Khadaji's Whatcha Readin' - March 2014

Well, for us folks in North America, this is ideal reading weather - fireplace on, check. Dog curled up, check. Beverage appropriate to the hour, check. I’m cheerfully working my way through some of Mount Toberead.

First off, I finished Ann Ireland’s “The Blue Guitar” - I had to break off reading it for a bit as I was preparing for an important concert. Reading about a young, hotshot classical guitarist who had a nervous breakdown onstage, and a different 40 year old classical guitarist who couldn’t find enough time to practice because of her family obligations was just not helping my find my Zen for the performance.

It’s a good book, but not a great book. The parts that I found most interesting were the extremely realistic depictions of what goes on at a major guitar competition. For the first time in ages, I thought a book was too short - I would have liked about 30 more pages that filled in some of the details about the SARS-like virus that had Toronto under quarantine, and some of the relationships were left hanging a bit.

I also finished Frederic Norton’s “A Nervous Splendour”, which was a fascinating glimpse into ten months of Viennese history, circa 1888.

I’m currently reading “A Feast for Crows”, the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I’m also re-reading Richard Dawkin’s “Climbing Mount Improbable”, an exploration of species that evolve symbiotic relationships. Also on the pile - Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” and Iain Banks’ “Stonemouth”.
And you - whatcha readin’?
A link to last month’s thread.
For those of you unfamiliar with him, **Khadaji **was a long time doper with a kind heart and an encouraging word for everyone. One of his passions was books, and he started this long chain of book discussion threads many years ago. When he died in January of 2013, it was decided that the best way to honour his memory was to continue these threads, and name them after him. May his corner of heaven have a well stocked library, a comfy chair and lots of light.

Oh this looks cozy. It’s 40’s and raining where i am, pass the hot teas please.

I started A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva today. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I haven’t read enough espionage fiction, but the omniscince of the enemies in his books is a bit tiresome. The hero hasn’t been in Vienna a full day yet and already surveillance is in place and I can say which side characters are going to bite it in the next couple of chapters.

Close to finishing LaBrava, by Elmore Leonard.

I’ve had this on my ToRead list for awhile & thanks to your recco, am bumping it up near the top!

I’ve been surrounding myself with SF short stories lately - am working on the following collections & enjoying both:
Brave New Worlds (John Joseph Adams ed.) As you might guess, it’s a collection of dystopia stories, ranging from Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery” to “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” by Cory Doctorow. Mostly new-to-me material that I’m really enjoying, but a bit heady/depressing to read in long stretches. I’ve trying to alternate it with lighter fare.

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century (Harry Turtledove ed.) isn’t really that much “lighter”, but there’s some great stuff in here as well. A couple of standouts: “The Winterberry” by Nicholas DiChario, and “The Undiscovered” by William Sanders, both of which were new to me and “Dance Band on the Titanic” by Jack L Chalker, which I’d read before. “Bring the Jubilee” was wonderfully detailed; I think I’ve read some of his stuff in various anthologies, but want to track down more of Ward Moore (so to speak).

I finished Red Mars and started Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson but then had to travel a bit and wanted something lighter to carry so I paused to read the excellent Attica by Gary Kilworth. It’s a YA novel with shades of Narnia - three children end up exploring their new home’s attic and discover it’s very much larger than they expected! Bizarre adventures ensue. I read his autobiography On My Way to Samarkand last year, which is how I heard about this book…

And now, before returning to Green Mars, I’m zipping through Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen, a slightly alternate history about how we’re pretty much at the point of being able to build a space elevator. So they do, in great detail! Interesting mainly for the concept and it’s realisation over the course of the book, not the writing.

I’m reading Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I read her other take on this fairy tale (Beauty) a few years ago, so I’m interested to see how this compares. Apparently Robin McKinley decided to write this version after she began growing roses - I can certainly see it. Beauty is a gardener, roses are exceedingly rare flowers that usually only grow in the presence of magic, and her love for the blooms leaps off the page.

I’m also reading N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy with an online bookclub, and we’re almost at the end of the third book, The Kingdom of Gods. This series is some of the most unique fantasy I’ve ever read. The world, characters and mythology are rich, complex and wonderful.

The same bookclub has just started Terrier by Tamora Pierce. I read it 5-8 years ago, and don’t remember too much about it, except that I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tamora Pierce’s other works. I’m hoping I’ll like it better this time around, what with all the enthusiastic reading companions I’ll have.

I’m on We Were the Mulvaneys. Interestingly, its opening line is “We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?” I can’t think of another book that opens with the exact title.

She definitely loves roses.

