Recent Reading: Yours and mine

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:

The Stand coverStephen 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.

Miss Jean Brodie coverMuriel 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.

Race of ScorpionsDorothy 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.

Leviathan WakesJames 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.

 And now it’s your turn. What have you been reading? What do you recommend? What do you warn us to avoid? How are you using reading (or not using it) as a way of getting through our Current Horribleness? Tell me in the comments!
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14 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Yours and mine

  1. I just finished Kate Quinn’s ‘The Alice Network’. I am still in that ‘good book coma’. where I am barely articulate. The
    writing is great, the characters are real people (in some cases, literally). Bonus points for learning something new.
    The POV alternates between young Charlie St Clair in 1947 and Eve Gardiner. who narrates her experiences as a spy in WWI. Charlie is desperately searching for her French cousin Rose, who was last heard from in 1943 and wants Eve’s help in finding her. Eve, now 54, living on booze and cigarettes, is all set to say no, when Charlie mentions the name of the restaurant where Rose worked. And we are off to France. There is mystery, romance, revenge, and a totally satisfying ending. BTW, while parts of Eve’s story had me in tears, I did not ‘ugly cry’ like I did with ‘Code Name Verity’

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    • Nor am I able to format or punctuate! Oh for an edit feature. I also want to say good things about Yoon Ha Lee’s ‘Raven Stratagem’, the follow-on to last year’s ‘Ninefox Gambit’.. Fantastic military SF with Asian accents. I am anxiously awaiting the next volume. I’ve been lucky (or more picky) this year–very few clunkers.

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      • I’ve been eyeing Yoon Ha Lee but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. And I didn’t know anything about the Quinn; that sounds right up my alley. Something that connects the two world wars sounds especially interesting.

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        • The best way to approach ‘Ninefox Gambit’ is to just dive right in and go with the flow–sorta like a total immersion foreign language class. The world he has constructed is quite interesting. As with Ann Leckie’s Ancillary books, an underlying theme is the problems in governing a vast empire of disparate societies.

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  2. It’s another news firehose week where I can’t keep up with my scrolling Twitter feed and try to stay off the internet but it’s hard to look away.

    I got the 2nd Lymond book from my used book store, since I seem to do better with those in paper, and I plan to take it on my vacation at the end of the month.

    I just finished the second in Hans Olav Lahlum’s Norweigian mystery series (and returned it with all my outstanding library books, planning to read TBR only for the rest of the summer). I found these eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation and enjoyed the first two. They are homages to Christie and other Golden Age writers with classic puzzle plots which are their chief draw for me (the first is literally a locked room mystery). They are set in the 60s/70s but at least in the first two, the mysteries are linked back to WWII events, and that’s interesting too. As always, I as surprised to remember that “Quisling” is the name of an actual person, not, like, a made up term or a Dickens character. The writing–or translation–is kind of wooden and the characters a bit one-dimensional, but they are fun reading–much longer than Christie though. So that is my rec if I didn’t use it up on Hewitt!

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    • Good luck with the Lymond! I seem to remember that one as more linear and having a smaller cast of characters. It’s before things really ratchet up with the arrival of the Big Bad in #3, anyway.

      The Norwegian mystery series sounds like a great rec, thanks! I’m listening to Christie audiobooks this summer, and I’m still somewhat on the fence. I’ve read a lot of novels by the other Golden Age types, but for some reason I’ve only read 5-10 Christies. I’m listening to my first Miss Marple, and I definitely like her better than Poirot, although everyone still talks too much. So. Many. Conversations. Still, I’m persevering. 🙂

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  3. Jo Nesbo wrote another Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, this year and I am currently reading and enjoying it. Detective Harry Hole has settled down now, got married and is now a underpaid teacher. Katrine Bratt is now a lead detective, a protege of Harry’s and the story is now mostly following her as she unwraps a murder investigation. I wonder if Nesbo is handing off the lead to her and will continue the series with her and not Harry because she’s a strong female character and I would love to see her take over the series.

    Harold in Stephen King’s The Stand has halted my reading of that novel for the time being. Like you said, great beginning but man, the tediousness of some scenes and character arcs are really making it difficult. Not a big fan of supernatural stuff so I was surprised to see it in this book but then again this is Stephen King. It’s a great story but it’s just so damn long.

    If I had to warn away anybody away from a book it would be to read the 1100 page The Stand. The additional pages don’t seem to be worth it. To me.

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    • Ooh, I’ll have to tell TheHusband about the new direction for the Harry Hole books; I think he’d like that.
      I found a lot of the Boulder section to be a slog. I got over the Magical-Negro aspect of Mother Abagail, but that central section just went on and on. I know we weren’t supposed to like Harold, but a little of him went a long way, and I got tired of Fran. Randall Flagg was the best part. It did pick up in the last third, though, and the tunnel scenes are amazing. I loved the way King got people across the country throughout the book. But I agree, if I were to reread I’d check out the 800-page version, not least because it’s set in the 1970s where it obviously belongs.
      I can see why people love the book, though, and love so much of King’s work. He has a very scary imagination, but he puts that together with such great portraits of everyday people. Not necessarily “ordinary” but people you could (and do) meet in everyday life.

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      • is the part about the tunnels in the last section? I keep hearing about the tunnels and I wonder if I’ve read it already.

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        • There is the Lincoln Tunnel scene in the first part, which you’ve read. Then there are a couple of scenes set around the Eisenhower Tunnel, and I don’t think you’ve gotten there yet. The Lincoln Tunnel scene is more detailed but the Eisenhower is scary too, at least to me, because it’s long and up in the mountains. Plus the horror parts of course.

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          • Yes, I remember the Lincoln tunnel. Eisenhower Tunnel, I don’t think Ive read that yet. I’ve only gotten brief scenes with Flagg and how he’s been running the community (crucifying folks). I’m at the part where this woman is hooking up with Harold as they both are working with Flagg (well, she is). And of course, Abigail is missing in the woods.

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