Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (2)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week's topic is:

Top Ten Books I Read in 2013

So, in no particular order: 

The Missing Ink, by Philip Hensher
For making me want to get out a fountain pen and write letters to people for the pure pleasure of writing by hand. (I actually did write a couple to my sister.)
The Wheel of Ice, by Stephen Baxter
For being an excellent science fiction novel that also happened to feature the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie.
Eighty Days, by Matthew Goodman
For filling in details I never knew about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland.

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay
For being so beautiful I just want to read it out loud.
Red Planet Blues, by Robert J. Sawyer
For combining science fiction, Westerns, and detective noir in such thought-provoking ways.

The Human Division, by John Scalzi
For the great characters and the diplomatic maneuvering.

For the fascination of decipherment, and for making me want to invent a syllabary. (I did not actually do this.)

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, by Chris Kluwe
For teaching me some new cursewords, and for being monumentally entertaining. I now support Chris Kluwe for Overlord of Humanity.
One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson
For being so funny I kept having to read whole pages out loud to my husband. He read the book as soon as I was done, just to get the context of some of the anecdotes.
Royal Airs, by Sharon Shinn
For the immersive experience; it dragged me in and kept me absorbed in a way few books do any more.

And there are some others I could have mentioned, which I take to mean it was a good year.  I read 100 books exactly, as I had challenged myself to do, and won a t-shirt from the library where I work in the process. 

We had over 1300 people sign up for the challenge, and we ended up with 180-odd winners: a little over 10 %, which is not too shabby for a do-it-yourself kind of program. We'll be doing it again next year, but I don't guess I'll sign up again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

WWW Wednesday (2)

W...W...W...Wednesday is a meme is from shouldbereading. To play along, just answer three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you'll read next?

So here goes:

What are you currently reading? The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. My book club picked it for this month, and our meeting is a week from today, so I have plenty of time. I'm enjoying it so far, but then I always did like 19th century novels.

What did you recently finish reading? Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, by Tony Cliff, which I picked up chiefly because of the fabulous boots of the swashbuckling title character on the cover. Fun little graphic novel.

What do you think you'll read next? Possibly something by Neil Gaiman. I have Fortunately, the Milk checked out right out, but I'm also working through a Sandman reread and The Kindly Ones is due back at the library first.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (Story 78)

starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan, and Michael Wisher as Davros.

The Doctor (fourth incarnation), traveling by transmat beam with Sarah and Harry in tow, is intercepted and redirected to the distant past of the planet Skaro, where the long war of attrition between the Kaleds and the Thals is just about to lead to the creation of the Daleks by the Kaled chief scientist Davros, who considers them the only hope for the ultimate survival of his race. A mysterious Time Lord instructs the Doctor to prevent the Daleks from ever coming into existence, or failing that, to introduce changes into their programming in order to make them less aggressive creatures.

The Time Lord considers this a service to the future, preventing the carnage and destruction of the many Dalek wars and conquests. The Doctor calls it genocide, and accepts the assignment under duress, having no way to get back to the TARDIS except by the time ring he is offered in exchange for completing the mission.

Of course, the real creator of the Daleks was on hand here as well, since Terry Nation wrote this six-part serial to anchor Tom Baker's first season as the Doctor. It was also the first season with Philip Hinchcliffe as producer and Bob Holmes as script editor, and they wasted no time in trying to take the show in a darker, grittier, more grownup direction; this particular story is unremittingly grim.  It's a thoroughgoing retcon of the Daleks' origin; Davros had never before been alluded to, much less named, and the humanoid race that gave rise to the Daleks had previously been called the Dals, not the Kaleds.

As always with a six-parter, there's a bit of stretching to fill the time, elaborate escape attempts that go absolutely nowhere, and so on.  But Davros is a brilliant creation, and it was inspired casting to have him portrayed by Michael Wisher, who had provided Dalek voices in a couple of previous serials. He's genuinely frightening, and never more so than when he's calmly contemplating the intellectual exercise of whether, having created a virus that would destroy all life, he would then use it. (Spoiler: He would.)

I am pleased that the library where I work has started to get some of these classic Doctor Who serials. Mostly 4th Doctor so far, with a little bit of the 5th Doctor for good measure; I'll have to suggest some good 3rd Doctor stories next.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WWW Wednesday (1)

W...W...W...Wednesday is a meme is from shouldbereading. To play along, just answer three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you'll read next?

So here goes:

What are you currently reading? Good Man Friday, by Barbara Hambly. I've had it out from the library for a while now, and I don't want to renew it again, but I really don't want to take it back unread. So I finally picked it up this week, and it's going pretty quickly, as books in this excellent series tend to do.

What did you recently finish reading? Star Wars: Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller. Star Wars is a very flexible setting, accommodating every kind of story from zombie horror to detective noir; this one, clearly, is a Western.

