Khadaji's Whatcha Readin' thread -- July 2018 Edition

'Sup? July is almost here and in the US that means fireworks and stressed out dogs. Be kind to dogs and combat weary veterans, not to mention the rest of us who need to sleep and limit your fireworks use.Thanks!
So with the PSA out of the way, what are we reading?

Khadaji was one of the earlier members of the 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, and he started these monthly book threads. Sadly, he passed away in January 2013, and we decided to rename these monthly threads in his honor.

LAst month: Oh June, where did you go?

I’m on book 3 of the Gentlemen Bastards series. Waiting patiently for book 4.

I’m currently on How It Happened, a very good mystery by Michael Koryta. I’ve been trying to figure things out, as you do, and have just reached the point where I metaphorically throw up my hands and go, “Damn! I never could have seen that coming.”

I loved the first two books. The third one, not so much–it felt too much like Lynch was working through the fallout of a failed relationship in his own life, and not especially wisely. I’m hopeful that the next one finds the author in a better place.

Unfortunately, I now have to re-re-re-read a number of Harlan Ellison’s books. I think I’ll start with Shatterday, which contains not only two of Harlan’s funniest stories, but two that still give me nightmares.

He does seem to start with one plot, drop it to do another, and then wrap up the first plot rather hastily. Still, I think his writing is witty, his world-building robust, and the plot twists jaw-dropping.

I know he wrote a long screed on Twitter about how he suffered a mental breakdown after submitting Red Skies for publication. I wish he’d get in a good place to finish Thorne of Emberlain. It must be stunning to have George RR Martin pen favorable book blubs on the front cover. I think any of us would be a jibbering mess.

I finished British author Jeffrey Archer’s A Prison Diary, about his experiences when he was convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice and sent to Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in 2001. He wrote that his experiences were “hellish,” but at most he sounds mildly inconvenienced when he doesn’t get just the food he wants, or the cellblock is noisy at night, or he’s moved to another cell on short notice. The prison guards were careful with him, being a celebrity, and he also had bigger, stronger prisoners looking out for him. This is the first of three volumes - not sure I’ll go on to the others, but I might.

Still reading The Falklands Play by Ian Curteis, a BBC teleplay about British policy missteps and diplomatic maneuvering before and during the Falklands War. Generally admiring of Thatcher and disdainful of the Argentine junta, it’s a good read.

I’ve also begun an audiobook of John Keegan’s 1976 history The Face of Battle, about how warfare affects the common soldier, from Greek hoplites to the present day. It started off very dry and pedantic, but now I’m getting into it.

About 85% through Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen and Owen King. A condition suddenly affects all women the world over – when they go to sleep, they become enmeshed in cocoons. The story centers on a small town in West Virginia. Very good. I think it came out last year.

Diving into non-fiction, which is not my favorite.
12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos by Dr. Jordan Peterson
Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell

I’m waiting for the new Paul Doiron, which comes out Tuesday.

Can anyone tell me about Andrew Klavan’s books? I’ve just heard of him, and I’m interested, but cautious.

I agree with all that. I found myself feeling bad for the author while I read it, and while that doesn’t stop me feeling bad for him, it keeps the book from accomplishing its goals, I think. I hope both for his improved life and for a more entertaining sequel.

Speaking of entertaining, Claire North’s latest, 84K isn’t really that. It’s one of the bleakest dystopias I’ve ever read, a hypercapitalist England in which The Company controls the government, and every crime offers the choice between paying a fine or indentured servitude/slavery. It is grim as hell, written in a stylistically dense fashion, full of unfinished sentences and multiple timelines, and wonderful. This is the bitter coffee to drink after you’ve had a plate of sweets.

And after it I need some sweets, so it’s off to read Brust’s Good Guys. Don’t let me down, Brust!


I’m currently reading, or trying to read, “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman” by PD James. The conceit is that Cordelia Gray, a young (20-ish) woman of eclectic upbringing, becomes the sole proprietor of a detective agency when her partner commits suicide. Her first case is to figure out why Mark, the son of a rich scientist, dropped out of school and then killed himself. Of course, this being a mystery novel, it quickly becomes clear that the death is suspicious and still waters run deep, yada, yada.

So, pretty typical and solid foundations for a murder mystery, and, in typical British drawing room type mystery fashion, we quickly acquire a list of suspects, ranging from Dad’s employees to Mark’s circle of oh so blase friends. And this is where P.D. James loses me. It’s all so bloodless. Not a single one of the characters, including Cordelia, resembles any person I encountered while passing through 1974 (the publication date of the novel). Granted, I didn’t spend any time in British University towns, but unless they were inhabited by actual space aliens, I rather think that P.D. James didn’t either.

Let’s start with Cordelia. She is just ridiculously emotionally detached and analytical. It’s not clear what she wants above and beyond her five pounds a day plus expenses. (Which, incidentally, seems to be about $12.00/day which makes me think the story might not be firmly rooted in 1974.) At one point she’s at a party and comments on the various mating rituals as though she’s an ethnographer from a different culture. (Her own views on sex appear to be “tried it. Was OK. Don’t need to do that again anytime soon.”)

The students she’s investigating are also weird. They don’t seem particularly upset about or interested in Mark’s death, but they seem totally OK with not only answering the detective’s intimate questions about their love lives (in fact, it’s hard to stop them), but they also invite her along to various merry expeditions – punting on the river, a house party. (Also, it’s mid-summer and I can’t figure out why all these students are just lounging around campus – I don’t think class is in session.)

