WWW Wednesday 8-28-2013

 

books

This summer has been a bumper crop of good reads.

Below the cut, what I’ve read recently, what I’m reading. The what-will-I-read pile is always changing, and recommendations are welcome.

Finished:

Sorcerer’s Luck, by Katharine Kerr.

One of the things I appreciated most when I put this book down was how Kerr had so skillfully taken the popular elements of the current wave of urban fantasies, and given them all a hard twist into weird. Or wyrd.

Two guys and one gal, vamps, shapeshifters, powers, Icelandic mythology in San Francisco, and tons of passion.

But where so many of the urban fantasies I’ve read pretty much keep the characters at the high-school end of the emotional spectrum, that is, instant-and-forever passion, a lot of will-he-or-won’t-he angst (and Byronic brooding or flippant quips on the part of either the good bad boy or the bad bad boy) here, we begin with attraction but the main relationship develops. And develops more! And evolves!  While we still get all the razzle-dazzle of magic, sinister threats, mystery, and oh, the runes!

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, by Paula Byrne

In the opening pages, Byrne says that she is going to try to present Austen through the little details, the things Jane Austen left behind, and she sets out most assiduously to do just that. Where the book falls down is when she cannot resist telling us what Austen thought. The book is strongest when presenting the world that Jane Austen lived in, the signs of Jane left in objects, such as the amber crosses her brother brought back for her and Cassandra, in the family actions after a contested will, in furniture and others’ letters and in the houses where she worked and stayed. A signed royalty check (on which, by the way, Jane spelled her last name “Austin” in usual haphazard-about-spelling eighteenth century fashion). More of this review at Goodreads.

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #1), by Jodi Taylor. This debut indie novel seems to be sparking a lot of comparisons with Connie Willis, due to time travel and Englishness. Almost any time travel novel leaves me puzzling with “but wait . . . if?” questions, and this one was no different, however that was after I put it down. The voice is so much fun, the pacing so fast, that I gobbled it down over a day.

Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 – Aug. 5, 1944; Revised, by John Keegan

From the dawn of time in western civilization, at least, the media best sellers have been sex, violence, and religion. In ancient times our Anglo-Saxon ancestors mixed their genealogical recounts with battle-bragging; at Agincourt and Crecy heralds of both sides stood with one another at the best vantage-point in order to watch the battle, with the mutual desire of get the details right for posterity. The earliest prints mass produced depicted Biblical scenes, wars, and and porn.

While I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s three volume work on the war, sometimes I take a sidestep into other works for purposes of comparison. (Rest of Review)

In process:

One of the more disturbing themes of Philip Bobbitt’s immensely readable (and immense) The Shield of Achilles is that a great deal of technology and indeed the development of the modern state is due to war. War is profitable, as long as it doesn’t tear up your own infrastructure (and of course the rich will always have their escape mechanisms). Linda Nagata, in her tight, tense The Red: First Light seems to have her finger on that particular pulse as gigantic corporations put super-soldiers in the field to keep the war market going . . .

Marla R. Miller’s Betsy Ross and the Making of America approached biography through a history of textiles. Very little is known about Ross, when one strips away the myth. Scholarly spelunking has led Miller to delving in the history of early Philadelphia through its founding families, and the merchants who made it great. I’ve only reached Ross’s apprencticeship, so I’ve still the Revolutionary years to go.

I’m always on the watch for fun reads by indie authors, and Lindsay Buroker came highly recommended. Her Encrypted and its companion volume are on sale right now. Space opera, codes, action, strong female lead were the words that hooked my attention.

As for the TBR pile, it’s toppling, but I’m always up for adding more! What do you recommend? Especially fun, swashbuckling reads with a dash of humor and romance. I slurp those down at light speed.

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WWW Wednesday 8-28-2013 — 18 Comments

  1. Read: A Tangle Of Magics by Stephanie Burgis Or Renegade Magic, take your pick — it’s been under both titles. A children’s Regency. (Reviewed here)
    also Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson, a current day SF story
    Reading: The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long — a re-read
    To read: Probably Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

  2. Oh, I just finished a marvelous book, which seems like just the sort of thing you would have used as a teacher (and, indeed, it was written by a teacher)–it’s called Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voice from a Medieval Village, and it’s twenty-one monologues (occasionally they are dialogues) from people of different places in medieval society. I read it based on this LJ entry by Osprey Archer, and it fully lived up to the expectations I formed based on her remarks. The characters were much more than just Types, and much more than just representatives of their position; they seemed real, and you became interested in them as real people. I’ll write up a longer review for LJ/Goodreads at some point, but I really thought it was fabulous. Great illustrations, too, and small bits of useful information accompanying it.

  3. Unfortunately, I have not had much time recently, nor do I expect to have it anytime soon, what with the emergency situation over here… so no books read recently.
    However, I am in the (slow) process of reading The Seven-Petaled Shield, and re-reading The Free Bards by Mercedes Lackey and The 33 Strategies of War by Richard Greene.
    I cannot offer any prediction for the future either – the situation is too volatile for that, and in any case, The High Holy Days are upon us. I hope that by Sukkot (some three weeks from now), I will have a better idea of where things stand and what I will be reading.

