WWW Wednesday 7-2-2014

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?

 

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WWW Wednesday 7-2-2014 — 31 Comments

  1. Read:
    Of Sorcery and Snow by Shelby Bach
    French Folktales by Henri Pourrat
    The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature by Katharine Mary Briggs
    Grandfather Tales: American-English Folk Tales by Richard Chase
    Reading:
    Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
    To Read:
    Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

  2. Just finished Northanger Abbey–it’s been far too long since my last re-read–and am moving on to Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great. Jacob really liked Check Your Luck, so I might read that now that it’s available as one book.

    • I was really glad to find it issued as one book. My book budget cannot handle a lot of serialized stories, though my sympathies lie with the writer trying to make a living!

    • I’ve been reading What Makes This Book So Great in the openings between “finished my book” and “my next book is ready to pick up at the library”. It’s really good, yet doesn’t need to be read in one fell swoop, so it is perfect for that.

  3. Looking at your choice of history books, it occurs to me to wonder if you’ve read “The Napoleonists” by E. Tangye Lean. It’s an attempt at a character study/psychoanalysis of the British supporters of and enthusiasts for Napoleon, what made them take that view, whether there’s an overarching “type” of such person that exists even when there’s no Napoleon around to support. Basically Lean considers them rebels looking for a cause. He’s a great “lumper” (as opposed to “splitters”), but if you can tolerate a writer who thinks the Turks were the good guys (perhaps because they didn’t embark on Crusades? After all, they only tried to conquer Europe, and half-succeeded), you could certainly take this.

    And Lean is an interesting person. He was 1) the brother of David Lean, the film director; 2) the founder of the Inklings. Yes, those Inklings. Yes, he was.

    • I haven’t read that–I tend more toward period sources, with the occasional work like this one, that reads sources I cannot get to, either physically or because I don’t read the language.

      I wonder if the book goes into the types of armchair enthusiast who love refighting battles that they were not actually present at, which caused an enormous number of (mostly pretty dismal) publications after Waterloo, for example, in English. (I don’t know if there are similar ones post, say Austerlitz in French.)

      Another interesting phenomenon is France’s own sea-change toward Napoleon, from “the Corsican impostor” to “our great leader” over the succeeding generation after his death.

      Guess I need to check the book out! Thanks for the recco.

  4. So many different things right now. If I think about it too much, I get anxious!

    Love in a Time of Cholera continues to hold my attention: he does an interesting thing structurally, I’ve noticed: builds a whole lot–like over 40 pages–and then undoes it in one sentence. It’s happened twice, and it both times has been so shocking–not in a bad way, but just, bringing me up short (what? I think), and makes me reevaluate stories, relationships, life–so I think it’s effective.
    And–minor thing–he had a description of kids diving for travelers and tourists which was exactly like something I’d thought of putting in something I’m writing now, which was uncanny and disconcerting.

    Also reading Kaleidoscope and loving it.

    • I loved that book, and preferred it to the more acclaimed One Hundred Years of Solitude.

      • I loved 100 Years as an extended metaphorical history of South America after the Europeans came.

        I think I need to reread both. It’s been years.

  5. I’ve been reading non-fiction lately, but have a nice TBR pile of fiction that I hope to start on this week while I’m on vacation.

    Need to finish The Goblin Emperor first.

  6. I’m surprised to see that I’ve only finished one book since last Wednesday—this moving into a new house thing really has cratered me. It was the selection of one of my book groups. I can’t say it’s well written, but it was great fun: Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1), by Kevin Hearne. The series is up to at least #9, so obviously people are enjoying them. In this first book, the characters all speak with the same voice, and the dialogue has a ridiculous amount of negotiation. “I’ll do that, if you give me this.” However, the (magically enabled) conversations between the druid and his dog, Oberon, are a joy.

    I’ve just started Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook (The Checquy Files, #1) and it is much better written. I’m enjoying it, but too soon to tell if I’ll love it.

    I really, really need to get to The Goblin Emperor. Joining every book group on Meetup is a great way to meet people in a new town, but it really distorts your reading choices!

    • I have both of those on my TBR pile. The beginnings didn’t engage me, but I mean to give both another try. Often it’s just not the right mood, or right time.

      • I liked The Rook probably better than it deserved–not that it’s not a good book, and I’m looking forward to the next one, just that I made an emotional connection to it that I don’t think is a universal experience.

  7. Lots of things recently, but my favorite of the recently reads is The Lucy Variations and my favorite current read War (Junger). I liked the heroine and pov of She Is Not Invisible, but the plot was slim, the coincidence stuff was very dull, and the thing about the brother didn’t seem to fit the genre the story settled on.

      • I loved The Lucy Variations, which isn’t surprising, as I’ve loved everything Sara Zarr has written. At least everything she’s written by herself – wasn’t that keen on Roomies, though it was a fun premise.

  8. Recently finished:
    Spin State by Chris Moriarty
    Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo – loved the abandoned observatory secret base!
    Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

    Currently reading:
    What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton, is absorbing in short spurts.
    The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler, barely begun.
    In His Majesty’s Service by Naomi Novik. I’m really enjoying this alternate history with dragons – more so because it’s set in a war & time period I know little about.

    Next Up:
    I’ve got stacks to choose from, perhaps The Glass Sentence. Or maybe I’ll re-read something I know is good.

      • It’s an engaging series, with what Jo Walton calls “IWantToReadosity”, so I really want to know how things end up. I read the short story “the Penitent Damned” first (the books are more expensive than I usually spring for), and liked the female thief, unfortunately she wasn’t in the first book. But The Thousand Names does have females disguised as male soldiers, a bit of the supernatural, a foreign desert country and Vhalnich. There hasn’t been a glimpse into Vhalnich’s mind yet, so the motives behind his abstracted genius are a big draw.
        Book 2 goes back to the capital & lots of political turmoil. At 100pgs, a great deal of the action is down in the poorer sections of town with political activists (& so far the women are running it).

  9. I stayed up way too late last night finishing Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse, because apparently I’ll never learn sense. Also reading Athena’s Daughters for ebook – nothing has matched “Commando Bats” yet, but that would be hard to do, as I loved it so much! And listening to The Silver Linings Playbook *and* Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, which is a somewhat jarring combination. Not sure what’s up next.

  10. I am almost finished with the Broken Road, which is the long-long-awaited third volume of the youthful Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel memoirs. I was disappointed not to read about his doings in Istanbul, but the trip to Mount Athos is very compelling.