Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 2

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Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt. 2

huhtikuu 1, 7:21 pm

Wait, hang on. How is it the second quarter of the year already? Wasn't it just January about ten minutes ago?

Well, however it happened, I guess it's April now, and thus, according to long-standing tradition, time for a new thread from me. I feel like this has been a subpar year so far in terms of how much I've managed to read (certainly compared to how much I've wanted to read). Quailty-wise, I suppose it's been something of a mixed bag, but then, it always is. At least it's kind of an interesting mix. Or at least I think it is, anyway.

Here is your year-thus-far recap:


1. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
3. The Who Revealed by Matt Kent
4. Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker
5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
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
7. Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman
8. Head On by John Scalzi


9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
10. The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe
11. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
12. The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D'Anieri
13. Pastoralia by George Saunders


14. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang
15. Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
16. Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith
17. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book by Iona & Peter Opie
18. Upgrade by Blake Crouch
19. What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
20. Vallista by Steven Brust
21. Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard

huhtikuu 1, 7:33 pm

Yes, January was ages ago, but I still have snow (if there is still there tomorrow I'm going out with a blow dryer). Will have to visit your older thread and read what you have to say on that Appalachian Trail book...

huhtikuu 1, 7:38 pm

And on we go into the rest of the year!

22. A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest by William deBuys

I think the subtitle of this one is a little misleading, just because describing this as a book about the future of the American southwest is entirely too narrow. It's a book that's always thinking about the future, but it's very much about the past, present, and future of the area, one that explores topics from the history of native peoples to the current politics of water use to projected climate-change models. The picture it paints is complex and interesting, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, very depressing, especially for a resident of the area like me. I should note that this was published in 2013, so it's little bit dated, but, well, I think it's safe to say that the details haven't gotten any less depressing in the meantime.

I wasn't entirely sure about the writing at first, as it struck me that the author was sometimes trying to be a little too poetic to make up for otherwise being pretty -- sorry for the word choice! -- dry. But he absolutely won me over by the end, and ultimately I found this to be informative, absorbing, and thoughtful, with a nice balance between broad overview and intimate detail. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the US's desert states, the changes they've been through, and the ones that are still ahead.

Rating: 4/5

huhtikuu 1, 7:41 pm

2> Wow, snow! And here where I am, it's supposed to be nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow. :)

I liked the Appalachian trail book, overall. I seem to have a little bit of a trend towards reading more nature writing lately, which wasn't really intentional, but I'm enjoying it.

huhtikuu 2, 3:12 am

>1 bragan: Wait, hang on. How is it the second quarter of the year already? Wasn't it just January about ten minutes ago?

I could not agree more. The last time I checked LT was mid-February, apparently, judging from my posts. I don't know how time went by so fast. All work and no play, I guess.

>3 bragan: Oh, this seems to be interesting. I will be going to Arizona and Utah in the summer.

huhtikuu 2, 10:18 am

>5 OscarWilde87: Summer is not really the best time for that particular trip, and I am in neither of those states, but I welcome you in advance to the American Southwest, anyway. :)

huhtikuu 2, 1:44 pm

Happy second quarter! I too cannot believe it’s April already. We had snow on Friday, and although the temperature reached 11 degrees Celsius yesterday, it was down around minus 9 Celsius last night. Probably going to be a cooler spring for us.

huhtikuu 2, 1:50 pm

>7 rabbitprincess: I think I'm already feeling the climate change effects my first book of the quarter was talking about.

huhtikuu 2, 4:49 pm

I agree that January was just 10 minutes ago. It was also about 10 weeks long, so I'm not sure quite how that worked - it's all a bit timey-wimey for me.

Wishing you some great books in this next quarter!

huhtikuu 2, 5:56 pm

>9 Jackie_K: Time is strange. The more of it I experience, the less I understand it.

And thanks! Great reading to you, too!

huhtikuu 4, 8:58 am

>6 bragan: I know, it's probably going to be really hit and dry. It's my only option, though, as I don't get off work for more than two weeks at any other time in the year. I've been to the Grand Canyon in the summer and it was okay for me. Just need lots of water...

huhtikuu 4, 10:04 am

>11 OscarWilde87: Yes, lots of water, and sunscreen, and you'll be OK!

huhtikuu 6, 2:34 am

>12 bragan: That's the plan! And books. Obviously. :)

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 12:12 pm

>14 bragan: Of course! Traveling without lots of books is unthinkable. :)

huhtikuu 6, 12:24 pm

23. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne is, of course, the character from Greek mythology known for helping Theseus out of the maze. This novel follows her life before, during, and after the minotaur incident, and features a Theseus who is far less heroic than his legend suggests.

It's pretty much impossible to avoid wanting to make comparisons between this and Madeline Miller's Circe, which I think is a little unfortunate, as Saint is a perfectly good writer, but in my opinion never clears the very high bar that Miller sets. Still, I enjoyed reading this, and I think Saint's themes -- about what it's like to be a human subject to the power of gods, and a woman subject to the power of men -- are handled not always subtly, but effectively.

Rating: 4/5

huhtikuu 10, 5:46 am

24. The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is an excellent, compelling writer, with a fine sense of the quirks of human psychology, all of which is entirely evident in this early novel. And yet, it also feels a bit... off-kilter. I think it's that so many of the most pivotal events in it have this feeling of absurdity about them. Which is probably deliberate, but maybe it doesn't quite work for me? Most notably, there's the precipitating event of the whole story, in which a woman abandons her children in a strange, almost surreal sort of way: by buying a ticket for a ride in an airplane at a fair, and then just flying off with the pilot, forever. Which just kind of left me going, "huh?" for the rest of the novel. It's not that I have an issue with the absurd or the surreal, but there's something about it that just doesn't quite mesh with the more realistic aspects. And the characters have much the same kind of feel to them, really, that mix of the deeply believable and the weirdly over-the-top. And, while they and their inter-relationships are interesting, they're also often horrible and offputting, and there were times when I found myself getting tired of, or even disgusted with, their company.