  4. Since you’ve already discovered Lindsay Buroker, I think her Emperor’s Edge series might also work in that vein, I certainly enjoyed the first book and she’s on book 7 by now. I think it’s free a lot, to get people to taste test. I bought the Smashwords editions.

    Thanks for pointing out that the follow-up to Encrypted is on sale, I had bought that before, so I’ve snapped up the follow-up.

    The most fantasy-swashbuckly book I’m reading recently is your Lhind the Thief, which I’m enjoying right now ^^ – but if you don’t mind Urban Fantasy/Crime Action Suspense/with strong romantic and family subplot and a very competent female heroine negotiating her way to a working relationship with not the typical alpha (probably because his race reverse a female goddess and all their shaman are women) – I can recommend Eileen Wilks World or the Lupi series (but the crimes of the opposition side can get very dark, so I don’t know if it’s lighthearted enough, hmmm). Chachic has been doing a glom of all the books and since she’s a much better reviewer, I’ll link to her review for the first one.

    And the newest Elantra novel has hit and is totally satisfying, if you’re following that series: Cast in Sorrow.

  5. Recently finished:
    + Going Solo (Enjoyed it, especially as a member of a generation and subculture that defaults more easily to singletons)
    + Reflections on the Magic of Writing (Loved it)
    + Just One Damned Thing After Another (Mixed feelings – I thought it was a fun idea and a very good draft and had it been handed to me as such I’d have been really excited to see the finished product, but the beginning was too rushed, there weren’t enough anchoring details, the romance was weak (I can believe they’d fall in love, I just… would have liked to see it?), and the heroine’s aha realization is something that I can’t believe no one would have tested, because it’s one of the first things that comes to mind given the limitations).

    • Yeah, I had the same sense that one more draft of Just One Damned Thing After Another would have made it special indeed. But I did enjoy it as a ripping one-night read.

  6. Recently read:

    The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavits (It was an interesting look at the effects of childhood trauma and our evolving ideas about PTSD. Perry also makes a plausible argument that some of the increase in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders is the result of changes in family structure leading to early childhood neglect which is then misdiagnosed. I’m not sure he was actually intending to make that argument, of course.)

    Imager by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (I’m afraid I was making fun of this one on Facebook. Not that it’s bad, exactly. It’s just that the main character comes across as both extremely concerned about ethics and completely indifferent to the suffering of others depending on which bit of the book you’re in. If a lowly flower seller got shot right in front of me while I was buying daisies, I’d be a little freaked out. Especially if I knew perfectly well that

    A: somebody was trying to kill me and
    B: I was being used as a stalking horse which meant that the people supposedly keeping an eye on the situation were okay with random people getting killed in the process

    I almost certainly would not immediately proceed to visit my family without giving them any sort of warning that they might be endangered by my presence.

    Mind you, there’s probably a reason I stopped reading Modesitt after the first few Recluce books.)

    Currently reading: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines (Of course, you’ve probably already read that one.)

    Reading next: No idea. I’ve got a pretty big pile, though.

    • I enjoyed the first Recluce book. I kind of bailed on Modesitt after the one with “Soprano” in the title which didn’t seem to have any interesting singing, but instead there were these long meal scenes in which every single bite got reported, as it was cut, chewed, and swallowed. For a visual/audial reader, repeated descriptions of people chewing and swallowing is excruciating, though I’m sure Modesitt didn’t mean that.

      • Yeah, there was a lot of eating in this one, too. He was kind enough to leave out the sound effects this time, though. (Which is probably good since there was also a great deal of showering and shaving.) I suspect if he’d left all of that out it would have been a much shorter book. Heh.

        The main character is a painter and he actually handled that aspect of the story quite well. (Which is to say, I didn’t end up getting thrown out of the story as a result of annoying art fail and I rather enjoyed reading the scenes where the character is painting.) I also thought the politics were interesting.

        The Magic of Recluce was the other book I picked out when I bought my first Diana Wynne Jones novel. I have fond memories. 🙂 (I swear I remember my history with books better than I remember people. This is either sad or pleasantly nerdy, depending on your point of view.)

      • I had an experience listening to Modesitt at a con that makes me both curious about his work and wary in a very strong combination. (Some of his ideas sounded awesome, especially applying engineering principles, but he was also quick to dismiss some questions with a pithy one liner he obviously thought was the 100% answer to a more complex issue. Which if he does it in his books could point to problems with worldbuilding or social structures of a sort that tends to irk me in particular. I don’t think I’m describing this coherently, but that’s as close as I can get this far after the fact.)

        He did say his wife was a bona fide opera singer, which made me wonder about his Soprano Sorceress etc., but not all in a good way, as someone else versed in music had said he got it wrong. I’ve heard better things about the Recluce series, and got the first book free from someone who liked it. Who knows when I’ll get to reading it.

          • Oh, very friendly. And mostly well spoken, which may indeed have partly led to the pithy-line effect. It’s a failure mode you can only get once you have a certain level of public speaking skill. I saw Jane Yolen do it once, too, but in her case and based on the rest of the interactions, it was obviously based on a too-often asked question, not an “ain’t I clever” approach to the bon mot.