Archives for posts with tag: books

My colleague Stas posts a monthly entry of books he’s read with a bit of commentary. Deciding to do the same.

  1. (Audio) Mel Brooks – All About Me. A lot of fun, great stories about making the classic movies. Hadn’t known that his company produced The Elephant Man and My Favorite Year. (The latter didn’t surprise me, the former did.)
  2. Ken Krimstein – When I Grow Up. Graphic novel of several autobiographical stories submitted to contest for Jewish youth in the 1930s. The results were supposed to be announced on the day the Nazi’s rolled in to Poland. Long thought lost, they were rediscovered in 2017. Krimstein chose six for this volume. Very moving.
  3. Genevieve Cogman – The Invisible Library. Cool fantasy/detective/bibliophile novel. Quite enjoyed it. A friend recommended the second in the series when Amazon had it for 99p. Turns out I had already bought this one (the first in the series) a couple of years ago. There are now eight in the series. Fun.
  4. Agatha Christie – Curtain. The last Hercule Poirot. Good stuff. But most of AC’s books are.
  5. Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle In Time. Great YA fantasy. Christian/Western underpinnings are sometimes obvious, mostly not. Enjoyed the reread.
  6. Madeline Lo – Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Oh man. This was *so* good. YA romance set in 1954 San Francisco. The daughter of Chinese immigrants falls in love with another girl at her high school. Beautifully done.

It’s been another interesting year, bookwise. More audio books, for some reason. I subscribed to Audible last year for the sole purpose of hearing the audio drama of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (Act 2 of which I’m enjoying as I write). More such stuff made itself known, and this year, best beloved turned me on to Heisenbook, a podcast with books of many different kinds.

I’ve been interested in reading the Narnia books, but wasn’t sure I had the patience. Was happy to find them on Heisenbook, but even with that availability (and Patrick Stewart narrating), I haven’t managed The Last Battle. I’ve been thinking a blog entry on the series might be in order, but I’m not sure I have anything new to say on the matter.

Audio (narrators in parentheses)
John Scalzi – Lock In (Wil Wheaton)
C.S. Lewis – The Magician’s Nephew (Kenneth Branagh)
C.S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Michael York)
C.S. Lewis – The Horse and His Boy (Alex Jennings)
C.S. Lewis – Prince Caspian (Lynn Redgrave)
C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Derek Jacobi)
C.S. Lewis – The Silver Chair (Jeremy Northam)
BRIAN BLESSED – ABSOLUTE PANDEMONIUM (BRIAN BLESSED) (If you’re familiar with Mr. Blessed, you’ll understand why that’s in caps. If you’re not familiar, this might be a good start, but so is Flash Gordon.)
Frank Herbert – Dune (Multiple actors. Nicely done, but couldn’t get into Dune Messiah, which is a mess. I’ve read the original six books enough times that I can skip it.)
Rob Halford – Confess (Rob Halford, lead singer of the mighty Judas Priest narrating his own memoir. Fascinating story.)
Neil Gaiman – The Sandman – Act II (Radio dramatization – many actors, Gaiman himself does the narration)

