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Old 01-30-2020, 02:10 PM
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Khadaji's Whatcha Reading Thread - February 2020 edition


February, 1/12 of the way through this year! We had spring in the Rocky Mountains for two days now winter is back. Dammit Demeter get a grip!

I am reading, and being terribly underwhelmed by, The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas.







Khadaji was one of the earlier members of SDMB, and he was well-known as a kindly person who always had something encouraging to say, particularly in the self improvement threads. He was also a voracious, omnivorous reader, who started these threads way back in the Stone Age of the early 2000s. Consequently when he suddenly and quite unexpectedly passed away in 2013, we decided to rename this thread in his honor and to keep his memory, if not his ghost, alive.

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Old 01-30-2020, 02:13 PM
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Last month's thread:Bye January! Hello longer days!
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:06 AM
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Three-fourths of the way through Napoleon: A Life, by British historian Andrew Roberts. The original British version was entitled Napoleon the Great. A fascinating look at the French dictator, although the author could have used a better editor.
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Old 02-02-2020, 04:14 PM
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Finished This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us, by Edgar Cantero, which was a lot of fun. It has a similar style to the Serge Storms books by Tim Dorsey.

Now I'm reading Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers, edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton.
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Old 02-03-2020, 08:18 AM
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I'm currently reading The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. I'll probably have to dip in and out of it, as it's quite a doorstop and I've got other books that will be due back at the library.
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Old 02-03-2020, 01:32 PM
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I needed something fun and cheerful, so I reread Pratchett's Wee Free Men. It's still charming. On a similar quest, I also read The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan. I've read one other book of hers and it was a nice cheerful romance with good scenery. This felt very unpolished, like it hadn't had a good copyedit or a thorough read by anyone before publication. It was a bit of a bummer.
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Old 02-04-2020, 11:01 AM
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Finished Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers, edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton. Many of these were very powerful.

Now I'm reading The Robots of Gotham, by Todd McAulty. It's a science fiction novel.
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Old 02-05-2020, 10:16 AM
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I read Columbine by David Cullen, about the Columbine school massacre back in 1999. It was an in-depth book, fascinating, but also tastefully and respectfully recounted. I recommend it.

I also read The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (a Japanese author). It's about a government that makes certain objects "disappear" from their citizens lives, along with the accompanying memories. But certain people still retain their memories, and the government tries to find and destroy those people, so people with memories look for safe houses to go into hiding. It's sort of reminiscent of the Underground Railroad or hiding Jews from Nazis, in that sense. In other ways, it reads as a futuristic novel by an author who doesn't typically write science fiction. In my opinion that made the book better, as the narrative isn't quite as steeped in technical explanations and action sequences as science fiction books tend to be.

I'm in the middle of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. I'm split in how I feel about it. There are certain things I really like about it: she has a conversational writing style, the portions on how therapy works from the therapist's perspective are interesting, and some of the aphorisms included are pretty thought-provoking. And some things I don't: the book is rather chaotic with the way it jumps around in time, I think she spends too much time telling readers about her past rather than sticking to the main story of her simultaneously being a therapist and a client, the book doesn't go into as much depth as I would like, and there are times when I feel as though the writer thinks of herself as this wise person talking to a stupid audience. (When she comments on how therapists don't know what to say more than patients realize, it comes across as assuming a certain lack of awareness on the patient's part. But when she later says that more patient's secretly want to be the therapist's favorite than you realize, that feels ridiculous, like saying that the patient has a secret from the therapist, but the therapist knows the secret, but the patients don't realize it.)

I also just started reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It's won a whole lot of awards and received glowing praise, so I have high hopes for it. But as the ex-wife of a police officer, I'm a little curious about how I'll react to it, since it's the (fiction) story of an unarmed black kid being killed by a police officer.
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Old 02-08-2020, 08:15 PM
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I finished two books tonight!

First I finished The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 2: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious, as a read-aloud for my first-grader. It was her Christmas present, and while it ain't great literature, it's really damn funny and charming, as Squirrel Girl always is. If you have any interest in middle-grade literature, these are worth picking up. They're light and silly and great fun.

On the other end of the spectrum I finished Dead Astronauts, Jeff Vandermeer's latest.

Holy shit. And not necessarily a good holy shit.

