interesting, and then just seem to run out of steam, or time, or imagination, or something, and it finish with some limp variant on "and then the Doctor pushes the Defeat Bad Guy button or something, the end." Which is something, honestly, that you can also sometimes get away with in DW if you finesse it right, but Chibnall doesn't really seem to have the skill.

What's funny, in a sad way, is that I would never have said that the plots are the most interesting or important thing to me about Who. But get them wrong in that particular kind of way, apparently, and it bothers me enough to outweigh a lot of good stuff. Unfortunately.

Even if I'd loved every moment of RTD's entire run without exception, I would still think this is the wrong move for this show. I have my issues with RTD's first run, but more importantly, Doctor Who runs on change. That's what makes it special.

It's a very fair point. I've been clinging a bit to the thought that the RTD we're getting now may not be quite the same as the RTD we had then, with another 15 years of experience under his belt and another 15 years worth of the show to build on.

I finished season 13 and the specials up to the beginning of Flux, which I never started.

I will say that I, personally, liked the Flux season more than I expected to, although low expectations undoubtedly helped, and it is definitely some kind of mess. And if you watch none of the rest of Whittaker's run, I do highly recommend watching "The Power of the Doctor." It was so good, it almost made me angry. Why couldn't you have been doing that the whole time, Chibnall, damn it!

(Well, I recommend it if what bothered you about "Spyfall" wasn't Sacha Dhawan's character, because he plays a big part in it. There, I phrased that without "Spyfall" spoilers, even!)

maaliskuu 17, 12:16 am

18. Upgrade by Blake Crouch

It's the not-too-distant future, and things aren't going terribly well. The effects of global warming would be bad enough, but there was also this little incident in which a geneticist attempting to introduce disease resistance to rice accidentally created a massive famine instead, a disaster the world still hasn't quite recovered from. That geneticist's son now works for a government agency tasked with hunting down illegal gene-modifying research -- which is to say, all of it. Or, he does until he's deliberately exposed to something that causes his own genome to change, increasing both his mental and physical abilities immensely.

This novel more or less follows in the same tradition as Blake Crouch's earlier sci-fi thrillers, Dark Matter and Recursion. Again, we have a story that's sort of based in real scientific ideas, but takes them to ridiculous, impossible places. And we have writing that's very far from great prose, but that still does do its job by drawing you quickly along. Ultimately, though, while I still found this one a bit more entertaining than it probably should have been, I didn't find it nearly as much so as the previous ones. Those managed to suck me into the fast-paced insanity pretty thoroughly by the end, but the action sequences that mark the climax of this one just didn't really do all that much for me.

I will give it points, though, for centering it all around a question that really struck a chord with me. If the world is going to hell in ways that leave us thinking "if only people were less stupid" -- which I frequently do -- well, what if you could change that? What if you could make people less stupid? Would you? Would it actually help? There's not exactly a lot of deep philosophical exploration of these questions here, but it does at least touch on them in ways I found interesting.

Rating: 3/5

maaliskuu 19, 8:06 pm

Could you make people less stupid? - absolutely impossible. I am getting even more stupid as I get older.

maaliskuu 20, 5:04 pm

Particularly since there's non-intelligent stupidity and intelligent stupidity - some of the smartest people I know are regularly stupid in certain ways (forgetting obvious things, social interactions, etc). So increasing someone's intelligence would not necessarily decrease their stupidity (two different axes). And I don't think there's a genetic basis for the kind of stupidity I'm thinking about.

maaliskuu 20, 7:15 pm

>146 baswood: Human stupidity may be the one indestructible thing in the universe, really. Even long after we're gone, our stupidity may remain behind us. :)

>147 jjmcgaffey: The upgrade in the novel, among other things, gave people better memories and a better ability to pick up on even the smallest social cues, and so on. Which... Yeah, I didn't even try to suspend my disbelief on the idea that you could do all of that by re-writing someone's genome.