What do you think you'll read next? The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, just because it's time for a little nonfiction. I tried to read this once before and didn't get very far into it, though, so there's always the possibility that I'll switch to Harvest of Time, the Doctor Who novel by Alastair Reynolds.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Wilder Rose

by Susan Wittig Albert.

While working on the manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake at her home in Connecticut, Rose Wilder Lane relates to a young friend how she went home to the family farm in Missouri just as the Great Depression was beginning and encouraged her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, to write the memoir of pioneer life that ultimately became the Little House series--and how their complicated relationship led Rose both to become deeply involved in shaping the successive manuscripts into publishable form and to disguise the fact that her editing almost amounts to ghostwriting.

To this day, the only name on the Little House books is that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and for some fans of the series the extent of Rose Wilder Lane's contribution to the work is still debatable. Laura has many defenders, who point to her experience as a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist and her evocative letters to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco (eventually published as West from Home) as evidence that she was the sole author of all the books, and Rose did no more than clean up the spelling and grammar as she was typing the manuscripts, and perhaps give her mother a little inside advice on the publishing process and an introduction to her own agent. Rose's published fiction, some of it based on the same family stories that went into her mother's books, is very different in tone and style, they say; it's immediately obvious that the same person could not have been responsible for both Little House on the Prairie and Let the Hurricane Roar.

Others take the position (supported by William Holtz's biography of Rose, The Ghost in the Little House) that Laura's original manuscript was little more than a collection of anecdotes, needing a lot of work to become a publishable narrative--work that Laura wouldn't have known how to do, but Rose, already a professional writer for twenty years, certainly did. Adherents of this view point to The First Four Years, now usually published as the last of the Little House books but obviously not as polished as the other entries in the series, as evidence that it was Rose's work on the other eight books--reordering events to impose plot and structure on the loose family stories, inserting dialogue and dramatic tension--that made them the classics that they are, and Rose deserves credit as a co-author: credit her manipulative mother, accustomed to getting her own way, denied her.

Albert's novel leans towards the latter version of the story. But if Rose was Laura's ghostwriter--and the evidence of Rose's diaries and Laura's letters tends to support this interpretation--she must also have been complicit in the deception involved. She and her mother had the same agent, and Rose knew many people in the New York publishing industry; she would have had to go to some trouble to keep the depth of her involvement a secret, but a secret it remained. 

The exploration of why Rose might have gone to so much trouble is the best part of this subtle, insightful novel. She and her mother had a troubled, complex relationship, and if Laura was used to getting her own way, so was Rose. Compassion, obligation, resentment, and yes, manipulation--on both sides--all went into the mix, as they tend to do between many mothers and daughters. This is a fascinating, well-written story, and I plan to do my best to see to it that the library where I work buys multiple copies; my only concern is that as a self-published title, it doesn't appear to be available from our usual wholesaler, but there are ways around that!

A Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert, was published as an e-book and in paperback on September 1, 2013, and will be out in hardcover on October 1. Thanks to Perservero Press (that is, to the author) and NetGalley for making advance copies available.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (1)

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week's suggested theme is:

Top Ten Books (or Series) I Would Love to See on the Screen

The caveat, of course, is that this would be in an ideal world where movies and TV shows don't routinely butcher the books we love, and that's why my first pick is a series that's actually already been on TV for about half a season:

10. The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. 
The SciFi Channel (not yet moronically rebranded as Syfy) gave it a shot, and didn't do as badly as I was afraid they might. Some of the changes they introduced even made sense as necessary adaptations for a visual medium, like making Bob the Skull into a ghost (so that there would be an actor to look at instead of a cheap special effect) or giving Harry a vintage Jeep to drive instead of the venerable Blue Beetle (so that they could actually fit a camera inside a vehicle with the 6'3" actor). But this series still counts as a huge missed opportunity for a great urban fantasy TV show. Bring back Harry Dresden!

9. A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton. 
I would actually like to see the whole alphabet series as a weekly TV show, and I think it would work really well as one; the handful of Kinsey Millhone short stories read like really good episodes. This will never happen, because Sue Grafton is determined that it won't, but a girl can dream, right?
8. Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce.
I think the recent success of female-led fantasy/adventure movies like Snow White and the Huntsman just goes to show that the world is now ready for a cinematic treatment of the story of Alanna the Lady Knight.

7. Circle of Five, by Dolores Stewart Riccio.
Another mystery series tailor-made for a TV show, this one centers on a Wiccan circle in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They have a light touch, the mysteries are actually pretty mysterious, and the Wicca is refreshingly not sensationalized very much. It'd be a great vehicle for an ensemble cast of actresses of assorted ages.

6. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

It's been a long time since I read it, but I loved this book when I was younger. I suspect that if I went back to it now, I would find it's been visited by the Sexism Fairy since the last time I checked in, and there are some points that would have to be tweaked to be palatable to modern audiences, but I'd still love to see the dragons on a big screen now that the technology is there to render them well.

5. A Free Man of Color, by Barbara Hambly.

This would probably be a tough sell: a historical mystery about a free black man in pre-Civil War New Orleans. But the books are so fabulous I'd love to see somebody try it.

4. Retief's War, by Keith Laumer

Just because there's a distinct lack of smart science fiction on the screen. These combine intrigue, action, mystery and humor in extremely entertaining ways.

3. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman.

I know this is the one of my choices that doesn't really go with the others: a work of nonfiction. But I like movies that are based on true stories as well (though I never make the mistake of thinking the true story makes it to the screen unscathed), and I've felt for a long time that Nellie Bly would be a fantastic candidate for a biopic.

2. ElfQuest, by Wendy and Richard Pini.

These ain't yer haute elves, as Richard Pini himself has been known to point out. There's an astonishingly beautiful fan-made trailer out there showing just how amazing this could look in live-action, but of course the origin of the material in comic books would lend itself pretty well to an animated movie too. Given the violence and sexual content of the story, live action might be better, just so nobody makes the mistake of thinking that because it's a cartoon it's, you know, for kids.

1. Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
 There was a movie made of it a long time ago, and the original play has been revived at least once that I know of fairly recently, but I would really like to see a movie or a TV miniseries that treats the subject seriously. Most of my objections to the movie Haunted Honeymoon boil down to the fact that the producers apparently wanted the next Nick and Nora, and tried to turn the story into a screwball comedy instead of a love story (albeit with detective interruptions). It is a damned shame that Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter weren't allowed to add this one to the three Wimsey and Vane stories they filmed for the BBC in the 1980s, but I'd be happy to see a modern version.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (30)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Dangerous Women, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin (Tor Books, December 3, 2013).

Writes Gardner Dozois in his Introduction, "Here you'll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you'll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more."

Can't go wrong with that. I probably would have picked this up just from the description, but I happen to know that this contains a Dresden Files story by Jim Butcher (telling what happened to Molly in her Ragged Lady phase) and a Westeros story by George R. R. Martin (the history of the Dance of the Dragons, a civil war in the distant backstory of his Song of Ice and Fire series), so I'll definitely be getting hold of this as soon as I can.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (29)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  So here's a thing I'm very much looking forward to: Royal Airs, by Sharon Shinn (November 5, 2013, from Ace).

Josetta is a princess of one of the Five Families. But she is far from the throne, so she is free to spend her days working in the poorest sections of the city.

Rafe Adova, an outcast since he was born, lives the life of a career gambler in those slums. He has no ambition other than cheating at the card tables—until the night he decides to help a girl named Corene, who looks like she's stumbled into the wrong bar.

She, too, is a princess—sister to Josetta, who finds her with Rafe. He fascinates her. Josetta has never encountered anyone like him—someone seemingly devoid of elemental blessings.

He is drawn to her, though he thinks they are unlikely to ever meet again—but their connection grows strong when she nurses him back to health after he is assaulted by foreign mercenaries. And when they learn the reason he's being hunted, they know that the truth about his history could endanger not only their love but also their very lives…

I grinned like a fool when I saw this book on Fantastic Fiction.  I really loved the first one, Troubled Waters. And Sharon Shinn tends to write the kind of series that I like best: the kind where every volume presents its own standalone story, and there are no cliffhangers to speak of. I'm very much looking forward to finding out more about this setting.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (28)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I find I'm looking forward to: Sense and Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope (October 29, 2013, from HarperCollins).

John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate. When she descends upon Norland Park, the three Dashwood girls—Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret—are faced with the realities of a cold world and the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.

Reimagining Sense and Sensibility in a fresh, modern new light, Joanna Trollope spins the novel’s romance, bonnets, and betrothals into a wonderfully witty coming-of-age story about the stuff that really makes the world go around. For when it comes to money, some things never change.... 
Not exactly the author's name you expected to see paired with that title, is it? I hadn't heard of this project until I ran across this book in the "Coming Soon" section of Fantastic Fiction, and I was immediately intrigued. I've never read anything by Joanna Trollope before, but I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, and I agree that her work is broadly applicable to this day. 

I'll also be quite interested to see what Val McDermid makes of Northanger Abbey, the next title up for reimagining.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (27)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction, by Terry Pratchett (October 22, 2013, from Doubleday).

A collection of essays and other non fiction from Terry Pratchett, spanning the whole of his writing career from his early years to the present day.