This is one of the toughest-to-finish books I've ever actually finished. Vandermeer has gone into full experimental mode. If I tell you that the novel is about a one-eyed future-seeing astronaut who returns to an apocalyptic world, an escaped slave who's a mathematical genius who constantly wants to dissolve into a precipitation of salamanders, and a sentient moss named Moss who takes on human form but also is the mathematician's girlfriend and also a science experiment, I'll have done you a disservice, because I'll have made the book sound far more straightforward than it actually is.

It's very nonlinear. Character points-of-view shift constantly. Tenses and persons shift. Some chapters have a single paragraph per page. Some chapters have version numbers in the margins, counting down or up. Some chapters are written in a faded font except for key words. Some chapters comprise a dozen short sentences repeated over and over for many pages.

It's a work of art, no doubt, and Vandermeer absolutely knows what he's doing. But it took me nearly a month to make it through the book, and I found myself dreading returning to it. My wife kept asking me, "Is it fun?" and I was like, "What the hell kind of question is that?" which isn't fair to her, because no, this book isn't fun.

But I think it's probably brilliant.
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Old 02-09-2020, 12:43 AM
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I finished The Moving Target, the first in the hard-boiled Lew Archer private eye series by Ross Macdonald (1949). It was OK but not great. Archer is hired by a rich woman to find her alcoholic husband, who may be off for a weekend of heavy drinking, or may be cheating on her, or just maybe is the victim of foul play. Noir hijinks ensue.

On the home stretch of For One More Day by Mitch Albom, a kinda-sappy short novel picked by my book club. Not wowed so far.

Just started Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, a pop-economics look at such topics at tax fraud, test cheating, the real estate biz and the downfall of the Ku Klux Klan. Breezy and interesting.
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Old 02-09-2020, 10:57 AM
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I finished my reread of Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series and I'm now reading a true crime story about Shelly Knotek called If You Tell. Holy crap, this woman was all kinds of crazy from an early age.
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Old 02-09-2020, 03:07 PM
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Finished The Robots of Gotham, by Todd McAulty. I enjoyed it, but more the world building than the plot. I'm hoping he writes more novels (or stories) set in that universe.

Now I'm reading Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, by Eloise Greenfield.
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Old 02-09-2020, 03:09 PM
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Finished The Robots of Gotham, by Todd McAulty. I enjoyed it, but more the world building than the plot. I'm hoping he writes more novels (or stories) set in that universe.
I agree. The writing was breezy and fun, and the world was interesting. I have almost no memory of the plot at all, but I think it was pretty paint-by-numbers action-movie plot. Good action scenes, though!
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Now I'm reading Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, by Eloise Greenfield.
These are great! I've used several of them with kids for teaching poetry, including the title poem and one about building sand castles and eating candy.
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Old 02-10-2020, 09:52 AM
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On the other end of the spectrum I finished Dead Astronauts, Jeff Vandermeer's latest.

Holy shit. And not necessarily a good holy shit.

This is one of the toughest-to-finish books I've ever actually finished. Vandermeer has gone into full experimental mode. If I tell you that the novel is about a one-eyed future-seeing astronaut who returns to an apocalyptic world, an escaped slave who's a mathematical genius who constantly wants to dissolve into a precipitation of salamanders, and a sentient moss named Moss who takes on human form but also is the mathematician's girlfriend and also a science experiment, I'll have done you a disservice, because I'll have made the book sound far more straightforward than it actually is.

It's very nonlinear. Character points-of-view shift constantly. Tenses and persons shift. Some chapters have a single paragraph per page. Some chapters have version numbers in the margins, counting down or up. Some chapters are written in a faded font except for key words. Some chapters comprise a dozen short sentences repeated over and over for many pages.

It's a work of art, no doubt, and Vandermeer absolutely knows what he's doing. But it took me nearly a month to make it through the book, and I found myself dreading returning to it. My wife kept asking me, "Is it fun?" and I was like, "What the hell kind of question is that?" which isn't fair to her, because no, this book isn't fun.

But I think it's probably brilliant.
Sounds like House of Leaves, ugh.


I read the Southern Reach trilogy and thought it was a lot of slog for not enough payoff. Jeff Vandermeer may be brilliant, but I'm not, so I don't have to try to read his books anymore. Yay!
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Old 02-10-2020, 09:59 AM
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Jeff Vandermeer may be brilliant, but I'm not, so I don't have to try to read his books anymore. Yay!
I'm kind of reaching that point myself. His books are growing progressively less straightforward, and I think I'm done with reading him unless I hear he's decided to return to a slightly more traditional model.