And yet, even when she's doing things that don't 100% work... man, Erdrich can write.

Rating: It's impossible to know how to rate this, because it's either flawed but still really good or rather disappointing, depending on what standards I try to hold it to. I'm giving it a 3.5/5, but I don't know if I feel great about that.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 10, 5:28 pm

25. The Illustrated Al by "Weird Al" Yankovic, et al.

This fun little volume takes a selection of songs from across Weird Al's career that have never gotten music videos and corrects that oversight by doing them in graphic novel form. (It also features some great full-page images for other songs that did get videos.) And it's completely delightful. The illustrations fit the wonderful wackiiness that is Al's lyrics perfectly, while adding some creative touches of their own. My only complaint is that I had to read it slower than I wanted to, because I couldn't read most of the lyrics without hearing the song in my head, and I had to alter my pace to match. Wait, no, what am I saying? Hearing Weird Al in your head is never actually a bad thing. And definitely not a sign of insanity at all.

Anyway. This is great. If you're an Al fan and you haven't picked up a copy yet, you're missing out.

Rating: 4.5/5, would drive down the street with a rabid Wolverine in my underwear again.

huhtikuu 11, 6:00 pm

>3 bragan: Noting this one... not that I need more scary books about the future of the area. All I need is to look at a thermometer today - it is 98 F (37 C) and it is just April 11 (the lowest for the day is 65 (19 C) - which is... way too high for April). We seem to be heading back down to the low 90s and high 80s in the next days but...

huhtikuu 11, 7:17 pm

>18 AnnieMod: Wow, here I was think it was a bit too warm for this early in April here, with our mid-80s temperatures, but 98 is surely way too hot for this time of year anywhere.

huhtikuu 11, 7:28 pm

>19 bragan: It's been crazy - it was in the 60s a week ago and the night went down to mid 40s (a bit too cold for the season - there was a cold front from somewhere) and now we are almost reaching for 100:

I do not think we will hit 100 today but it will be very very close.

huhtikuu 11, 9:19 pm

>20 AnnieMod: It's been a bit crazy like that here, too, but not nearly as much so!

huhtikuu 12, 6:02 pm

It's in the 60s here in Maine, which is equally weirdly warm.

huhtikuu 12, 7:53 pm

Where I am (eastern Ontario, Canada), we're hitting 28 degrees Celsius tomorrow! Even today it was quite warm, about 17 degrees Celsius.

huhtikuu 13, 10:14 am

We're expecting 85 F (29 C) in southern New Hampshire today.

huhtikuu 17, 7:07 pm

26. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

I am very late to the party when it comes to reading N. K. Jemisin's multi-Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, especially considering how much I've enjoyed the other stuff of hers that I've read. But I'm very glad to have finally started on it now!

This is set in a world that is hugely, disastrously geologically active and experiences irregular Fifth Seasons: years-long periods of earthquakes and persistent winter, thanks to volcanoes or other geologic upheavals. In this world, there are people who can sense and control the movement of the earth, and these people are in turn controlled by others, used by them but never trusted, respected, or allowed their freedom.

It's a really interesting setting, and I like the way Jemisin just sort of drops us into it and lets us figure it all out as we go along. At the beginning, I was intrigued but definitely having to work to get a sense of this world, but by the end I'd become quite... Well, I was going to say "quite comfortable in it," but that's really not the phrase for it. It's not remotely a comfortable world, and certainly not a happy story. And there are still plenty of things that are mysterious by the end of this first volume. Enough things, indeed, that I'm very much looking forward to exploring them in the rest of the series. There is a certain extent to which this one feels like setup for things to come, but it's also a good story in its own right, and one that does some cool things, not just with worldbuilding, but with character and structure, too.

Rating: 4/5

huhtikuu 17, 7:40 pm

>25 bragan: I really need to get back to this series... I read the first and put the rest into the "I know I will like them" queue. Nice review.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 17, 7:41 pm

>26 AnnieMod: I'm planning on getting to the rest of it pretty soon!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 17, 8:08 pm

>27 bragan: Famous last words and all that. The last sentence of my review: "Still highly recommended and I am waiting for the next one.". The book came out... I never got around to it. :)

huhtikuu 17, 8:27 pm

>28 AnnieMod: I think I've had a few things like that. You'd think we'd learn better than to say things like that!

But I already pulled the next two off the TBR shelves so I could fit some new acquisitions onto them, so I'm committed to these ones at least. :)

huhtikuu 18, 10:33 am

Also the only instance of an author winning the novel Hugo Award in three sequential years, one for each volume.

huhtikuu 18, 12:02 pm

>30 dukedom_enough: Yep. Which is pretty impressive!

huhtikuu 18, 3:15 pm

Great review of The Fifth Season, Betty. I'm way overdue to read it, or anything else by N.K. Jemisin.

huhtikuu 18, 6:25 pm

>32 kidzdoc: The first thing of hers I've read was the Dreamblood duology, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, and it was a great introduction to her work.

huhtikuu 18, 11:59 pm

27. Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara by David Fisher

This is a new re-novelization of the classic 1978 Fourth Doctor story "The Androids of Tara" by the script's original author, created initially as an audio book but now available in slightly edited form as a print version. Which is a backstory that might almost convoluted enough to make a good Doctor Who plot!