Sir Pterry won't be with us much longer, one way or another, and that makes me sad (though I did read an interview with him not too long ago where he remarked that his Alzheimer's isn't as bad as either he or his doctors expected it to be by this point, so maybe we've got a little bit longer; I live in hope). I've read a previous essay collection of his, Once More* with Footnotes, and while it wasn't as consistently hilarious as the best of his novels it was still pretty entertaining.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A to Z Bookish Survey

I saw this at The Ladybug Reads (who got it from Respiring Thoughts) and thought, Hey, I haven't done one of these surveys in a really long time.

Author you've read the most books from:
I don't really keep track, but I know for sure I've read 20 books by Jim Butcher, 27 by Tamora Pierce, 50 or so by Anne McCaffrey, and 77 (!) by Mercedes Lackey (counting those where she was a co-author, including one with Anne McCaffrey).

Best sequel ever:
The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. LeGuin. We won't talk about some of the later books in that series.

Currently reading:
The White Princess, by Philippa Gregory. I have to finish that one by the 23rd; there are people waiting for it at the library so I won't be able to renew it.

Drink of choice while reading:
Ice water, usually. Occasionally iced tea or iced coffee (black).

E-reader or physical book?
I was having this very discussion with some coworkers the other day. They both agreed that now they hate holding a physical book, and will go with the Kindle version if there is one available. I've had a Nook for a year and a half, but I haven't gotten to that point; I find it more annoying to swipe a screen than to turn pages, and still prefer a physical book if I can get my hands on one.

That said, it's really about the story for me rather than the format, and if the ebook is what's available I'll cheerfully charge up the Nook.

Fictional character you would probably have dated in high school:
I didn't date in high school, purely through lack of interest, so I don't think I'd've dated anybody I read about in books. Besides, the fictional characters I imprinted on were much older men who were far too sophisticated to be interested in an awkward, socially inept teenager, and in any case they would have been arrested for going out with me when I was underage. (I did have a huge crush on Lord Peter Wimsey when I was in high school.)

Glad you gave this book a chance:
World War Z, by Max Brooks. I hate zombie stories, but I loved, loved, loved this book. I proselytize about it all the time at the library where I work; these days my pitch for it usually includes the phrase "it's really not much like the movie."

Hidden gem book: 
King Hereafter, by Dorothy Dunnett. It will change the way you think about Macbeth.

Important moment in your reading life:
The moment I decided that life is too short to read boring books, and that I am in no way obligated to finish a novel just because I started it.
Just finished:
The Sandman: Worlds' End, by Neil Gaiman. I read that whole series a long, long time ago, and have recently embarked on a reread.
Kinds of books you won't read:
Boring ones. Not a big fan of horror (though I've read some Stephen King) or westerns (though I've read a good bit of Louis L'Amour).
Longest book you've read:
Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard. Or maybe it just felt like the longest.
Major book hangover:
Coming out of The Lord of the Rings is always difficult. Every damn time.
Number of books you own:
I have about 400 catalogued at LibraryThing, but I know there's more than that in the house.

One book you have read multiple times:
I like to reread favorite books, though I don't do that as much as I used to. I've read The Lord of the Rings about fifteen times.
Preferred place to read:
On the sofa. I'll also make do with the bed, the armchair, the kitchen table, the hammock chair in the back yard, a cushion on the floor, the break room at work, the bench under a tree outside the library, the bus, the passenger seat of a car, the gate area of an airline terminal, the deck of the vacation cabin, or, you know, anywhere really. Not while I'm driving, though.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels:
"Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he chooses to think and talk about other topics than jailers and prison walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it."  J.R.R. Tolkien on escapism, and the best possible answer to anybody who sneers at you for reading what they consider trashy books.

Reading regret:
That it took me three volumes to give up on The Wheel of Time series, instead of just the one. 

Series you started and need to finish:
I just take a deep breath and repeat to myself, "George R. R. Martin is not my bitch."
Three of your all-time favorite books:
The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith. The Virgin in the Ice, by Ellis Peters. Small Favor, by Jim Butcher. 

Unapologetic fangirl for:
Doctor Who tie-in novels. Just about to get started on Harvest of Time, by Alastair Reynolds, a third Doctor story.
Very excited for this release:
The next thing by Sharon Shinn, whatever that is. Her books all have that quality of IWantToReadItosity for me.
X marks the spot: 27th book on your shelf: 
When We Were Very Young, by A.A. Milne. At least, that's the one on the top shelf of the bookcase that's nearest at hand.

Your latest book purchased:
An almanac, I think.
Zzz-snatcher book: 
I'm getting too old for that. Guy Gavriel Kay used to get me every time, though.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Elysian Fields

by Suzanne Johnson (third in her Sentinels of New Orleans series).

