Sunday, March 27, 2016

quick recap

A quiet, happy Easter with a toddler alternating between utter sweetness and utter barbarity, as toddlers do. We've slept in and listened to Handel and gone out for breakfast, and maybe after her nap we'll take a walk. Nothing to complain of.

Read lately:

Prudence, by Gail Carriger. Her latest steampunk series, featuring the children of the characters in her previous series. A bit too much about our heroine's irresistibility and perfection - the older I get, the less patience I have for characters in their teens who are insufferably confident and skilled - but decently fun.

Dead Water, by Ann Cleeves. People continue to murder each other on the Shetland Islands, and I continue to want to move there and wear big sweaters. Except for the part where to get anywhere else you have to take a tiny little plane. I would not do well with that. Cleeves falls into the trap of "successful confident women are evil" thing here a little bit, but she manages to keep that in a few characters' heads, rather than expressing it herself as an author. The last one of hers I read crossed that line.

Death Wore White, by Jim Kelly. Police procedural the plot of which I have already forgotten; I will not be reading more by this author. 

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, by Gilbert King. Amazing. Absolutely engrossing and terrible and infuriating (especially when you think how far we still are from that "New America"). I wanted to call out from work just so I could read this through in one sitting.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, by John Krakauer. Well done reporting, simply brutal to read. I had to put it down a lot.

Boundary Waters, by William Kent Krueger. Decent thriller about a former sheriff in Minnesota. The body count gets absurdly high by the end, and the Native American characters are noble stereotypes, but it kept my attention.

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, by Sharyn McCrumb. Didn't like it as much of some of her other books; it's trying too hard to be important and political, instead of utilizing the Appalachians and their legends the way McCrumb does to great and effective creepiness in her other books. Plus the murderer's identity feels like a cop-out.

Blood of the Tiger: A Story of Conspiracy, Greed, and the Battle to Save a Magnificent Species, by J.A. Mills. My Early Reviewers book. Less about actually wandering through the habitats of the tiger than I expected, and more about legislation and international affairs. Still sufficiently heartbreaking.

The Angel Court Affair, by Anne Perry. Her books at this point, in both of her Victorian series, have become very slight and forgettable. This one was surprisingly passionate in its discussion of religious faith, which read like Perry trying to work out a lot of stuff about forgiveness and redemption for herself (but would I have thought that if I didn't know her history? dunno) and which I found quite interesting. The mystery itself? Less so.

The Last Camel Died at Noon, by Elizabeth Peters. Campy series about Victorian archaeologists, and while fun it has suffered immensely from Peters' decision to give her hero and heroine a revoltingly precocious child. In this one, not only is the child in fine form but at the same time I was equally revolted by his mother's (our narrator's) indifference to, literally, whether he lives or dies. I mean, I feel that way as the reader, but it makes it very difficult to like your narrator when she continually puts her whole family in danger of their lives and then her concern is, in this order, for her husband, and then herself, and then eventually her small child. Peters tries to tell us near the end of the book that she actually has Enormous Maternal Love for this kid, but the whole rest of the book has been showing us otherwise.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. Wow, super-boring! Infodumping is apparently not a new thing in literature.

Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid, by Wendy Williams. Brief but fairly interesting.

Happy Easter / We Like Sheep Day, if you celebrate. If not, enjoy your spring Sunday.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

spring's approach, in frightening times

The winter is winding up quietly, especially compared to last year. I am sure we will still get a few bits and pieces of snow, but the weather is mild and the weeks passing quickly. Except for that drive home from daycare, when Perdita alternates between demanding to see a truck, complaining about the radio, and making fun of me if I yell at her: she often throws things in the backseat and, when she's done it once and I tell her not to do it again, and then of course she does, I say, "PERDITA!" and she replies with a mocking, "MEH MEH MEH!" That drive goes slowly.

Read since last posting:
Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West--One Meal at a Time, by Stephen Fried. Fascinating non-fiction about the transcontinental railroad and the setting up of restaurants along the way. It also goes into the beginning of the conservation movement and the aviation craze, and Santa Fe and "Indian tourism", and America in the world wars, and it's really interesting and covers a good deal more ground than I thought it would from the title. I liked it a lot.  
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. I... Uh. Um. I guess I see why this was so popular? No, wait, I don't. I almost put it down after the first fifty pages or so, and though I stuck with it I don't feel rewarded at all. Everyone is awful. Every single person is just vile, and dull, to the point that I didn't care in the least what happened to them. You can write interesting anti-heroes, but Hawkins doesn't. The three female narrators are all nightmare stereotypes: the Drunk Stalker Ex, the Crazy Nymphomaniac, and the Motherhood is My Identity. None of them, crucially, have jobs or professional ambitions, and they are all completely obsessed with the men in (or previously in) their lives. This is one of the most anti-female books I have read in a long time. Also it was tedious, because you have to slog through pages and pages of self-destruction establishing that these women are, in fact, Men's Worst Nightmares, in between small snippets of the supposedly "thrilling" plot. Such a letdown, after all the praise.

A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger. Gower and Chaucer solve a crime in the reign of Richard II (okay, mostly Gower; Chaucer is not entirely innocent, as it turns out). It's a really fun, if period-accurate-grim-at-times, novel, and one of the main characters is transgender and their gender identity is handled super-deftly (I thought so, anyway).

The Fifth Heart, by Dan Simmons. Simmons, master of cut-and-paste from Wikipedia to needlessly stretch 200 pages of story into a 700-page book. And yet I keep reading, if skimming a good deal. This one involves Sherlock Holmes and Henry James teaming up to prevent the assassination of the president at the Chicago World's Fair, and it's just about as dumb as it sounds.

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, by Timothy Snyder. Hard, hard, brilliant, enlightening reading. Snyder's take on the Holocaust is that it was permitted by nation-states being nullified (Jews living in Germany throughout the war had a much, much better chance of surviving than Jews in occupied territories), and that the goal was chaos, so that when we think of Germany itself as the most dangerous place and the Germans of being coldly efficient, we're getting it wrong. Hitler said that Jews had ruined the natural order of things by being a civilizing force, which he claimed was unnatural. (Warning indeed, in these days of "political correctness is being shoved down my throat, so my candidate is the one who lets me believe that every white person hates non-white people as much as I do; the rest of them are just afraid to say so, and he's not".) Mercifully, Snyder ends with three chapters about people who protected Jews, which after the rest of the book is desperately needed. And provides some good ideas for the inevitable basement shelters some of us may need to start constructing for our immigrant and Muslim neighbors and friends.

God, I want to believe that humans are better than this. That in the intervening seventy years fewer people have been teaching their children to hate. But it's so hard to believe that right now.

The Ice House, by Minette Walters. A British author's first mystery, from back in the early 90's. Suffers from a lot of gender-stereotype silliness, including forced "punishing kisses" leading to relationships, but Walters does a nice gradual flip-flop in who we initially think is the hero and who is the boorish sidekick, and I liked her writing enough that I'm going to go back and find other stuff she's written.  

May you all find ways to work towards love, these days.