Books
SF – Ben Bova – End of Exile (I’d read the other two books of the Exiles trilogy before January 1. Did not hold up from my reading as a teenager, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with racism and sexism.)
Fantasy – Seanan McGuire – Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)
SF – Mary Robinson Koval – Articulated Restraint (Lady Astronaut adjacent novella)
Dystopian YA – Rachel Churcher – Finding Fire (short stories that wrap up the excellent Battle Ground series. (She’s a dear friend and I’ve been a beta reader since she wrote the first book. I hope my input added to its excellence, but I do have a bias.)
SF – Cat Valente – Space Opera (Eurovision meets Battle Royale in space. If that combo appeals to you, get it now. You’ll get it.)
Short stories / Humour – Damon Runyon – Furthermore
Fantasy – Seanan McGuire – Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)
Historical fiction / Detective (Unknown author) – Everything Is In Order (read this to assist the editor who wanted some sensitivity feedback. Nazi Germany set hard-boiled detective novel. I enjoyed it and hope it gets published one of these days.)
Fantasy – Neon Yang – Descent of Monsters (Tensorate series #3)
Drama – Oscar Wilde – The Importance of Being Earnest
SF – Octavia Butler – The Wild Seed (Patternmaster series #1)
Fantasy – Neon Yang – Ascent to Godhead (Tensorate series #4) (This quartet requires more concentration than I gave it and a reread is definitely in order.)
SF – Becky Chambers – The Galaxy and the Ground Within (Wayfarers series #4) This is the one with the galaxy’s very best discussion of cheese. Great book, too.
YA Fantasy – Norton Juster – The Phantom Tollbooth (I reread this every few years, and Juster’s passing was the nudge to pull it down again.)
SF – Octavia Butler – Mind of My Mind (Patternmaster series #2)
SF – Nino Cipri – Finna (LitenVerse #1)
SF – Arkady Martine – A Memory Called Empire (OMG, I love this book and will reread it soon in advance of reading the sequel.)
YA Fantasy – L. Frank Baum – The Wizard of Oz (Not sure what the impetus was – something about wanting to see how color was used in the original text. Enjoyable, but I couldn’t get into the next one in the series)
SF – Nino Cipri – Defekt (LitenVerse #2)
SF – Charlie Jane Anders – Victories Greater Than Death (Gorgeous story of adolescence, found family, and fantastic space aliens and a sequel is coming soon.
Literary Fiction – Isaac Bashevis Singer – Enemies: A Love Story (I read this for a book club. Enjoyed it, but it’s really weird.)
Fantasy – Nghi Vo – Empress of Salt and Fortune (Singing Hills cycle #1)
Fantasy – Nghi Vo – When Tiger Came Down The Mountain (Singing Hills cycle #2 – Goodreads suggests two more are coming!)
Fantasy – Seanan McGuire – Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)
Fantasy – Katherine Campbell – Love, Treachery, and Other Terrors (debut fantasy with faeries, contested thrones, sibling relations – good stuff)
Fantasy – Storm Constantine – Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (a reread from many years back about which I had a thing or two to say)
Short Humour – Damon Runyon – Take It Easy (more short stories)
Fantasy – Seanan McGuire – Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children #6)
Fantasy – Emily Tesh – Silver in the Wood
Fantasy – Emily Tesh – The Drowned Country
Fantasy – Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer (really good)
Fantasy – Terry Pratchett – Small Gods (reread)
Travel – Vita Sackville-West – Passenger to Teheran (I knew that Vita had been a prolific writer, and this memoir of a 1926 journey to visit her husband in the diplomatic was 99p, so I grabbed it. At one point she talks of stopping in Baghdad to visit Gertrude Bell. I had no idea who Bell was, but that’s started me down another rabbit hole.)
Fiction – Leonard Woolf – Stories of the East
Fantasy / Detective – Cassandra Khan – Hammers On Bone
Detective – Ann Cleeves – Telling Tales (cool female detective a friend introduced me to – another rabbit hole as there are eight other Vera Stanhope novels and about 30 other books Cleeves has written.)
Travel? – Gertrude Bell – The Arab War (Why not jump in the deep end – these are secret dispatches sent to British Intelligence from the Middle East during World War 1. Fascinating stuff.)
Poetry – Federico Garcia Lorca – Gypsy Ballads (We visited Granada on our vacation and was keen to visit a place or two associated with his life and to read some of his poetry. His reputation is well earned.)
Fantasy – Ursula K. Le Guin – Always Coming Home (When I was in college, a roommate who’d grown up in Washington state waxed eloquent about this book and told me about the cassette made of music described in it that was sold with the first printing. A year or two ago, that music was released on Bandcamp. I wanted to read the book before listening to the music, but I found the book such hard going, that I haven’t listened yet. Beautiful, but as half anthropological treatise and half disconnected stories (or tangentially connected stories), it wasn’t the easy thing I’d been hoping for.
Essays – William Gibson – Distrust That Particular Flavor (Collected essays and other short pieces. Fascinating dip into his brain. Different than his fiction, but not by that much.)
SF – Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon (African futurism with aliens and Nigerian politics and quite different from the Binti stories (my only other dive into Dr. Okorafor’s work – looking forward to more.)
Steampunk – P. Djèlí Clark – A Dead Djinn in Cairo and 41. M. P. Djeli Clark – The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (Steampunk Cairo with supernatural creatures and crazy science – definitely looking forward to reading more of Clark’s work.
YA – Lauren Shippen – The Infinite Noise (Really lovely queer high school romance with touch of the supernatural for added interest.)
Fantasy – Jordan Ifueko – Redemptor (sequel to Raybearer. Very good stuff.)
Poetry – Avrom Sutzkever – The Full Pomegranate (dual language Yiddish/English anthology of Sutzkever’s poetry)
Fiction – Clayton Barbeau – Dante and Gentucca (Clayton’s son Mark is an old friend of mine who once managed a band called M-1 Alternative. M-1’s third album was called The Little Threshing Floor. A couple of years ago I was in Tuscany and reading The Commedia when I came across the titular phrase. In that moment I also recalled that there was a quote in Italian on the CD booklet from same. So I pinged Mark and asked him what he recalled. One thing he recalled is that his father had written a novel about Dante and sent me this small-press published section. I started reading it at the time and picked it up again this week.)
Poetic Fiction / Travelogue – Federico Garcia Lorca – Sketches of Spain (lovely volume that does what it says on the tin. Lorca traveled through his native country and provides beautiful looks at the churches and neighbourhoods, embracing the beauty and the ugliness where he finds them, sometimes in the same place. My favourite section is the one on Granada’s Albaicin sector which I visited recently. It’s rather gentrified from the time of Lorca’s writing when it was poor, mostly Moorish, and freckled with brothels.
Fantasy – Nnedi Okorafor – Binti (reread – Dr Okorafor tweeted adamantly that the Binti stories were not YA, so I had a conversation with a friend who writes YA about the definition, and I’m pretty sure the first Binti story, at least, fits pretty squarely into YA. This doesn’t lessen a magnificent story’s brilliance. I’m not sure why the author is so firm on it not being.)
Almanac – Sandi Toksvig – Toksvig’s Almanac (Written during the first phase of the pandemic, I received it off my wish list last year for Xmas. It’s been loo reading ever since. Fantastic looks at famous, should-have-been-famous, and infamous women through the ages. Recommended.)
Fantasy / Pulp – Kameron Hurley – Apocalypse Nyx (Not sure how I came to this one – Hurley has written several books about bounty hunter Nyx and her interestingly integrated team of misfits on a planet torn by war and This collection, I think, serves as some of the back stories to those novels. These stories are very much in the pulp tradition (Lester Dent would recognize the debt owed to Doc Savage’s team), but with a lot more alcohol, drugs, sex, and nihilism. Recommended.
Short Stories – Salomea Perl – The Canvas and Other Stories (Dual language Yiddish/English – These recently translated stories of life in the Polish shtetl at the turn of the last century are as incisive and beautiful as the stories in Dubliners. ‘Potki With the Eyebrows’, the last story, gave me the epiphanic shivers.)
Fantasy – Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: Home (reread)
Science – Stephen Hawking – A Brief History of Time (I picked up this copy a few years ago after seeing The Theory of Everything. It’s been loo reading all year, and I finally plowed through the last couple of chapters in a rush.)