DJ Jaco, Green Congress wizard and Sentinel of New Orleans, has a lot on her plate. A series of murders apparently copying the crimes of the 1918 serial killer known as the Axeman turns out to be the work of the actual Axeman, back from the Beyond, and DJ hears from her other contacts among the historical undead that an unknown necromancer may be aiming the Axeman at her. Meanwhile, her friend Jake Warin's loup-garou curse, acquired when he got mixed up in Sentinel business two books ago, is spiraling out of control, to the point that he may become a danger to DJ herself. DJ's best friend's boyfriend is paying far too much attention to DJ, and getting creepier about it by the day. The Council of Elders is insisting DJ take some lessons in elven magic, and their chosen elven expert is her least favorite wizard on the Council. And to top it off, Jean Lafitte has discovered Coca-Cola, and is probably already making plans to smuggle it into the Beyond.

Suzanne Johnson's Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series is a lot of fun, especially for those of us who are a little familiar with NOLA. In this third volume, DJ's life gets a lot more complicated, partly due to circumstances beyond her control; political machinations within and between the various components of the preternatural community play a large role there, and the involvement of the Elven Synod and the Regent of the local vampires does not help make everything crystal clear.

But DJ's own actions also contribute to the mess she finds herself in by the end of the novel; her tendency to jump forward and make major decisions affecting others besides herself, with less than complete information, introduces a good deal of tension into her personal relationships, and the repercussions are going to need at least another book to play out.

The glimpses of elven society and the vampire hierarchy are both pretty interesting (even though I'm not a big fan of vampires generally), especially in the light they shed on the backstage jockeying for power on the coalescing Interspecies Council. I was also really entertained by the scenes set at the abandoned Six Flags (if only because I personally know someone who snuck in there to take a series of Slender Man photos); and I've never liked the undead Jean Lafitte (normally too smarmy for me) more than at his first taste of Coke!

I recommend this series all the time to people at the library where I work. Newcomers to the series would be well advised to start with the first book, Royal Street. But there are only three so far and they move pretty fast, so it shouldn't take long to catch up.

Elysian Fields will be released on August 13, 2013. Thanks to Tor Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (26)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking foward to: The Men Who United the States, by Simon Winchester (October 15, 2013, from Harper).

How did America become "one nation, indivisible"? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? To answer these questions, Winchester follows in the footsteps of America's most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, such as Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys; the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Rochester to San Francisco, Seattle to Anchorage, introducing the fascinating people who played a pivotal role in creating today's United States.

Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree.


I don't remember seeing a rule that I can't be eagerly anticipating a work of nonfiction. I'm a big fan of Simon Winchester; I just read his book The Man Who Loved China a few weeks ago, and enjoyed it very much even though it was about a person I'd never heard of before and a subject that I previously had only marginal interest in. So I'll definitely pick this one up.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (25)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Longbourn, by Jo Baker (October 8, 2013, from Knopf).

The servants at Longbourn estate--only glancingly mentioned in Jane Austen's classic--take center stage in Jo Baker's lively, cunning new novel. Here are the Bennets as we have never known them: seen through the eyes of those scrubbing the floors, cooking the meals, emptying the chamber pots. Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended.

There's a whole cottage industry of fanfic pastiche sequels and retellings of Jane Austen. Even authors as distinguished as P.D. James can't resist. This one sounds like it has the potential to be more thought-provoking than most, so I'll definitely give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (24)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Bastion, by Mercedes Lackey (October 1, 2013, from DAW), fifth in the Collegium Chronicles series.

Mags returns to the Collegium, but there are mixed feelings--his included--about him actually remaining there. No one doubts that he is and should be a Herald, but he is afraid that his mere presence is going to incite more danger right in the heart of Valdemar. The heads of the Collegia are afraid that coming back to his known haunt is going to give him less protection than if he went into hiding. Everyone decides that going elsewhere is the solution for now. So since he is going elsewhere--why not return to the place he was found in the first place and look for clues? And those who are closest to him, and might provide secondary targets, are going along. With Herald Jadrek, Herald Kylan (the Weaponsmaster's chosen successor), and his friends Bear, Lena, and Amily, they head for the Bastion, the hidden spot in the hills that had once been the headquarters of a powerful band of raiders that had held him and his parents prisoner. But what they find is not what anyone expected.

I wonder when Mercedes Lackey decided she didn't have to limit herself to trilogies? In a way I'm a little bit sorry she came to that conclusion, because this series has been rambling on without much resolution for at least the last two books, and I like stories with an ending, thanks large.

But I like some of the characters here enough, and I enjoy Lackey's style enough, to stick it out a bit longer in the hopes of reaching a satisfactory ending, so I will certainly read this, almost certainly soon after it comes out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.