I have a lot of nostalgic fondness for the old Target Doctor Who novelizations written (mostly) by Terrance Dicks, so it's very cool to see a revival of the idea. Dicks' novelizations tended to be pretty simplistic and bare bones (although I haven't read his version of this particular story to compare them specifically). I was hoping to see a bit more depth and fleshing-out of things from this new version, and to some extent it delivers, with some amusing glimpses into the history of the planet Tara and its odd mixture of feudalism and cybernetics. I don't know how much any of it really enhances the story, but it was neat to get a bit more of Fisher's take on the world he'd built, and some of it gave me, if not exactly a laugh, then at least a smile. Although I did miss the elements that you really only get by watching the TV version itself, particularly the Fourth Doctor being... well, Tom Baker. It's a bit hard to capture that kind of personality on on the page.

One thing that really struck me reading this now, without having seen the episode itself in quite some time, is how utterly ridiculous the entire story is. Like, pretty much every single thing about it is silly. But it's ridiculous in a fun way, mostly, and sometimes that's pretty much everything you want and need from Doctor Who.

Anyway. Did this greatly enhance my experience of this particular piece of television? Eh, probably not. Is it a must-read for any fan of this particular era of the show? Probably not. Am I still quite pleased to be able to sit it on the shelf with my collection of old Target novelizations? Absolutely!

Rating: I'm going to give this a 3.5/5, but it's a fairly affectionate 3.5/5.

huhtikuu 19, 4:45 pm

I have the original Androids of Tara novelization -- didn't know they'd done a revised version! I agree, "ridiculous in a fun way" is a good description of the plot.

huhtikuu 19, 5:53 pm

>35 rabbitprincess: I didn't realize this existed, either, until I got a copy from my SantaThing Santa! That was a very, very good Santa. Even if it is taking me months to finish reading everything they sent me, because that's just how backed up I am. :)

huhtikuu 22, 6:00 pm

28. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

This is exactly what the title says: a day-by-day dairy by Shaun Bythell, owner of the largest secondhand bookstore in Scotland, about his activities and the operation of his shop from early 2014 to early 2015. I honestly do not know why I found this as readable -- indeed, as compelling -- as I did. There are a lot of mundane details. Much of it is very repetitive, with notes along the lines of "Person X worked today" and remarks about the weather, and similar things. There is, interspersed with that, some dryly snarky humor, glimpses into the quirky personalities of the shop's employees and customers and the small town where it's located, and thoughts about the difficulties of selling books in the age of Amazon. Mostly, though, it's not terribly exciting stuff, and you might think that even for an obsessive book-lover, after 300 pages, it would start to get tedious. But, nope. I read this faster and with more absorption than pretty much anything else I've read recently. I think there was something about it that was just really restful for my brain. Like I could just sit on this guy's shoulder while he bought and sold books for a year and relax, without any of the annoyances of my own life distracting me.

Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it and will be reading his other books at some point, perhaps next time my brain needs this kind of a break.

Rating: 4/5

huhtikuu 27, 5:38 am

29. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

A collection of science fiction and fantasy stories by Ken Liu. Recurring themes include Chinese mythology, Chinese (and sometimes Japanese) history and culture, Chinese-American identity, the literal and figurative magic of language, and historical injustices (some of which, fair warning, are extremely disturbing) and how we respond to them.

As with most story collections, I liked some of these much better than others, but even the ones that didn't work as well for me still had a sense of poignancy and the ability to make me stop and think a bit. And the best ones are very good. The title story, in particular, is a heartbreaking little gem, and the final piece, "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary," is a rough read, but a powerful one.

Rating: 4/5

huhtikuu 27, 5:53 am

>38 bragan: This sounds really interesting, I’ll check it out.

huhtikuu 27, 6:34 am

>39 FlorenceArt: It's worth the look, I think, if you're into this sort of SF.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 27, 10:30 am

>40 bragan: I have a lot of short story anthologies available as part of my Kobo subscription. The problem of course, is that I keep downloading them and not reading them…

ETA: this is not as off topic as it sounds! I actually wanted to say that at least two of these anthologies have stories by Ken Liu, and I downloaded one of them.

huhtikuu 27, 9:04 am

>38 bragan: and >39 FlorenceArt: fwiw, M'sieur Raton read it and liked it quite a bit, and he is rather picky when it comes to books, even more for SF books.

huhtikuu 27, 7:43 pm

>41 FlorenceArt: Ha! I probably would have assumed that without the ETA, honestly, but clarification is always good. :)

And I know the feeling, although in my case it's more than I keep buying paper books and not reading them, which is a household space problem as well as other kinds of problem.

>42 raton-liseur: It's probably also worth mentioning that the title story won a whole bunch of awards, so when it comes to that one, at least, this seems to be a popular opinion.

huhtikuu 29, 10:37 am

>38 bragan: I picked that up ages ago, solely because I loved the cover. One of these days I'll be in the mood for a collection like that and this sounds like it would fit the bill.

huhtikuu 29, 3:18 pm

>38 bragan: That cover is great, isn't it?

huhtikuu 30, 6:05 pm

30. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Evelyn Caldwell is a scientist whose research is aimed at growing cloned duplicates of people who need convincing body doubles. Then she finds out that her husband has used her own research to make a better, more compliant version of her, and, unsurprisingly, her already deteriorating marriage falls apart completely. Then things get really crazy.

This one requires massive amounts of suspension of disbelief. Particularly when it comes to the science and a number of plot points related to it, but also for the fact that Evelyn was permitted to do any of the hugely unethical -- indeed, actively monstrous -- stuff involved in her work with, as far as I can see, no outcry from anyone.