It did at least engage with the thought that making someone smarter, in all of those possible ways, still doesn't necessarily make them better people with better ideas. So that's something, anyway.

maaliskuu 20, 7:39 pm

19. What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

For those who have read the first What If? volume, you'll know exactly what to expect from this one, because it's more of the delightful same. For those who haven't, well, the subtitle says it all, really. People send Randall Munroe, of xkcd fame, absurd questions, and he gives real, yet funny, scientific answers, complete with all the reasoning behind them. What would happen if you filled the solar system out to the orbit of Jupiter with soup? (Answer: bad things.) How much of the Earth's mass would you have to remove in order to lose 20 pounds thanks to the reduced gravity pulling on you? (The answer to that one is also "bad things," really. Honestly that's usually the answer regardless of what form the question takes.)

It's all hugely entertaining and wonderfully silly, while simultaneously providing a really good demonstration of what it's like to think the way a scientist does about "what should happen in this situation?" kinds of questions. And it makes my geeky little heart very, very happy.

Rating: 4.5/5

maaliskuu 21, 9:05 am

>149 bragan: I read xkcd regularly and am aware of the What If? books but haven't read them. Could be fun to have on hand.

maaliskuu 21, 9:10 am

>150 qebo: If you enjoy the comic, I definitely think you'll find the books fun, too. His How To, which is pretty much along the same lines, is also entertaining.

maaliskuu 23, 5:25 am

20. Vallista by Steven Brust

Book 15 in Brust's Vlad Taltos series. And it's a weird one. Our hero (well, all right, protagonist) finds himself trapped in a strange manor house where the architecture makes no sense and something weird may be happening with time itself. Which is very cool, in concept. In reality, even though it's still a typically quick read, I got kind of tired of wandering in circles around this place after a while and started wondering if the amount of story here might not have been better suited to novella length. And the ending is... confusing. Well, the whole thing is a bit confusing, but I was hoping the ending would clear it all up better than it did. Ultimately, it feels like it might mostly just be setup for something much bigger to come, even though the installments in this series are usually a bit more self-contained than that. So, kind of interesting but not exactly satisfying.

Rating: 3.5/5, although I always sort of feel like I'm rating the books in this series half a star higher than I really should, just because I keep somehow trying to convince myself that I like it slightly more than I actually do.

maaliskuu 26, 8:49 pm

21. Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard

I read Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, enough so that I'd been meaning to read more of his stuff ever since. So when I found a bunch of his books at a library sale recently, I snapped them up and started with this one pretty much at random. Unfortunately, I think it was probably not the best choice.

The plot has a lot of potential, featuring several people doing dumb criminal things that intersect in interesting ways, with a dollop of Florida weird for good measure. But I just really couldn't get into it as much as I expected to, I think mostly because I just didn't find any of the characters in any way interesting.

Note that I don't say that I didn't find the characters "likeable." That's kind of a given for most of them. They're terrible people. The titular Bob, Judge Bob "Big" Gibbs, is particularly terrible. He's sexist and racist, he harasses women and abuses his power and is just generally The Worst. Which isn't in itself a complaint. I mean, he's not meant to be a good guy. But fifty pages in, I was starting to feel like I'd been doing nothing but wading nonstop through sleaze and just wanted a shower for my brain. Which wasn't super pleasant, although it would have been worth it if Bob, or any of the other characters, were entertaining or complex or funny or something. Well, there are hints of a droll sense of humor, but it never feels like it quite comes into focus. And the characters who aren't criminals or corrupt judges, including the probation officer who is the closest thing the novel has to a good guy, have absolutely no personalities at all.

In the end... I didn't hate it, or anything. I really do think there's a fun story making up the novel's skeleton. But I think my main experience of it is that I just kept only seeing glimpses of the much better book it could have been.

Rating: 3/5, although I can't decide whether that's overly generous or not.

huhtikuu 1, 7:21 pm

New thread for the second quarter of 2023 is now to be found here.

huhtikuu 15, 9:00 am

Just popping in to see what you have read that I missed earlier....

huhtikuu 15, 11:02 am

>155 avaland: The usual eclectic mish-mash of things, I think. :)