In 1900, archaeologist Arthur Evans began digging at Knossos in Crete, and within days had uncovered a cache of clay tablets inscribed with what he was sure were the written records of the Palace of Minos. The writing system resembled no other known to scholars; Evans drew a distinction between an earlier version of the script, which he designated Linear Script Class A, and a more elaborate later version, Linear Script Class B. Neither was deciphered in his lifetime.

Linear A remains a mystery to this day; there just isn't enough available text for analysis. But Linear B was finally cracked in 1952 by Michael Ventris, who was not an archaeologist, a linguist, a classicist, or indeed an academic of any kind; he was a professional architect, and a passionate amateur of the problem of the script.

A third figure in the decipherment who isn't as well known today was Alice Kober, an American professor of classics who also worked on the script in her spare time, drawing up meticulous card files (written on homemade index cards filed in cigarette cartons) about each of the syllabic characters on its own and in relation to other characters. She might have been the one to decipher the script instead of Ventris, had she not died young in 1950, at the age of 43; Ventris leaned heavily on her published work, especially her preliminary grid of a few of the characters that she had identified as sharing the same consonants and vowels.

Of course, depending on your level of linguistic and/or historical geekery, you may not have heard of any of these people. Evans was the only one whose name sounded vaguely familiar to me before I read this book; I knew there was a Linear A script from Crete which had not been deciphered, and a Linear B script which had, but I couldn't have told you who was responsible. This book was fascinating to me all the same, detailing the immense difficulty of figuring out an unknown script in an unknown language and the immense amount of work involved in the pure logical analysis of the characters, especially by Kober. Great stuff; it makes me want to dig up the syllabary I invented for a class assignment in morphology twenty-odd years ago and revise the spelling rules; or possibly figure out how to write English in Linear B.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Human Division

The Colonial Union, now at odds with its own home planet of Earth as well as with the hostile alien Conclave, finds that its long reliance on military force in all encounters with other intelligent species is no longer sustainable, and it must attempt a novel tactic in dealing with the remaining unaffiliated alien races: diplomacy. Ambassador Ode Abumwe and her team, including Colonial Defense Forces tech specialist Lieutenant Harry Wilson, are called on at the last minute to replace a diplomatic ship that has disappeared: Abumwe to take over the mission and Wilson to find out just what happened to that earlier ship.

And that's just the first episode!

The Human Division was originally published as a 13-episode serial, one chapter a week for 99¢ apiece from the middle of January to the beginning of April. The collected hardcover edition came out in May, and I picked it up after that. (Hardly surprising to those who know me; I trade-wait comics as well, and watch TV by the season on DVD.) So I can't speak to how well it worked as a serial. I suspect that if I'd read it that way, there would have been a number of episodes where I was a little confused about where I'd seen certain characters before; as it was, I had to flip back to an earlier chapter for a reminder a couple of times.

Overall, though, I thought it hung together really well as a unified whole, and didn't feel too episodic even though that's literally what it had been. I've seen some reviews of it that expressed some disappointment in what the reviewers felt was a vague non-ending with a distinct lack of closure, but I didn't feel that way about it at all; I thought that enough early questions were answered in the process of raising the later ones that I was quite pleased with this volume as it stood.

Of course, a lot of threads were left hanging for a sequel, so I'm equally pleased that Scalzi's publisher renewed the project for a second season. And yes, I will be trade-waiting that one too.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (23)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Battle Magic, by Tamora Pierce (September 24, 2013, from Scholastic Press).

On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxi, mages Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor's summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxi, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor's prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxi to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?

I am a diehard fan of Tamora Pierce. I remember seeing her first series, the Song of the Lioness, in the teen section of my local library when I was in high school--but I didn't read it then, because for some bizarre reason they never seemed to have book one. It's book two I remember seeing on the shelf.

And I was the kind of library patron whose theoretical existence drives me crazy now that I work in that same library: I never ever asked the librarians for anything, not even whether they might possibly be able to get the first book of this series I was interested in reading. (For the longest time, though I was also a diehard fan of Katherine Kurtz, I couldn't finish her Camber of Culdi trilogy, because the library owned book one and book three but not book two. Did I ask the librarians about that one? Indeed, I did not.)

But I digress. I finally read the Song of the Lioness in my early twenties, I think, at college or maybe in library school, and found it the kind of series I was quite likely to finish and immediately begin again. A lot of her books are like that for me; I sink right in, no matter how many times I've read them before. The Circle books aren't as immersive for me as the various Tortall series, but I'm still very much looking forward to this one.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!

by Agatha Christie. I had to go to some trouble to find a picture of the cover with the original title on it, since it is now published under the much less entertaining title of 4:50 from Paddington, even though the actual train in the novel leaves Paddington Station at 4:54.  This discrepancy is never explained.