It is worth making the effort, though, because if you're able to sit back and accept the premise, the reward for that is an interestingly disturbing novel about the dynamics of unhealthy marriages, the nature of identity and how it's shaped by those around us, the question of how well any of us truly know each other, and, most particularly, about the patterns of abusive relationships. It also does something that can be genuinely difficult to pull off well: presenting us with a main character who is thoroughly unlikable, to put it mildly, but whose POV is compelling and whose story we very much want to hear, anyway. At least, I certainly did.

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 1, 10:22 pm

>34 bragan:

Oh noes! I have the old version... *resisting the pull of Target collectomania with all she's got*

>46 bragan:

growing cloned duplicates of people who need convincing body doubles

Gangsters and magicians, is all I'm coming up with. Clearly a shady lady scientist.

toukokuu 2, 8:29 am

I get unreasonably annoyed that authors seem to ignore the fact that to make a clone, you have to grow it from a single cell of the donor, so unless your parents did this at your birth there is no way that the clone can be the same age as the original. And even then, 9 months.

toukokuu 2, 10:28 am

>47 LolaWalser: Oh noes! I have the old version... *resisting the pull of Target collectomania with all she's got*

You know you waaaant iiiiiiiit. :)

Gangsters and magicians, is all I'm coming up with. Clearly a shady lady scientist.

Politicians, apparently. So the clone can be the assassination target. Although she's still pretty shady for all kinds of reasons.

>48 FlorenceArt: The premise involves all kinds of magical handwavy technology that allows you to grow the body faster and imprint brain patterns on it and such. Well, at least it recognizes that such things are necessary, I guess? If I were able to take any of the science remotely seriously, it would annoy me, because depictions of cloning technology in fiction very often do. But I kind of can't, so I'm blissfully free to concentrate on the drama instead. :)

toukokuu 2, 11:20 am

>49 bragan: “ But I kind of can't, so I'm blissfully free to concentrate on the drama instead.”

Good for you ;-)

toukokuu 2, 11:23 am

So let me see if I got this right. You fast-grow a clone, give it a brain imprint so that it is sentient, and then send it to get killed. Hm yeah, sort of kind of a slight ethical issue there.

toukokuu 2, 11:24 am

And don’t the clone rebel sometimes?

toukokuu 2, 11:51 am

>49 bragan: Personally I love me some handwavy solutions so I put a hold on this one.

toukokuu 2, 12:04 pm

>50 FlorenceArt: There are a lot of times when I can't manage to suspend my disbelief for things like that, so I've learned to appreciate it when I can. Sometimes passing a certain threshold of absurdity actually helps. :)

>51 FlorenceArt:, >52 FlorenceArt: Yeah, just a slight ethical problem! And that's just the tip of the iceberg, honestly. One of the interesting things about the book is that even though we're firmly in the POV of the scientist who keeps trying to maintain that these subjects aren't really people and she's doing absolutely nothing wrong, it is, I think, pretty clear just how much of a monster all of this actually makes her. And the author does some interesting things in linking this thematically with less science fictional forms of abuse.

And the clones mostly don't rebel because they're programmed not to.

>53 ursula: I hope you like it, if and when you get to it!

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 6, 3:55 pm

31. The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America's Food by Matthew Gavin Frank

What this book at first appears to be: a tour through all fifty US states highlighting a specific regional cuisine for each one and considering that dish in the context of that state's culture and history, with some personal reflections from the author.

What this book actually is: 415 pages of weird poetry masquerading as prose, interspersed with recipes. An, unfortunately, it is really not my kind of poetry. It's rambly, disjointed, and chaotic. (Are you supposedly writing a chapter about corn chowder, but what you you really want is to spend it talking about your adolescent masturbation habits? No problem! Just throw out a bunch of bizarre metaphors that let you pretend the two subjects actually have anything whatsoever to do with each other. It's poetic!) It feels self-indulgent, too, as if the author is approaching the entire country as a giant dinner table upon which to serve himself his own family issues. It also feels disingenuous, as he appears to be pretending that he comes from, or at least has a deep personal connection with, every single one of those fifty states. His explanation, in the preface, is that when he talks about something his uncle said or did in a particular place, what he really means is, y'know, somebody's uncle said or did that, at some point. Which... OK, whatever, dude. Oh, and he also does that thing where you notice some kind of superficial linguistic connection between the words used to describe two things and then act like it constitutes some deep connection between the things themselves, an approach that can deeply irritate me when it's taken too seriously or relied on too much.

Rating: I hesitate a moment before rating this, because I'm certain that there are people out there for whom this particular kind of writing is 100% their jam, and who might see lyricism and insight where I just see boring pretentiousness. But I am not those people, I am me. And I give it 2/5 and call it lucky to have that.

toukokuu 6, 6:33 pm

32. Adventure Time Presents: Marcy & Simon by Olivia Olson

So, I just recently finished binge-watching all ten seasons of Adventure Time, and, man, what a ride that was. It's just a lovely show: fun, imaginative, surprisingly complex, full of heart, and far, far too good to let the kids who make up its ostensible audience keep it all to themselves.

The final episode was, no lie, one of the finest series finales I've ever seen. It was a wonderful note to go out on and in general wrapped things up in a really beautiful way. But there were a couple of characters I really, really wanted to see more of afterward, and whose story did not feel complete at all.

Fortunately, this graphic novel was available to meet all my Simon & Marceline needs! It's written by Olivia Olson, the voice of Marceline herself, and she's included a very sweet little introduction talking about how much her character, and the relationship between these two characters, meant to her. Certainly she's got a great handle on them, and clearly knows how to tap into the emotional heart of their relationship.

There are maybe a few things I could nitpick here when it comes to the plot or to continuity issues, but you know what? I refuse to care about that too much. This gave me, as the kids say, All the Feels, and it provided the satisfying ending I was hoping for. And that's more than good enough for me!