In progress:

Gertrude Bell – The Desert and the Sown (Travels in Palestine and Syria)
Jonas Jonasson – The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (reread as I picked up a couple of Jonasson’s other books whilst on holiday.)
Katherine Campbell – The Canadian Nights (an amusing take on The Arabian Nights)

So my desire this year was to read more books by women and non-binary writers. This doesn’t mean that I’d be focused on literary fiction necessarily, and I read very little. I’ve been getting newsletters from Tor books (sign up here) for a while and taking them up on the occasional freebie and this guided most of my reading this year. Meaning a lot of SF and fantasy. Occasionally I’d pick something recommended by The Writer’s Almanac. And for some reason I reread Virgina Woolf’s Orlando and was far less impressed with it than I was 25 years ago.

I have several new favouite authors whose works I hadn’t known of before this year. Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series is probably my favourite new writing. She’s created a version of the future with fantastic non-terrestrial but marvelously human characters to interact with superb earth-descended folks. Of the three novels so far published in the series (fourth and final due in February), the one that touched me the most was A Closed and Common Orbit.

Nnedi Okorafor‘s Binti series is only my second or third encounter with Afrofuturism (Black Panther and the Parable novels by Octavia Butler being the others) and I found it intriguing and fascinating and beautiful. While I’m now caught up with Chambers’ work, Okorafor has been prolific. I’m not quite sure where I’ll go next.