Of course, two years from now I'm gonna see his book on the New Book shelf at the library and think, "Oooh, Jeff Vandermeer! He's always interesting!" and then two weeks later curse myself.
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Old 02-10-2020, 12:14 PM
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Finished Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, by Eloise Greenfield. I enjoyed the poems, and my favorite was "Harriet Tubman".

Now I'm reading White Teeth, by Zadie Smith.
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Old 02-12-2020, 04:43 PM
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Finished White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, which was excellent.

Now I'm reading Frances Warde and the First Sisters of Mercy, by Marie Christopher.
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Old 02-12-2020, 04:50 PM
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Finished Stella by Starlight, a middle-grade historical fiction novel set in North Carolinaj in 1932. The protagonist is a black girl living in a small town that's being terrorized by the Klan. It's a pretty good look at the time period. The girl's life is complex and full of issues not centering around her white neighbors, but racism isn't minimized. Nor are all white people faceless villains, even though some literally are (or at least their faces are hidden by hoods).

Also, it doesn't kill a dog or sibling as a Very Important Lesson, which is a remarkable feat for a serious kidlit book.

I'm currently reading it to my fourth graders, who are really enjoying it and moaning in protest every day when I finish read-aloud. (The fact that we go straight into math after read-aloud is surely coincidental).

Definitely recommended if children's historical fiction is your jam.
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Old 02-12-2020, 05:04 PM
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The ornament of the world : how Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain - María Rosa Menocal A short history of the Arab control of Andalusia, which lasted from 700 AD to the fateful year 1492. The book focuses on intellectual culture of the period. The history is quite fascinating. The book itself is interesting.

Elemental : how the periodic table can now explain (nearly) everything - Tim James. A short series of essays on how chemistry works and how it effects everyday life, with illustrations and writing style clearly inspired by xkcd. Informative stuff, but so short that a lot of interesting stuff was explained only briefly. Dmitri Mendelev only gets about a page, for example.

Permafrost - Alastair Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds, a writer of superb space operas, has penned a short time travel novel. It's the year 2080 and humanity is doomed. Some sort of plague has wiped out most life on earth and rendered agriculture impossible. In desperation, a group of scientists determine to go back in time, retrieve some seeds, and bring them forward to restore farming and save the world. But they can't send physical bodies back, they can only project their consciousnesses into people living in the past and take over their bodies.

The book is tense, atmospheric, and suspenseful and at 150 short pages, it moves quickly. The prose is crisp and the ideas are well thought out. Highly recommended.
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:12 PM
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Finished Stella by Starlight, a middle-grade historical fiction novel set in North Carolinaj in 1932. The protagonist is a black girl living in a small town that's being terrorized by the Klan. It's a pretty good look at the time period. The girl's life is complex and full of issues not centering around her white neighbors, but racism isn't minimized. Nor are all white people faceless villains, even though some literally are (or at least their faces are hidden by hoods).

Also, it doesn't kill a dog or sibling as a Very Important Lesson, which is a remarkable feat for a serious kidlit book.

I'm currently reading it to my fourth graders, who are really enjoying it and moaning in protest every day when I finish read-aloud. (The fact that we go straight into math after read-aloud is surely coincidental).

Definitely recommended if children's historical fiction is your jam.
Absolutely coincidence
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Old 02-13-2020, 09:13 AM
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Finished Frances Warde and the First Sisters of Mercy, by Marie Christopher, which was okay.

Now I'm reading Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, by Barbara Neely. It's a cozy mystery.
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Old 02-13-2020, 09:52 AM
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I finished For One More Day by Mitch Albom. Nice message about the enduring power of a mother's love, but meh writing.

Also finished Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Better, but felt a bit padded, especially its extended discussion of baby names - including dozens of lists - and what impact the name of a child might have on later career success.

Just started my next Spenser detective novel by Robert B. Parker, A Catskill Eagle. Spenser's ex-girlfriend Susan Silverman gets involved with a billionaire's bossy, controlling son in California and, of course, Spenser has to help her. Pretty good so far.
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Old 02-13-2020, 10:36 AM
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Just finishing Grand Hotel, Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel, the basis for the all-star 1932 movie. The dancer and the jewel thief (played by Garbo and John Barrymore) take up far too much oxygen, but I’m enjoying the more minor characters, especially the business guy (Wallace Beery) and the dying man (Lionel Barrymore). Gotta watch the movie, now.

