WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
• What did you recently finish reading?
Ghost Point, by James Hetley. Wow, did I get into this book right off the runway. Ended up reading madly most of a night.
The time is 1979, the place, Ghost Point, Maine, just as winter starts. Dennis Carlsson, a big, blond, blue-eyed, one-legged Viet Nam vet unexpectedly sees a Vietnamese woman in a cafe, and flashes back to one of his many horrible combat experiences: he sees an enemy soldier, and she sees an arrogant racist pig sneering down at the brown-faced ‘Gook.’
Unfortunately, they are going to have to deal with one another, for Dennis is the local wildlife rescue and rehab person, and Susan Tranh is also a wildlife scientist, tracing pairs of increasingly rare bald eagles. What she doesn’t know is that this apparently sleepy backwater is home to smugglers, drug dealers, and other crazies, even though it borders on a Navy Base that is on heightened alert because they think a Soviet sub is inserting spies.
And if that isn’t enough, Dennis, and Susan are seeing visions that they cannot explain. That is before they meet the Naskeag witches.
The setting, the weather, the wildlife are so well described that they form as important a character as the humans and the, ah, non-humans. And the sense of period (the mindset especially), one I lived through, is tight.
But most of all I really, really like this particular mixture of action with resonating cost, complex characters, a fast-paced voice with a strong vein of humor counterposed with tension, and a glimmer of the numinous.
City of Dreams, by Harriet Steel.
This book doesn’t follow romance plot arcs, which is a plus for me. I like not being able to predict where a book is going. Further, the book is definitely about relationships, sexual and non. Friendship as well.
Anna is a romantic eighteen year old when Emile shows up in Russia to partner with Anna’s dad in his lucrative fur business. Anna easily falls in love, and is impatient for her wedding. Emile takes his new wife to Paris, where she is dazzled by her wealthy life. That doesn’t last.
There are really two protagonists in this novel, Anna and the city of Paris. It begins at the height of the Second Empire, and ends in the smoke and destruction following the Commune period.
If I were to make a criticism, it would be that, though I absolutely could not put the book down, at times I felt that the two protagonists were struggling for dominance: there was Anna’s personal story with the men she encountered, then there was Paris’s story, which sometimes Anna witnessed (and participated in some compelling scenes) and other times she sat passively by, waiting for news, while the narrative voice shifted away from her to describe the horrors of the Prussian siege and the aftermath.
The novel has the feel of one of the glorious old sagas, only better written, and with an eye to how women coped when men tore up the countryside with violence, and there was no authority, and no fallback. How did they survive? I have read enough history to get that frisson of verisimilitude from Steel’s work, and I am impatient for the next volume about Anna.
Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleyman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe 1520-1536. Engagingly written, and based on an immense amount of scholarship . . . but perhaps not enough. There are some modern scholars who almost seem to be writing novelizations of history, a fashion that was popular during the 1700s.
The reader knows when the author is guessing at motivations and mindsets. The problem is when an enormous bias starts pulling the complexity of the period into black hats (the Christians) and white hats (the Turks), and especially when some of the most interesting territory at this time (Hungary and the Poles) are getting short shrift in favor of the far West.
On the positive side, lots of chewy details about both empires.
An Aria of Omens, by Patrice Greenwood. This is the third cozy mystery featuring Ellen Rosings, the opera-and-classical-music-loving slightly stuffy but good-hearted proprietor of a tea room in New Mexico, who ends up solving mysteries with a motorcycle-riding cop.
Opposites attract, and he’s pretty hot. There are some interesting personalities who work for, and come to, the tea shop . . . and there also seems to be a resident ghost, which makes an interesting subplot that gets explored a little more with each book. I’ve really been enjoying this series. (The first, A Fatal Twist of Lemon, is only 99 cents as of this writing)
The Aunt Paradox, by Chris Dolley. Unfortunately, there is little chance of any new P.G. Wodehouse stories turning up. But of those who have been influenced by the master, I think Dolley gets the inimitable Bertie Wooster style, with a slight added edge that I enjoy. Add steampunk element, plenty of aunts (including one who decided to people history with herself, leading to Henry VIII having a Queen Charlotte) and you’ve got a recipe for fun.
• What are you currently reading?
The Complete Check Your Luck Agency, by KS Augustin. Just begun this. Apparently the author is an Malaysian-born Australian. This book is set in Malaysia, with mysteries, forensic investigation, ghosts, demons, and a whole lot of vivid description and interesting women. Recommended by Andrea K. Höst, and so far, I’m very glad I grabbed it.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
Top of the pile here is Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. It amazed me for years how neglected this period was, save for some really fascinating memoirs by the players published all through the early Victorian period. The problem with those is, of course, that everyone has their own agenda, and smooths over the exact details you really want to know, specifically the backstair conversations that enabled wily old Talleyrand, who had survived revolution, the Terror, and Napoleon’s rise and fall, to represent defeated France and manage to come out of it with the borders redrawn more or less the way he’d tried to convince Napoleon back in 1804.
I’ve already read a few modern treatments, and I’m hoping this one will illustrate some of the Eastern European interests better. This was an astonishing period, in a beautiful setting when the clothes were fantastic, and for the first time all these kings are together.
What about you? What are you reading, have you been reading, wanting to read next?