I’m reading Frances Carpenter’s Tales of a Korean Grandmother for the first time in mumblety-odd years. I used to have a copy that wandered off somewhere sometime. Most of the book takes place before WWII in a traditional upper-class Korean home. The stories are framed in descriptions of everyday life with the Grandmother telling folk tales to the children to illustrate whatever is going on in their day.

I’m reading Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez, and I’ll probably read her In the Time of the Butterflies after that.

Strongly recommended: Snow Wolf, by Glenn Meade, one of the best cold war thrillers I have read in a long time.

Did Joseph Stalin die of natural causes, or at the hands of a CIA agent at the direction of Eisenhower?

I’m reading The Con Man by Ed Mcbain. Having read the 87th Precinct series over the last 30 years I decided to go back to the start and read them all again now that they were cheap on Kindle. Also doing the same with the 11 mysteries written by Georgette Heyer, which I originally read about 20 years ago, now that they’re on kindle.

Finished LaBrava, by Elmore Leonard. Very Good. Joe LaBrava is an ex-Secret Service agent, now a freelance photographer living among colorful characters in Miami. He becomes caught up in a rather odd scam.

Next will be a volume containing the first three novels of Anthony Powell’s 12-novel series A Dance to the Music of Time. First up: A Question of Upbringing.

Ya know What? Scratch that. I don’t want to start another series yet until I finish what’s been written to date with A Song of Ice and Fire. But first, I’m going to read The Gods of Guilt, the latest Lincoln Lawyer novel by Michael Connelly, which I just picked up this weekend. That one’s the next up.

After binging on two Dan Simmons expedition doorstoppers, The Abominable and The Terror, I’m back to litfic with The Goldfinch. I probably should have read a mystery or an espionage book first to ease the period of adjustment because I keep mentally stranding the poor motherless protagonist up at Camp 3, or out on the Arctic ice.

Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise is a pretty good near-future book about building a space elevator.

I’m making my way through the short story collection The Best of Joe Haldeman, ed. by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. They included some favorites of mine but criminally omitted some others. So it goes.

Also on my bedside table is Roy Jenkins’s 1974 political essay collection Nine Men of Power, with short profiles of John Maynard Keynes, Joe McCarthy, RFK, Lord Halifax and others. Not bad.

I’m reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Last week I was happily swallowed up by Ransom Riggs’ Hollow City. This has been a wonderful series so far. I just can’t bear to think of how long I now have to wait for the next installment!

I’m almost finished with Tesseracts Fourteen: strange Canadian stories, which is very much living up to its subtitle. A lot of the stuff here is, in the immortal words of Moe Syzlak, “weird for the sake of being weird”, but there are a couple of good ones. Mostly, I had to read this book because I was so enamored of the cover art.

Two recent winners and a dud, not too bad.

LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Long Division by Kiese Laymon. Time travel in a coastal Mississippi town, with stops in 2013, 1985, and 1965, told with a “book within a book” format. It does have some problems – I thought 1965 seemed significantly weaker than the other two times, for example, but overall, it was terrific and had a great narrative voice. Even when the events spin out of control, and the plot focuses more on issues than individuals, I was really impressed by how much of an emotional connection I had with the main character, 14 year old City Coldson. It’s one of those books that has teen protagonists, but I would say it’s solidly an adult novel.

Tubes, by Andrew Blum, non-fiction, pop tech look at the physical structure of what makes the internet work. As a geeky person, I was very excited by the descriptions and explanations of things like router hubs and submarine cables, and the enthusiasm of the author is pleasant. I could have done without some of the author’s musings on “the internet isn’t a place, but it has physical places, yet is a place not a place if the place is sometimes physical and sometimes not …” – the book was interesting enough without that, and it sounded like his editor thought it would be a good idea if the book had an overarching theme other than “hey, switching hubs are neat.”

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd was dreadful. I think it’s supposed to be a vaguely titillating musing about people’s secret lives, but it ended up being tiresome.

I finished “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman. I considered putting it down (or throwing it across the room) multiple times, but for some reason I finished it. It was a decent enough story, I guess, but I thought it was poorly written. I have very little tolerance for head hopping (being in all the characters’ heads), and it switches tenses constantly.

I’m now reading “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the second book in the “Millennium” series. I began reading it several years ago, right after my daughter was born, but never finished. I had a hard time reading anything at that time, and it was a little too violent for me as the mom of a newborn. I’m liking it much better this time around.

I’ve been re-reading John Grant’s excellent tetralogy **Discarded Science, Bogus Science, Discredited Science, ** and Denying Science. Well-written, quick reads (although, if you want to search deeper into the topics he covers, you really need footnotes rather than a bibliography)