Beginning to pick and choose short stories in The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, mid-20th century SF. “The Little Black Bag” was excellent.

Coming in the mail: American Poetry in the Twentieth Century by Kenneth Rexroth. Kenny is the MAN. I’d read his grocery lists if someone published them.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:49 PM
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Finished Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, by Barbara Neely, a cozy mystery. Meh.

Now I'm reading Straight Outta Deadwood, edited by David Boop. It's a Weird West anthology.
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Old 02-14-2020, 11:59 PM
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Finished Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts. Very good and thorough. But he could have used a better editor, not to mention a better fact checker. For example, in one place he mentions a certain French officer was killed by bullet to the forehead, while in another he has taken a cannonball to the chest. But still worth a read.

Have started Gettysburg, by Stephen W. Sears, the history of the major Civil War battle of which my ... I think it was my great-great grandfather was a participant, with a New York regiment.
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Old 02-15-2020, 12:19 AM
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Im nreqding the first Percy Jackson book, on recommendation of one of my students... who was just kicked out of our program (a reform school) and sent packing, which means shes been sent back east to live with her abusive mother. I'm having a real hard time with this as she is (was) my favorite student. It's going to be hard to finish this one.
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Old 02-15-2020, 12:23 AM
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...Have started Gettysburg, by Stephen W. Sears, the history of the major Civil War battle of which my ... I think it was my great-great grandfather was a participant, with a New York regiment.
Once you're done with that, I hope you'll read The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's Pulitzer-winning novel about the battle, if you haven't already. Good stuff.
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Old 02-15-2020, 01:12 AM
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Once you're done with that, I hope you'll read The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's Pulitzer-winning novel about the battle, if you haven't already. Good stuff.
Thanks. Will put that on my list.
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Old 02-15-2020, 05:33 PM
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Got Arthur Phillips's newest book, The King at the Edge of the World, from the library today. Really looking forward to it. I didn't much like Prague (didn;t finish it actually), but I thought Angelica was great, liked The Tragedy of Arthur even better, and LOVED The Egyptologist. This one is apparently about a Muslim doctor in Queen Elizabeth I's court and Great Intrigue regarding the queen's impending death-without-an-heir. High expectations.

While I was at the library picking it up I also found a novel called Curious Toys by someone named Elizabeth Hand. 1915 in Chicago, looks like sort of a mystery/suspense kind of deal. One of the characters is outsider artist Henry Darger, whose works I have some familiarity with. Could be wonderful, could be terrible; we shall see.

Elendil's Heir: I liked Freakonomics when I read it a few years back, and then started reading their blog--gave it up after a while, though. Some of the things Dubner was posting in particular felt just a little too self-centered and off-topic, not freakonomics-y enough (not freak- enough and not -onomics enough either). Anyway, the blog did exist a while back and might be worth a look-at if you have the time and energy...

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Old 02-15-2020, 11:35 PM
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...Elendil's Heir: I liked Freakonomics when I read it a few years back, and then started reading their blog--gave it up after a while, though. Some of the things Dubner was posting in particular felt just a little too self-centered and off-topic, not freakonomics-y enough (not freak- enough and not -onomics enough either). Anyway, the blog did exist a while back and might be worth a look-at if you have the time and energy...
Thanks. I just might, although I tend to strongly favor books over blogs.
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Old 02-16-2020, 03:30 PM
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Once you're done with that, I hope you'll read The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's Pulitzer-winning novel about the battle, if you haven't already. Good stuff.
I strongly recommend this book, too.

Finished Straight Outta Deadwood, edited by David Boop. I enjoyed many of these stories. I thought the best one was "The Stoker and the Plague Doctor", by Alex Acks.

Now I'm reading Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith, by Tim Schenck. I picked it up in our church's library mostly because I liked the title. I don't drink coffee myself.
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Old 02-17-2020, 12:37 AM
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Just finished Robert B. Parker's A Catskill Eagle. Not his best, with the somewhat-implausible involvement of the CIA, but also with the welcome reappearance of two characters from earlier Spenser books.

I'll be returning shortly to Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith's massive bio, Van Gogh: The Life.
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Old 02-18-2020, 09:51 AM
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Just finished Robert B. Parker's A Catskill Eagle. Not his best, with the somewhat-implausible involvement of the CIA, but also with the welcome reappearance of two characters from earlier Spenser books.
I agree with these comments. Have you read Small Vices? I think it's the best Spenser novel.

