Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Light reading round-up

Long overdue, possibly in part because it represents mostly a good deal of pap (a word that makes me think of Beckett - much used by my grandmother to disparage the quality of modern store-bought bread, but it is always what I think of when I am too enmired in series fiction).

It is a difficult time of the school year, I think: hard to keep energy levels high with a fairly long stretch to go until the winter break. But my history of the novel class has gone well and I should be able to do some decent regrouping over the break. I booked my ticket to Cayman, I'll be there for almost three weeks....

(Oh dear, I see it really is more than a month's worth that needs logging, that is a pain.)

Slightly shameful list - if I keep reading like this, I am going to ROT MY BRAIN! But I am starting to feel that impatience and hunger for REAL reading and REAL writing that should indeed precede a sabbatical year - MY TIME WILL COME if I can get through to May....

Anyway, a few standouts first:

The best of this bunch, an absolute miracle - Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone. Everyone should read this one, it is incredibly good: among other things gives a better picture than almost anything else I have read (Kate Atkinson's Jackson Browne books might be comparable) of the long shadow violent death casts over individuals and in families. Have read another book of his now too, which I liked but which is more in Elmore Leonard vein (less my cup of tea): Gutshot Straight.

A fun reread of I Capture the Castle, prompted by a blog post I can no longer locate - I read this book obsessively over and over again as a child, don't remember when I last revisited it but was struck this time by how much more than I remembered it almost represents Austen pastiche (did Dodie Smith know about the three notebooks of Austen's juvenilia?).

An essential book of nonfiction - I am sure it will be superseded, but I don't think there's anything currently better that will serve as an introduction to the topic of transgender as it affects children and adolescents, and it would make a good choice for one of these "all entering first-year college students read the book and discuss" assignments: Amy Ellis Nutt, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. I was really impressed with this one.

Larissa MacFarquhar's Strangers Drowning (and here's a good interview with Larissa at the Guardian).

A really appealing SF novel that has a twist about HOARDING, amazingly: Emma Newman's Planetfall (not to slap a label on it, but I really like this vein of feminist science fiction - count me a fan, I will read whatever she writes now, slight shades of Jo Walton!).

M. H. Boroson, The Girl With Ghost Eyes (one of the best historical fantasies I've read for a long time - at times the culture is laid on a little thick, perhaps, but it is refreshing and appealing to see something that does not yet again rehash, say, the Heyeresque British Regency vein with a tincture of magic!).

Hester Young, The Gates of Evangeline (farfetched but extremely well-written - I wished it had been written and edited slightly more closely in line with genre fiction constraints rather than literary fiction ones, in terms of tightness of plotting, but really it's good).

Garth Nix, Newt's Emerald (fascinated by the puzzle of how Heyer's Austen pastiche voice came to have such very wide influence - in fact this taken together with Dodie Smith makes me think my Austen book needs to have a little chapter on that at the end!).

Robert Galbraith, Career of Evil (extraordinarily readable, as per Rowling's storytelling gifts, but on the artificial end of the crime fiction spectrum, and you increasingly sense that the main thing she's interested in is the developing relationship between Cormoran and Robin!).

Also very artificial but very enjoyable (there is a clue early on in the form of one of the protagonists reading Agatha Christie's Crooked House!), Peter Swanson, The Kind Worth Killing.

Christopher Buelmann, The Lesser Dead (chilling tale of ancient vampires in NYC, also very well-written).

An Expanse novella (this series is pretty much the best thing around in SF-inflected light reading!), The Vital Abyss.

David Wong, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits (Gibsonesque near-future surveillance neo-noir, with an appealing sense of absurdity).

Then I got happily dug in (this was just as I went to Cayman at the end of October) to two nicely complementary series, the first of which I've read before but are pleasantly rereadable - Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novels, of which there are ALMOST TWENTY, a blessing - and also an interminable fantasy series, Katharine Kerr's Daggerspell and successors. The reincarnation conceit really makes these books feel as though they will go on forever, which is not entirely a good thing but convenient for travel purposes; I stalled out partway through the fifth installment and am not sure I will take it back up, but I am grateful to the series up to that point for whiling away a few hours pretty happily.

Then a palate-cleanser (Scudder was ongoing), Ed Caesar's Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.

Melissa Olson's second boundary magic book, Boundary Lines, which I thoroughly enjoyed (she is a good writer) - and in a roughly similar vein, also well-written, Ilona Andrews' second innkeeper installment (these really are funny, I think they are fairly tongue-in-cheek), Sweep in Peace

Kristina Ohlsson's latest, Hostage, which I thought was very good (this series has picked up momentum for me, and I thought this was the best one so far).

Matthew FitzSimmons, The Short Drop (fast and enjoyable read in a genre that is not quite my favorite). (On which note, as a supplementary note for a novel that's preoccupied with diners, where have all the diners gone?)

I was in mild despair earlier as I mistakenly thought there was a new Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London book - it turned out to my disgust to be just installment #5 of a graphic novel serial in which I have no interest! But I was happily able to console myself by downloading Robert Crais's new novel, The Promise, which passed the evening very nicely.

A few other more substantive things deserve their own posts....

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