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 7, 5:21 am

>55 bragan: Terrific review. My first thoughts when seeing the cover was "what, no whoopie pie in Maine...?" I'm sure your review is much better than the book. I haven't had corn chowder since I left home in the 70s, after your review, I think it's best left that way :-)

toukokuu 7, 8:23 am

>55 bragan: Hilarious review!


Are you supposedly writing a chapter about corn chowder, but what you you really want is to spend it talking about your adolescent masturbation habits? No problem! Just throw out a bunch of bizarre metaphors that let you pretend the two subjects actually have anything whatsoever to do with each other.

I think I prefer it if they don't have anything to do with each other!

toukokuu 7, 9:59 am

>57 avaland: There was in fact whoopie pie, although I think the author spent most of that chapter talking about how his dad thought he was too effeminate or something. I don't know why it didn't make the cover.

>58 ursula: Thanks! I only finished the book, really, because I am a dumb, stubborn completist, but there were definitely times when imagining the review I was going to write afterwards helped to get me through. :)

I think I prefer it if they don't have anything to do with each other!

I agree, and I think I am now going to try to forget about it all forever.

toukokuu 7, 9:30 pm

>55 bragan: I would be fine not thinking about those two things in the same sentence.

Have you read The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food--Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation's Food Was Seasonal? (I was just thinking of it because even though I never got around to posting for that particular Questions for the Avid Reader, that's the longest title of any book I own.) It's a collection of WPA writing on local food from the late 1930s edited by Mark Kurlansky. I don't think I've read it all the way through—it's not really that kind of book, and I remember my attention flagging—but it's fun to dip in and out of.

toukokuu 8, 10:12 am

>60 lisapeet: Haven't even heard of that one! (Although now it's got me wondering what my longest title is.) Sounds like it might be interesting,

toukokuu 12, 12:22 am

33. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

Book two in the Broken Earth series, which picks up right where The Fifth Season left off. There's a lot to be said about the first book, but my main feeling after reading it was that I was really looking forward to exploring more of the worldbuilding and the unanswered questions that it set up, and I'd say this one has certainly delivered on that. I'm very much looking forward now to seeing where it all ends up in book three!

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 13, 11:32 pm

34. Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods by Peter M. Leschak

A short book about the Minnesota woods and the author's life there in the 1970s and 80s. I got this one from an indie bookstore, where they had a display of inexpensive "mystery books" wrapped in brown paper for adventurous bookbuyers willing to take a chance based on nothing more than a very brief description. (Which, in this case, I think was something along the lines of "nature writing.") To be honest, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this experience, as I figured, well, these are probably just books they're looking to get rid of, right? But I was very pleasantly surprised! I ended up enjoying this one a lot. The author has a likeable sense of humor, a real appreciation for the rugged country he lives in with all its beauties and difficulties, and an attitude that's a pleasant mixture of thoughtful and irreverent. Reading this hasn't left me with any kind of desire to pick up and move to Minnesota -- personally, I regard any place where the temperature is capable of dropping to -57 Fahrenheit as completely unfit for human habitation -- but I was quite happy to pay it a vicarious visit.

Rating: 4/5

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 14, 7:56 am

>63 bragan: I would totally have picked up a brown package that just said "nature writing" on it! I agree, the vicarious experience of a place, particularly if the book is well-written, is often enough. I might keep an eye out for this one.

Edit: Or maybe not. Just found it on Amazon UK, the hardcover is £183.99!!!!!

toukokuu 14, 8:27 am

>64 Jackie_K: I definitely did not pay that for it on the brown paper book shelf!

toukokuu 15, 5:43 pm

35. The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due

A collection of short stories that, broadly speaking, fall somewhere under the umbrella of speculative fiction -- fantasy, horror, science fiction, possibly magic realism, or combinations thereof -- all of which feature Black Americans and many of which deal with themes of racism or difficult family relationships.

I went into this one with high expectations. I think the only thing of Due's that I'd read before was the short story "Patient Zero" (not included in this particular volume), and it knocked my socks off. My feelings about the stories in this collection were a lot more mixed, though, and I feel like the only the title story came close to having the same impact. I think maybe the simply written child's POV in "Patient Zero" kind of concealed the fact that Due's prose is... a bit lackluster? Not bad, by any means, and I'll take this kind of plain writing over overwrought purple prose any day, but there were moments were I felt the writing style wasn't entirely doing the ideas and characters justice.

Despite that, though, and despite the fact that some of these appealed to me a lot more than others (which is, let's face it, practically a given with any short story compilation), I did find these pieces, on the whole, really interesting. In a good way! Due has a way of not quite taking things were you'd expect them to go, and not ending her stories quite where you'd expect, and even when I didn't find that entirely satisfying, I did find it intriguing, brave, and kind of cool.

Rating: 3.5/5

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

toukokuu 15, 10:05 pm

36. The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola

The Amazing Screw-On Head is a robot head that screws onto a variety of robot bodies. He works for Abraham Lincoln, fighting supervillains. Apparently? Don't ask me how or why or anything like that. The world, it seems, will never know his secret origins. Because they're secret.

I first encountered the Screw-On Head in animated form in 2006, in what was, I believe, a pilot episode for a series that never got made. I was very sorry about that last part, because it was weird and wonderful and WTFish, and I'm pretty sure my exact words when I finished it were, "I have no idea what I just watched, but I want more of it." I learned that it was based on a graphic novel, and decided I must get hold of that at some point, but I never came across it, and the whole thing faded into what felt like some sort of strange fever dream. Until now!

This collection includes the original graphic novel version, which is just as weird and wonderful and WTFish. I still don't know what I just read, and I still want more, which, frustratingly, is not forthcoming.