Elspeth McGillicuddy, not given to fancies or hallucinations, is distressed when the proper authorities don't seem to believe that she saw what she is quite sure she saw through the window of a train that passed hers on her way to visit her good friend Jane Marple: a man with his back to the window and to her, strangling a woman who expired before Mrs. McGillicuddy's horrified eyes. Fortunately, Miss Marple believes her friend, and Miss Marple is more than capable of sorting out the whole affair, with a little help from some friends to do the legwork.

Because obviously, if you're friends with Miss Marple, you tell her immediately when you've witnessed a murder, right?

I've never been a big fan of Agatha Christie generally, though I tend to like the work of some of her contemporaries quite a bit (Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers all inevitably come to mind). I seem to remember being a little creeped out by the character of Miss Marple; she's like the spider of St. Mary Mead, with threads running everywhere--nothing moves in her web but she knows about it, and she understands you better than you do yourself. You don't see Miss Marple figure out the answer; she just knows it, a good bit earlier than she deigns to explain it to anybody.

I would not have picked up this book if my book club hadn't chosen it.  I admit I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but I think that may be because Miss Marple's not actually in it much, since the story tends to follow her operatives. I've now revised my opinion of Christie to the effect that I'm not entirely opposed to reading another Miss Marple story (still can't stand Poirot, however, the smug bastard) but I don't suppose I'll make a point of looking for them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (22)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: W is for Wasted, by Sue Grafton (out September 10, 2013, from Putnam).

Two dead bodies changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I'd never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.

The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. He'd been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The other was on the beach six weeks later. He'd been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with Millhone's name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him.

Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently of natural causes.

But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange linkages begin to emerge. And before long at least one aspect is solved as Kinsey literally finds the key to his identity. “And just like that," she says, “the lid to Pandora's box flew open. It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed, but for the moment, I was inordinately pleased with myself."

In this multilayered tale, the surfaces seem clear, but the underpinnings are full of betrayals, misunderstandings, and outright murderous fraud. And Kinsey, through no fault of her own, is thoroughly compromised.

I have to admit, I've gotten a little behind on this series; I'm stuck somewhere around T or U, I think. But I remain fascinated by the way they've become historical novels; in Santa Teresa, it is always 1985, or something like that. 

It'll be interesting to see what Sue Grafton does when she gets to the end of the alphabet. I doubt it's possible for Kinsey to have any kind of traditionally happy ending, but I wouldn't mind seeing her ride into the sunset.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (21)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: The Bones of Paris, by Laurie R. King (September 10, 2013, from Bantam).

Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator's dream - he's getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on every rue and boulevard.

As Stuyvesant follows Philippa's trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous - and infamous - inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company's Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.

Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris.

I'm a fan of Laurie R. King's Russell and Holmes series, and to a lesser extent, a fan of her Kate Martinelli series. This one is a standalone, but I trust the writer enough to give it a shot.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Red Planet Blues

A private investigator, a gorgeous woman, a missing person: standard noir fare. But Alex Lomax is the only PI on Mars, the gorgeous woman is an android with a transferred human mind, and how can her husband be missing in a domed habitat only four kilometers across? The case gets more complicated from there, leading Alex towards the one thing that everybody in New Klondike dreams of finding: the source of the most valuable luxury commodity known to humanity, the long lost mother lode of perfectly preserved Martian fossils.

This is the first thing I've read by Robert Sawyer, but I confidently predict it won't be the last. I was extremely entertained by the voice of the narrator, and the concept of transfers raised a lot of really intriguing questions about what it means to be human and an individual. A couple of times I recognized a twist coming before the detective figured it out, but then, I've read a lot of detective stories. Very impressive, and highly recommended; I'm planning to mention this author to my book club the next time they ask me about the kind of stuff I like to read.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (20)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Refusal, by Felix Francis (September 3, 2013, from Putnam).

Six years ago, investigator Sid Halley retired for good. He'd been harassed, beaten, shot, even lost a hand to his investigating business, and enough was enough. For the sake of his wife and new daughter he gave up that life of danger and uncertainty, and he thought nothing would ever lure him back into the game.

He thought wrong. Sir Richard Stewart, chairman of the racing authority, begs Sid to investigate a series of dodgy races. Sid adamantly refuses, but the following day, Sir Richard is found dead under suspicious circumstances. And then a man with an Irish accent contacts Sid, telling him to deliver a whitewashed report about the suspected race-fixing . . . or else.

At first Sid ignores these warnings, knowing that once he submits to this criminal bully, he will forever be under his control. But as the intimidation tactics escalate—and Sid's own family comes under threat—Sid realizes he must meet his enemy head-on . . . or he might pay the ultimate price for his refusal.
I've read all of Dick Francis's novels, most of them two or three times. They don't tend to stick in my mind, and I don't object to that; it means I can read them again without remembering who the villain is. 
Son Felix's extremely similar thrillers are pretty fun too, though I've skipped a couple of those without regret. For the most part, they don't really use characters created by his father, and I kind of wish that they didn't all have Dick Francis's name on the cover as if he were still alive and had something to do with writing them; I think Felix Francis could totally command a certain readership without that.