I’m going to have the same problem with Mary Robinette Kowal. Her Lady Astronaut series posits a US space program that begins of necessity in the 1950s due to a meteor striking the eastern seaboard. Our main character was a pilot in WW2 and has to fight her way into the space program. In the first two books we have this great combination of hard science and the realities of sexism and racism in mid-century America. I read the first two volumes of the series (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky). The Relentless Moon is waiting for the new year. And, again, she’s prolific, with eight other novels and a scad of short stories waiting for me as well.

A.E. Warren’s Tomorrow’s Ancestors series, posits a future in which supposedly more advanced humans have not quite enslaved Homo Sapiens, but they keep Sapiens down in retribution for the ills and wars they created. The situation is a lot more complicated, but our teen hero Elise teams up with both cloned neanderthals and more advanced humans to seek out a new future. The Museum of Second Chances and The Base of Reflections are out now and are really good. (Note: these books will be reissued next year. The Museum of Second Chances has a new title: Subject Twenty-One.)

I’ve also really enjoyed the first three books in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries. Our (anti-) hero is a SecUnit (a kind of cyborg guard/gun for hire who should be under the control of The Company, but they’ve managed to hack their own governor module and can roam free. All Murderbot really wants is time to enjoy soap operas and other downloaded entertainment, but there are mysteries to solve first. I enjoyed All Systems Red and Artificial Condition (Murderbot 1 and 2) more than Rogue Protocol (#3) but I’m hoping that’s a glitch and that books 4, 5, and 6 will be better.

J.Y. (Neon) Yang’s Tensorate series has a promising start. The twin offspring of the Protector are raised in a monastery and eventually learn that one is a prophet of sorts. In the world of the stories, one doesn’t choose one’s sex until age 18 or so. Eventually they join the rebellion against the Protector. For relatively short novels, they’re really hard to summarise but very beautiful. Yang drops us somewhat in the deep end with the technologies of the stories’ world, but it’s well worth riding out. Start with The Black Tides of Heaven and continue with The Red Threads of Fortune. Black Tides is included in Tor’s free anthology, Fantasy from Asia and the Asian Diaspora.

I think my favourite read of the year was This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Two characters fighting on opposing sides of the titular war leave eachother messages on their various battlefields and eventually fall in love. And it’s so much more complicated and beautiful than that. The ending comes much too soon. A couple of years ago, my friend Jeff recommended Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, which at the time was a whole lot of money for little cash for the kindle, so I bought and it sat in the queue. After Time War, I read the first book in the sequence, Three Parts Dead, which is also quite good. I look forward to getting to more of that in the new year.

Another near-perfect book is Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Signal to Noise. The story is of a trio of misfit teenagers in late 80s Mexico City who discover a sort of magic. Various tensions tear the trio apart. Our protagonist, Meche, moves to Norway after high school, but returns in 2009 for her father’s funeral. And the stories run in tandem until we learn the various secrets everyone has held. On the one hand, it’s a fairly straight up romance with a smidge of the supernatural. On the other hand, the writing is magical all on its own. And Moreno-Garcia, who I’d never previously heard of, has seven other novels and a bunch of short stories. And her MA thesis is on the work of HP Lovecraft.

And most recently, I’ve finished the first book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, Every Heart A Doorway. Book 6 (of what I hear will be 10) in the series comes out in January or February and Tor offered the first five for free for one day each a couple of weeks ago. I thought on day 1 that there had been a mistake, because I had book two in my download folder. I pinged tor.com on Twitter and the author tweeted me back very quickly, but not before I’d figured out that I had book two from a previous giveaway and I’d downloaded book one into the wrong folder. Anyway, Seanan McGuire is really nice on the tweetbox. Every Heart A Doorway is a slightly creepy and very beautiful story of children who have all found doorways to other worlds, but for whatever reason had to come back to this reality and deal with all of the consequences. And in the midst of a new arrival’s first week, there’s a murder. And so there’s a nifty sort of Agatha Christie story to tell as well. And not only are there four more in this series immediately available and one preordered, McGuire has published a couple dozen other novels and a lot of short stories. And five albums of music which are currently out of print, though there’s a rumour at least one is coming back out.