Also included are several short, equally weird dark fairy tale things, at least one of which is vaguely related to the Screw-On Head story, and a longer, also tangentially related Victorian sci-fi horror thing, which I didn't vibe with quite as much, but which was still interestingly bizarre and stylish.

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 22, 1:04 am

37. Never Panic Early by Fred Haise, with Bill Moore

Astronaut Fred Haise talks about his days as a test pilot, his time with NASA, including the events of Apollo 13, and his subsequent career working on the space shuttle project an in the private sector.

I'm always a sucker for an astronaut memoir, and I've had a special fascination with the story of Apollo 13 for a very long time. I have to say, though, that this was... not quite what I was hoping it would be? Haise has a very just-the-facts approach, often going into lots of technical detail but not much of his personal perspective. Which is fine, and, indeed, probably more or less what you'd expect. NASA did not hire these people for the poetry in their souls, their propensity for getting touchy-feely, or their writing skills. There are reasons why, when it comes time to write their memoirs, most of these guys have teamed up with co-authors. A successful co-author, it seems to me, should be able to draw some good stories out of the subject of the memoir and help to present them in a way flows well and is engaging to read. And I can't help thinking Haise's co-author let him down a bit here, as a lot of this work does feel very dry, and sometimes a bit disjointed.

Still. Even the world's driest account of the Apollo 13 mission is inherently interesting, and all the more so when it's coming from someone who actually lived it. I have the utmost respect for Haise, and for everyone else involved in bringing that mission safely back home. Successes are of course wonderful, but how one deals with failure and unexpected crisis seems to me to be a much greater test of character. To see such a test passed so thoroughly is genuinely inspirational to me. Also, however they might choose to do it, I am always glad to see folks from the early days of the space program sharing their own accounts while they're still around to do so.

I will say that if you're interested in Apollo 13, you're probably much better off starting with Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger's Lost Moon (which was re-released as Apollo 13 after the movie version came out). That one is a great read, and it goes into a lot of detail about the mission, what went wrong, and everything it took to bring Lovell, Haise, and their crewmate Jack Swigert safely back to Earth. Then go ahead and follow that up with Haise's volume, if you like. I think his more concise account might work better if you come into it with a bit more background, anyway.

Rating: 3/5

toukokuu 26, 12:54 am

38. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

The final book in the Broken Earth trilogy. Despite the multiple Hugo awards for this series, I have to say that I think I actually preferred both the Inheritance trilogy and the Dreamblood duology a bit to this one... but considering how very, very good those were, that still leaves a lot of space for excellence. And this series does end very strong. There's an unexpected worldbuilding twist or two, an interesting look back into the past, a big and rather moving climax, and a weaving together of many of the series' themes -- the toll exploitation and oppression take on everyone, the damaged love of damaged people, the question of whether a broken world can ever really be fixed -- in a complicated and nuanced way.

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 26, 11:44 am

>68 bragan: I may grab a copy of this for my son. He's just finished his second year studying aerospace engineering and he is most interested in those dry details.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 26, 12:28 pm

>70 RidgewayGirl: I can recommend a lot of other good books on the Apollo program I'd suggest before this one, in general, but someone who's studying aerospace and is in a position to appreciate Haise's technical-detail-laden stories may in fact be the perfect audience for it. :)

toukokuu 27, 1:49 am

>69 bragan: I should read N. K. Jemisin soon. I only read a short story, but I had such high expectations that I felt let down when it wasn’t earth shattering. I need to try one of her novels. Maybe I’ll start with this series.

toukokuu 27, 1:24 pm

>72 FlorenceArt: I haven't read her short stories, but she may be one of those authors whose natural length is the novel, or even the multi-book series. I might recommend starting with The Killing Moon, actually. It worked for me. And it stands alone well, even though there is a second book, so if it turns out not to do it for you, you can stop and not feel like you've only got part of the story.

toukokuu 27, 2:08 pm

>73 bragan: Thanks, maybe I’ll try that.

toukokuu 27, 2:51 pm

>74 FlorenceArt: Not that the Broken Earth books are a bad place to start, either, if they sound interesting to you.

toukokuu 30, 10:15 pm

39. Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

Brogan Roach has what can really only be described as an unhealthy obsession with true crime and serial killers. Laura Bunting, on the surface, appears warm and well-adjusted, but is struggling to deal with the legacy of a terrible act of violence in her past. And when Laura is transferred to the branch of a chain bookshop where Roach works, Roach becomes convinced they share a "dark connection," and becomes unhealthily obsessed with Laura.

I wasn't at all sure if this was going to be my sort of thing, but I decided to take a chance on it, and honestly I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. I think it really helps that, while Roach is a terrible and deeply messed-up person, I found her to be so in psychologically plausible ways. Hell, I was even able to relate to her a bit, at least in the beginning. I mean, the feeling of seeing that someone is reading a book about your own personal favorite topic and desperately longing for a way to start a conversation with them about it is entirely too familiar from my teenage years. Although I certainly never crossed the kind of lines Roach crosses to get into that situation in the first place.

The novel also engages with some interesting questions about how people and society view serial killers and violence against women. Not, I think, in any deeply profound way, but in one that does at least provide some things to think about. And I am genuinely impressed by the way Slater manages to avoid the pitfall of sensationalizing the very thing she's questioning the sensationalizing of, even when the nature of her narrative might seem to encourage it. I do wonder whether, if I were myself a devotee of true crime podcasts, I'd be annoyed at the thought of being represented with a character like Roach. But from my outsider's perspective, I don't think there's any real sense that she's intended to represent the typical audience for such things, so much as she is an extreme example that perhaps provides a glimpse into some of the issues with how society as a whole responds to this kind of violence.