This one, though, does have Sid Halley in it, the one character that Dick Francis used often enough for him to qualify as a series hero, so I guess it's fitting that his name is all over it. I like Sid as a character, so I'll probably pick this one up.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (19)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: The Lord of Opium, by Nancy Farmer (September 3, 2013, from Atheneum Books for Young Readers).

Matt has always been nothing but a clone - an exact replica, grown from a strip of old El Patron's skin. Now, age fourteen, Matt suddenly finds himself thrust into the position of ruling over his own country, Opium, on the one-time border between the US and Mexico, stretching from the ruins of San Diego to the ruins of Matamoros. But while Opium thrives, the rest of the world has been devastated by ecological disaster...and hidden somewhere in Opium is the cure. And that isn't all that's hidden within the depths of Opium. Matt is haunted by the ubiquitous army of eejits, zombie-like workers harnessed to the old El Patron's sinister system of drug growing...people stripped of the very qualities which once made them human. Matt wants to use his newfound power to help stop the suffering, but he can't even find a way to smuggle his childhood love Maria across the border and into Opium. Instead, his every move hits a roadblock - both from the traitors that surround him and from a voice within himself. For who is Matt really but the clone of an evil, murderous dictator?

Basically, I want to read this because I really liked The House of the Scorpion, to which this is the sequel.  I like Nancy Farmer; she writes some really fun and thought-provoking science fiction for young people, which of course translates to really fun and thought-provoking sf for anybody.

She was ahead of the curve on the whole dystopia-for-teens thing which is so big now in the wake of The Hunger Games; the first book she wrote in this setting came out ten years ago, and her book The Eye, the Ear and the Arm (about a post-apocalyptic Africa) was a Newbery honor book in 1995.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (18)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik (August 13, 2013, from Del Rey).

Shipwrecked and cast ashore in Japan with no memory of Temeraire or his own experiences as an English aviator, Laurence finds himself tangled in deadly political intrigues that threaten not only his own life but England's already precarious position in the Far East. Age-old enmities and suspicions have turned the entire region into a powder keg ready to erupt at the slightest spark - a spark that Laurence and Temeraire may unwittingly provide, leaving Britain faced with new enemies just when they most desperately need allies instead.

For to the west, another, wider conflagration looms. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, the emperor Alexander of Russia, and is even now leading the largest army the world has ever seen to add that country to his list of conquests. It is there, outside the gates of Moscow, that a reunited Laurence and Temeraire - along with some unexpected allies and old friends - will face their ultimate challenge . . . and learn whether or not there are stronger ties than memory.

I'm not sure now where I first ran across the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik; possibly it was just random bookstore browsing, and I was attracted by the covers (and by the fact that the first three books in the series came out in the same year, so there wasn't much of a wait between volumes). 

I've read some historical novels set in the Napoleonic War period; one summer twenty years ago I went through all the Sharpe novels Bernard Cornwell had written so far at the rate of one a week. But I've never managed to get through any of the Aubrey and Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian (not even using my good friend Ronda's recommendation to skip the first three chapters of each book and just start when they go to sea), and while I did enjoy the Horatio Hornblower TV movies with Ioan Gruffudd, the novels by C.S. Forester don't do much for me.

However, this treatment of what the Napoleonic Wars might have been like if both sides had had an aerial corps of dragons is rollicking fun. I'm catching up with the rest of the series now, in preparation for this penultimate volume coming out. (I'm also inclined towards a good bit of fangirl squee over the fact that Peter Jackson has optioned the series. I'd love to see what he makes of it!)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (17)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Elysian Fields, by Suzanne Johnson, third in her Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (due out August 13, 2013, from Tor Books).

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren't random - an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combating an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn't easy. Jake Warin's loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world's most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ's to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

I have been following the consistently brilliant Tor.com blog for years now, almost since its inception, and I have found more cool things to read there than I can well remember. Suzanne Johnson is one of their regular bloggers --she does a monthly roundup of upcoming releases in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance, among other things--so I was interested when I read she had a novel coming out. It helped that the novel was an urban fantasy, that it was set in New Orleans, and that it dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I live in south Louisiana, and I know how easy it is for authors to get New Orleans wrong, but Suzanne Johnson lives in NOLA and I had high hopes she'd get it right; hopes that were entirely borne out. The second book in the series goes on to get Plaquemines Parish right, which is even more impressive. I like the plots, I mostly like the characters (though the romantic subplot makes me grind my teeth) and I'm really looking forward to the third book.