My buddy-reader and longtime friend of DA, Keishon, suggested that I post about what I’ve been reading recently and ask other people to chime in on their reading in the comments. I would love to hear what other people have been reading, because I invariably get good suggestions (the latest is the Kate Hewitt book Liz McC talked about in her last post).
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading:
Stephen King’s The Stand. This was part of my post-apocalyptic reading trend. Keishon and I decided to buddy-read it since it was over 1100 pages and I’d tried and failed before. I made it this time! We both decided to read the director’s cut edition. In addition to being longer than the originally published version, King updated the time frame from the 1970s to the 1980s. If you’re unfamiliar with the US in the 70s it may not be that apparent to you, but for me it was a bit jarring at times. Still, I enjoyed the book a lot. I thought it was really three novels in one volume: First up was the introduction of the many characters and the spread of the virus. This was scary, fast-paced, and gripping. In the second section the various storylines and characters converged as the survivors made their way to one of the two sides. One was led by the forces of good as embodied in a 101-year-old black woman, and the other by Evil. Third and last was the leadup to and then the climactic battle between the two sides. The second part dragged the most for me, and there is a literal deus ex machina at the end, but overall it was a great ride.
Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This is mystery novelist Ian Rankin’s favorite novel (he wrote his PhD thesis on Spark) and it’s been called perfect by critics. I can see why. It’s short, but Spark makes every word count. Miss Brodie is an unforgettable character, and despite the fact that the story is closely set in a girls’ school, the reader gets a rich, textured view of Edinburgh in that era. There is just so much packed into 160 pages, and it never feels forced or artificial. An amazing novel.
Dorothy Dunnett’s Race of Scorpions. The Perils of Niccolo continue in this third installment. An ax is buried in his shoulder and yet he survives and perseveres. This time the setting is primarily Greece and Cyprus, where Niccolo is caught between the warring half-siblings, Carlotta and James of Lusignan, who both claim the throne. The Genoese and Venetians are here, scheming, Uzum Hassan’s Turkomans are in the background, and the Mamelukes have arrived. The politics and warfare are very twisty and complicated. And so are the personal relationships. Simon St. Pol is mercifully absent, but Katelina is an important character and we meet more people Nicholas seems to be related to. I had my usual troubles with Dunnett. The overwriting is everywhere and I wish her editor had rationed her comma use. More seriously, her treatment of female characters continues to be frustrating and stereotyped. They all labor under their gender disadvantages in ways that feel more 19th/20thC than 15thC. All are frustrated, most are angry, the devious ones survive and the ones who become more sympathetic don’t. Why does Dunnett kill off her non-horrible female characters? At this point it’s both a feature and a bug. The ethnic stereotypes are present, too. The European villains are interesting, the Muslim ones are mostly not. Loppe continues to be a great, if under-specified, character, though. I assume his mysteries will be revealed in later books. That said, I enjoyed the novel overall. The complexity is fun if you just go with it, and Niccolo continues to be intriguingly opaque as he matures. What I like most is that the pursuit of commerce stays front and center, even while royals and aristocrats do battle with each other. It’s not just about gaining thrones, it’s about gaining trade routes, minerals, and the like.
James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. TheHusband and I started watching the TV series The Expanse, so I decided to read the books. It’s a fun space opera; the books are slightly different than the series, and more detailed as well. This is soft rather than hard SF, competently written in a cinematic style with a story that moves along nicely (especially in the second half). The cast of characters is enjoyable and I like the setting, where Earth has colonized the solar system in various ways but still has the same times of conflicts we have on a single planet. It’s political without being too heavy-handed. Great timepass: think Firefly meets Battlestar Galactica with better special effects.