Arguably, the story takes just a smidge longer to get where it's going than the level of tension and suspense it reaches can quite sustain, but fortunately not enough so that I ever lost interest. And while I suspect not everyone will find the ending entirely satisfying, it worked really well for me.

I do feel the need, before I finish, to complain that the edition I have features a bunch of scattered errors that I feel should really have been caught by a copyeditor or someone, but I suppose that's annoyingly common these days.

Rating: 4/5

toukokuu 31, 10:19 am

>76 bragan: Excellent review! The entire subject of how drawn women are to true crime, and the reasons for that are fascinating and written about far too little.

toukokuu 31, 4:06 pm

>77 RidgewayGirl: It really is interesting. I don't think there are any answers to be found in this particular novel, but it certainly did get me thinking more about the question.

kesäkuu 2, 7:28 pm

40. The Third QI Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin, and Andrew Hunter Murray

The third book of trivia from the folks behind QI, the British comedy quiz show in which all the questions have answers that are obvious, well-known, and wrong, often in really unfair technical ways. As usual, this one covers a wide range of topics, although I think there may be a few more here that are aimed specifically at its UK audience, as ignorant American me encountered a surprising number of debunkings of bits of British folklore that I'd never actually heard of in the first place. Also as usual, there's lots of interesting tidbits of information, but I do think that after three books the entertainment value of these is wearing off just a little for me. This is all fine, but divorced from the spontaneous humor you get on the show, it's just not nearly as much fun.

Rating: 3.5/5

kesäkuu 3, 5:18 am

41. Adventure Time Vol. 1 by Ryan North

When I finished binge-watching Adventure Time and realized there were a series of comics based on the show, I thought, oh, that might be worth taking a look at at some point. Then I realized they were by Ryan North, and my response immediately transmuted into "shut up and take my money!"

In this first collection, Finn and Jake and friends have to save the world from the Lich, who is sucking everything into a magic bag of holding. I have to say, there are some elements of the plot that... Well, I was going to say "that are a bit silly," but silliness is perfectly reasonable for Adventure Time. Silly in ways that didn't quite 100% work for me, maybe. But fortunately that didn't at all stop me from enjoying it! It's funny and fun and it feels right, in ways that had me feeling genuinely nostalgic for the show. Which is kind of weird, maybe, given that I only finished watching it a few weeks ago. You wouldn't think that's enough time to get nostalgic about anything, but here we are. I also like the way it takes advantage of the comics format to add some amusing meta touches that are definitely silly in the right way.

I've already picked up several more of these, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing on with them. Apparently I'm not remotely ready to leave Ooo behind yet, no matter how satisfying a conclusion the final episode was.

Rating: 4/5

kesäkuu 3, 11:17 am

>76 bragan: Great review, and one that piqued my interest in a title that I hadn't thought much about. But now I'm thinking that sounds like a good one.

kesäkuu 3, 3:49 pm

>81 lisapeet: I suspect it's a bit Your Mileage May Vary, honestly, but I got pretty good mileage out of it, myself, especially given that I wasn't necessarily expecting all that much. :)

kesäkuu 3, 4:33 pm

42. Elemental Haiku by Mary Soon Lee

I saw this one in a science museum gift shop, and was instantly charmed by it, and I'm very pleased to report that I still felt that way all the way through reading it. It features one haiku-style poem for every element on the periodic table, relating in some way to that element's properties, history, or uses. These range from deeply serious to mildly amusing, and I'm honestly impressed by how well the author pulls the whole thing off. Nothing ever feels contrived or kitschy or forced, and even towards they end where it's mostly a bunch of different ways to say "here's a highly radioactive element somebody made in a lab for two seconds," it doesn't get tiring.

Each entry also includes a sentence or three explaining the science or history behind the poem. For the ones I understood without the explanation, this was a little distracting and detracted from things a bit, but for the ones where I needed the context (something that happened a lot more often as the atomic numbers rose), I found it both helpful and enjoyable.

Basically, the whole thing was just a pleasant little read perfect for my nerdy little soul.

Rating: 4/5

kesäkuu 4, 1:36 am

>83 bragan: That review made me smile. I’m not interested in the book but I enjoyed reading about it.

kesäkuu 4, 12:31 pm

>84 FlorenceArt: Always glad when I can have that effect! :)

kesäkuu 9, 12:04 am

43. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Book four in Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy-meets-police procedural Rivers of London series. And I think I feel about this one pretty much the same as I felt about the previous installments. I really enjoy the main character, if only because I'm a complete sucker for someone who can sling around the geeky references. The worldbuilding and the approach to magic are kind of cool. I also like the way it centers the lives of working class people and immigrants in a really genuine-feeling way. But I just find it hard to stay engaged with the plot.

Mind you, that may be partly my fault. I keep picking these up thinking they'll be light reading good for a time when I'm likely to be distracted or tired, and then it ends up having a story with lots of complicated elements that I'm too tired or distracted to keep track of. I also seem to keep expecting them to be more self-contained then they are, and to let enough time go by between installments that I forget most of what's going on in the overarching story. Oops?

Rating: 3.5/5

kesäkuu 16, 6:51 pm

44. The Skeptic's Guide to the Future by Dr. Steven Novella, with Bob Novella and Jay Novella

Attempting to actually predict the future is a fool's game, so most of this book involves taking a look at the technologies currently under development today which have the potential to profoundly shape the future, while acknowledging that we can't necessary know exactly how. It's a good basic overview of those subjects, along with some thoughts about why it's so hard to accurately imagine the future just based on the trends of the present. A lot of it was not remotely new to me, in part because I'm a regular listener to the authors' podcast, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, and they talk about most of these subjects fairly often there. But even so, I learned a few interesting things, and for someone who comes in knowing very little about topics like brain-machine interfaces or quantum computing or nuclear fusion, I think the brief, not super-detailed, but very clear and readable discussions to be found here will be very much worthwhile.