So the whole story seems divorced from the real world. It inhabits some sort of British Mystery universe where people still dress for dinner, everything outside of Cambridge is still sort of economically depressed and dreary from WWII, research scientists are millionaires, and everybody is just A-OK with a half-trained private investigator hanging around and asking questions (although, as one of the students notes, it is “an unsuitable job for a woman”). So even when we discover the solution to the mystery, it’s probably going to be motivated by some British Mystery Universe circumstance that is shocking and reputation destroying in Universe, but in actual 1974 would have been greeted by a "whatever, deal with it.).

I started A Higher Loyalty by James Comey but cannot finish it. He is a decent man, but he is soooo boring.

Recent reads

Just the Sexiest Man Alive, by Julie James. Romance. Horrible “hero.”

Not a Creature was Stirring, by Jane Haddam. Cozy mystery. Nice atmosphere and good characters. Not really “solvable” feeling, but a good read.

The Body in the Basement, by Katherine Hall Page. Cozy mystery (much cozier than the Haddam). A change of pace for this series, having a sleuth that isn’t Faith. Enjoyed. Not challenging in the slightest.

The Darkness Knows, by Cheryl Honigford. Historical mystery, set in the 30s. Not good characterizations. Decent plotting.

Farm Fresh Murder, by Paige Shelton. Cozy mystery. Ridiculous sleuth.

Guaranteed to Bleed, by Julie Mulhern. Historical mystery, set in the 70s. This series is so entertaining. Like “The Gilmore Girls” if Lorelei were more of a pushover and people kept getting murdered in her hostas.

A Pinch of Poison, by Alyssa Maxwell. Historical mystery, set in the 20s. Two POV characters, but they are completely indistinguishable for me. The ending of this one made no sense at all.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. Non-fiction. LOVED this.

The Murderer’s Tale, by Margaret Frazer. Historical mystery, set in the 15th century. I have a soft spot for ecclesiastical mysteries.

Consequences of Sin, by Clare Langley-Hawthorne. Historical mystery, set during the Edwardian period. Readable, but with odd fantastical elements.

The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon), by Melvin R. Starr. Historical mystery set in the medieval period. I don’t remember the actual dates. Does a lot of telling, not showing at the beginning, but then it seems to settle in. The author LOVES foreshadowing, and I do not.

Finished Sleeping Beauties, by the father-son team of Stephen and Owen King. A new form of sleeping sickness, dubbed Aurora after the name of the princess in the Sleeping Beauty tale, affects the women in the world. As soon as they fall asleep, they are encased in a cocoon, leaving males completely unaffected. The action is centered on the impoverished coal-country town of Dooling, West Virginia. Not bad, worth a read.

Next up is Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

My recent fiction picks:

The Girl With All the Gifts, which I do not recommend. I like the book for about the first hundred pages: the main character is locked in a cell most of the time. The only times she’s let out is to get a shower in chemicals that burn her eyes, eat (but only once a week), or take classes while chained to a wheelchair. Her classmates (fellow prisoners) are occasionally taken away with a doctor and never return. Then about a hundred pages in, the book abruptly turns into apocalyptic fiction, with half a dozen characters wandering in the desert trying to survive and not really doing much of anything. This story idea would have made for a strong short story, but didn’t work for me as a full-length novel. (In the author’s defense, I didn’t finish the book, so it’s possible that the plot picked up again.)

Sushi for Beginners, which I absolutely do recommend. It follows the lives of a couple employees working at a start-up women’s magazine. What’s so great about this book (and I’m paraphrasing a book review I saw) is that the whole book is good – with some books, you have the really juicy parts, and then the filler that you skim through to get back to the good part. This book was written in a light-hearted manner and I laughed out loud at times, but it’s also honest in that you believe the actions of the characters and come to sympathize with them (well, some of them).

In nonfiction, I read Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. It’s written by a behavioral economist, so it’s a book on psychology backed by a lot of scientific experiments. I am hooked on these sort of books, so I was familiar with a good amount of the studies and concepts presented in the book, but I think it’s one of the better books in the genre. The book is compulsively readable, never getting too dry or textbooky, but also sticks to the point. It’s not one of those books where the writer veers off on tangents describing how a certain person is dressed or what the building they did an experiment in looks like. The content is all relevant to central theme of the chapter.

A couple more from the last couple of days:

Pat of Silver Bush, by L.M. Montgomery. This took me a really long time to warm up to. Once I did, it was quite enjoyable, though I found it deeply sad and am not sure I was supposed to. A character that regrets every change is tragic, for me. Nostalgia always strikes me as tragic.

The Cater Street Hangman, by Anne Perry. Historical mystery. Not at all satisfying as a mystery, since there’s not a lot of detecting or finding things out going on. But it’s an interesting read, nonetheless.

I wouldn’t go so far as to not recommend the book, because it is well written, but I do agree with you. The initial premise is very interesting and then it degenerates to bog standard genre fiction. Pretty disappointing.

Finished Stick a Fork in Me by Dan Jenkins. A few funny lines, but not one I’d recommend.

Just started A World of Difference, by Harry Turtledove. I’m doing a reading challenge this year, and for July, it’s to read a book set in a cold climate. This book is set in an alternate solar system, where the fourth planet from the sun, Minerva, is big enough to support intelligent life. It’s still cold, though.