Just finished Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith, which was okay, although it had some factual errors.

Now I'm reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin.

Last edited by Dendarii Dame; 02-18-2020 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 02-18-2020, 05:23 PM
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I agree with these comments. Have you read Small Vices? I think it's the best Spenser novel....
I think I did, around the time it first came out (which I see was 1997), but I remember very little about it. I think my favorite Spensers are probably Looking for Rachel Wallace, Ceremony and Pale Kings and Princes.
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Old 02-19-2020, 01:29 PM
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Hey, I don't know if I'm supposed to be telling y'all this , but Michael Koryta has a new book out under a pseudonym. It's called The Chill by "Scott Carson". Supposedly he's going to write his supernatural stuff under this name, and his more mainstream stuff under Koryta. I plan to read all of it, but it's good to know what to expect!


I had already rejected The Chill because I saw it had a blurb from Stephen King, but I'm adding it to the pile now.
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Old 02-19-2020, 08:56 PM
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Note to all you folks chunkin’ down the Robert B. Parker novels — you know you could be doing a lot better in the private eye genre, no?

Try some Philip Kerr, Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman, or Ross Thomas’s Briarpatch (Best novel Edgar Allan Poe award, 1986).

Or relive the golden days with Hammett, Chandler, and Jonathan Latimer.
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Old 02-19-2020, 09:21 PM
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I don't agree, Ukulele Ike; I think Parker definitely belongs in the same category as Ross Thomas or Loren Estleman.
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Old 02-19-2020, 11:42 PM
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I've read several of those authors' work, too, and think Parker at his best keeps right up with them.
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Old 02-20-2020, 09:19 AM
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Note to all you folks chunkin’ down the Robert B. Parker novels — you know you could be doing a lot better in the private eye genre, no?

Try some Philip Kerr, Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman, or Ross Thomas’s Briarpatch (Best novel Edgar Allan Poe award, 1986).

Or relive the golden days with Hammett, Chandler, and Jonathan Latimer.
I've read Block (my favorite book of his is nonfiction about writing, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit), Estleman, and Hammett. I still like Parker the best.

But when I get through some of my TBR pile, I'll try one of the other authors you suggest.
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Old 02-20-2020, 02:25 PM
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Block is great if you want formulaic plots that do the same things book after book after book....
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Old 02-22-2020, 12:02 AM
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I've tried several Parkers/Spensers and finally swore I'd never read another one. Did not impress me favorably.
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Old 02-22-2020, 03:42 PM
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Finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin. It was excellent--the best novel I've read this year so far.

Now I'm reading Restless Creatures: The Story of Life in Ten Movements, by Matt Wilkinson.
  #43  
Old Yesterday, 12:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ukulele Ike View Post
...Try some Philip Kerr, Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman, or Ross Thomas’s Briarpatch (Best novel Edgar Allan Poe award, 1986).

Or relive the golden days with Hammett, Chandler, and Jonathan Latimer.
Please recommend your favorite book by each, or a good book for a first-time reader of each to get started with.
  #44  
Old Yesterday, 08:55 PM
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Took me a couple of weeks, but I just finished The Pursuit of William Abbey, Claire North's latest.

Damn, this book is grim. It's set in a hospital next to the trenches during World War I, but if that's not grim enough, it's full of flashbacks to British colonial rule in Southern Africa, as well as a host of other horrific locations. Like most of North's books, it posits one supernatural phenomenon and explores how folks react to, use, and despair of this power.

The power, in case you're curious (it's revealed pretty quickly in the text, so this is just a spoiler for the first 50-70 pages):
SPOILER:
There's a curse you can get, in which the ghost of someone walks toward you, never stopping, no matter how far away you are. When they're close to you--within a hundred miles or so--you can see the truth in the hearts of everyone around you. When they're very close, you can't help but babble that truth constantly. When they reach you, they enter your body and emerge from the heart of the person you love most, killing them, and beginning their walk toward you again.


She's a very, very good writer, and just getting better. But we're not talking uplifting books full of hope here.
  #45  
Old Yesterday, 10:21 PM
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I read your spoiler. Yeeesh, that's spooky!
  #46  
Old Today, 02:49 PM
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Triggered by Donald Trump Jr. Good book. Also, The Unholy Trinity by Matt Walsh, also great!
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