Rating: 4/5

kesäkuu 19, 10:23 pm

45. Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister

The story of a young girl and an exiled priest in a mystical, altered, post-apocalyptic version of the American southwest, a place of wandering monstrosities, outcast saints, bizarre fruit that grows from bizarre cactus that grows from corpses, and a desert that wants to get inside you.

I find it really hard to describe the feeling of that landscape and what Chrosnister does with it, the restrained way she creates a place of deep, dry strangeness and lets it work its way under your skin. Nor can I quite say why it works as effectively as it does. But it's certainly fascinating, in its own weird way.

Rating: 4/5

kesäkuu 22, 2:34 am

It is such a joy to finally have the time (summer break, yeah) to catch up on your thread again. Thank you for the book bullets. The Broken Earth trilogy seems to be something I'd enjoy.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 22, 6:20 am

>88 bragan: I’m intrigued! Her first short story collection, Thin Places, is available as part of my ebook subscription, so I will give it a try.

kesäkuu 22, 12:01 pm

>89 OscarWilde87: Always good to know those book bullets are hitting somewhere!

>90 FlorenceArt: I haven't read anything else by here, but based on my experience with Desert Creatures, the story collection might very well be of interest to me, so I'll look forward to hearing what you think about it.

kesäkuu 25, 11:43 am

46. Tsalmoth by Steven Brust

Book 16 (by publication order) of the Vlad Taltos series. This installment jumps back in time again to when Vlad was busy planning his wedding. During which some guy dies owing him money, and his dogged attempts to recover it from anywhere he can leads him into a plot involving inter-dimensional smuggling and to a strange change in himself that he doesn't entirely understand.

My feelings about this one are more or less what they have been about most of the series. The worldbuilding is great (in this case, there's a lot of stuff about different wedding traditions that doesn't have a lot to do with anything, but is interesting nevertheless), and the main character is fun, although I won't say he's on top smartass form here. But the plot isn't especially compelling, which is unfortunate, because it means I have trouble paying enough attention to follow it clearly. It does feel like we're getting some interesting setup put into place for things to come, though, perhaps even for the end of the series. I'm hoping for a really good payoff when it happens.

Rating: 3.5/5

kesäkuu 26, 10:41 am

Just stopping by to catch up on what you are reading…always interesting….

kesäkuu 26, 11:38 am

>93 avaland: Hello and welcome! I seem to be reading less this year than usual, so far, which is the precise opposite of what I was hoping for, but at least it's still an interesting mix of stuff.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 30, 1:36 am

47. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

The small town of Grafton, New Hampshire, was effectively invaded by two different groups at the same time. One was a burgeoning population of bears, who raided trash cans, frightened locals, ate livestock, and, in a couple of disturbing cases, mauled people. The other was a group of libertarians who'd decided Grafton was the perfect place to erect their anti-government utopia, and who set about defunding the town's already sparse public services, refusing to pay taxes, and basically asserting their right to do whatever the hell they liked, including feeding and/or shooting the bears. It... got kind of messy.

And so, I think, does the book. I find the subject -- or all three subjects: the libertarians, the bears, and the interactions between the two -- interesting enough. This account of it, however, feels a bit scattery and disjointed, although in fairness I'm not entirely sure how much the author could have done to bring a sense of structure to such an inherently chaotic situation. I also don't know quite how I feel about the writing style, which sometimes feels like it's trying so very, very hard to be quirky and lively and full of vivid description that it's in danger of wandering a little too far towards the purple, or at least towards the silly. The result isn't bad, by any means, but, I dunno. I think this book might have been over-hyped to me a bit, because, while it was fine as far as it went, I was expecting something that might feel a little more satisfying.

Then again, maybe any reservations I have say more about me than about the book. Everything I'd heard about it described it as entertaining, and that's certainly what it's attempting to be, but, well... There wascertainly a time when I could have looked at the weird antics of wacky political extremists and felt capable of being entertained by them, but I think I've just kind of lost my ability to contemplate such things and feel anything but weary and kind of sad.

All of which sounds much more negative than I really man to be. I'm glad enough to have read this, really. Just not as much so as I'd hoped.

Rating: 3.5/5

kesäkuu 30, 2:49 pm

I had roughly the same reaction, but intensely enough that I couldn't get through the whole book. The cutesy and the quirky overwhelmed the interesting.

kesäkuu 30, 6:13 pm

>96 KeithChaffee: I at least didn't have a problem getting through it, but I did maybe spend a fair amount of the time I was reading it vaguely wishing I was reading a different version of it instead.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 30, 8:33 pm

48. Adventure Time Vol. 2 by Ryan North

A second collection of comics featuring adventurers Finn and Jake and friends. This time our heroes meet a strangely familiar figure named Adventure Tim. Then Princess Bubblegum invents a time machine, so of course we immediately get lots of crazy time travel shenanigans, including a visit to an alternate future overrun by evil robots.

It's all good fun, and makes for a delightful fix of Adventure Time-y goodness for when you've run out of episodes of the show.

Rating: 4/5

heinäkuu 7, 7:50 pm

New thread for a new quarter of the year can now be found here. See you there!

heinäkuu 10, 8:11 am

>95 bragan: I gave up on this one recently, and I agree that there was a time maybe when this would have been entertaining, but now it really is sad on so many different levels that the quirky gloss couldn't really cover up.

heinäkuu 10, 3:04 pm

>100 stretch: Yeah, and it's too bad,because it genuinely was interesting, and if presented with a different tone, it could have worked a lot better.

Or maybe not. Maybe it just would have depressed me, regardless.