Books read, late October.

It was an epic fortnight for bouncing off library books. Epic.

John David Anderson, Sidekicked. On a page to page level, I found this book engaging and enjoyable. After twenty pages, I had put it on my Christmas shopping ideas list. By the time I finished, it was thoroughly off again. It is 2013, and this book made me blurt, snarl, and snap, “WHAT YEAR IS IT?” so many, many, many times in more than one direction. If you want the full version, ask on e-mail. Short version is: I was incredibly disappointed because Anderson is, as I said, very readable, clearly talented, and I wanted to like this book. And not only no but hell no.

Rae Carson, The Bitter Kingdom. A fitting end to this trilogy. I am usually a fan of reading series in order–and I am here too!–but I feel like Rae clued readers in enough on what had gone before that while someone starting here wouldn’t get the full emotional arc, they would have no trouble orienting themselves not just in the world but in the characters’ personal lives. So by all means get Girl of Fire and Thorns first if you can find it, but if you can’t, go ahead with this one. The backstory is cool, the characters are compelling, and the crucial moment with the godstone was simultaneously surprising and just right. I enjoyed this very much and will be eager to see what Rae gets up to next.

Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History. One of the worst titles I have ever run across. Ever. “A Woman in World History,” seriously, publishers, what female-identified persons does that leave out? Most people will not recognize Elizabeth Marsh’s name except for being able to identify it as likely female, and the subtitle gives you nothing. Marsh was an eighteenth-century subject of the British Empire, and her travails took her all over the world–the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, a surprising lot of Africa, England, India, South America, lots of places. And she was remarkably ordinary, aside from that. Interesting stuff, more for people who like travel narratives and/or the eighteenth century than a general recommendation.

James S. A. Corey, Abaddon’s Gate. Last in the trilogy, with blessedly few vomit zombies to be seen, or at least seen as vomit zombies. (They might be classified as vomit zombie ghosts, but no one calls them that.) Considering how little I liked the premise and the first book, I’m glad Mark and Jo got me to read the other two, but really I’d mostly rather the authors focused on other things. I did like that the Methodist pastor in space actually acted like a Methodist pastor in space; it was a type of religious belief and practice that is not at all common in SF despite being pretty darn common in the real world.

Antonio Garrido, The Corpse Reader. Translation of a Spanish-language historical novel set in China, about the father of Chinese forensic science. Generally a fun read, with added interest for watching how a Spanish writer focuses on slightly different aspects of that era of Chinese history than English writers generally do. Not really a genre murder mystery per se, but probably should be shelved with them, since it has similar concerns.

Jonathan Grimwood, The Last Banquet. This is the Sooper Seekrit Soodonym of Jon Courtenay Grimwood as he makes a foray into straight-up non-speculative historical fiction. My alternate title for it was The French Nobility: Boring When Not Disgusting (Often Both). If that appeals to you, onwards. As for me, I will be hoping that Mr. Grimwood spends more time back on the speculative side of the aisle, even though I love historical fiction and need more of it.

Jan Guillou, The Templar Knight. Swedish historical novel of the twelfth century. This has a Birkebeiner! And evil nuns and good nuns and Templars and Hospitallers and smiting and weaving. Second in its series, but should stand alone reasonably well. Exemplar of the idea that Scandinavian literature becomes 1000% less depressing once smiting enters the picture. Looking forward to the last in this series, and I definitely see why it’s been popular in Sweden.

David I. Kertzer, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. This book was horrifying. It was not particularly well-organized and kept going back and forth, but the historical events it was covering were horrifying enough to keep it compelling. Basically in the 19th century there were several Jewish children (including the titular kid) who were legally kidnapped by Italian Catholic government(s) (this was the confusing unification period and interrelated there, although Kertzer did not make the interrelations as clear as he hoped) because there was even a rumor that a Christian servant had baptized the kid. It was awful. The titular character was six, and he never entirely reconciled with his poor family even as an adult.

Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves. This book is structured in two timelines, a fairly distant past within the characters’ lives and the present of the series to date. I liked both timelines, which is rare for me, and I very much liked that the subtitle of this book could in some ways be Locke Lamora Gets Called On His Bullshit. Looking forward to more. Recommended.

Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education. A thoughtful and detailed memoir of a young US Army officer’s training and deployment. It was more thoughtful and detailed on the training end of things than the deployment end, and I really wish there had been more about his post-Army life, but given the timing he really hadn’t had a lot of chance to process those things yet. I will be interested to see if he writes another memoir about becoming a civilian, though.

Chaim Potok, The Chosen. Interwoven stories of two young men who are friends and their relationships with their fathers, set in an American Orthodox Jewish community in the mid-40s into 1950. It was a beautiful book, and it did what SF readers often complain that mainstream fiction does not do: it put large-scale social change vividly into a very personal individual context. (Mainstream fiction doesn’t always do this, but SF doesn’t always do it either, so…I think we should all give that particular complaint a rest, frankly.)

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Fire Engine That Disappeared. Yes, those of you who are paying attention to the rules just noticed that’s two Swedish novels not just in one month but in one fortnight. Oops. The Templar Knight came in at the library sooner than I thought, and then there was the epic set of bounces off other library books, so…yeah. Anyway, this is another in their mystery series, and the title strikes me as unfortunate because it’s pointing in neon to one of the important clues. Ah well. That’s all of them the library has, I think.

Dan Snow, Death or Victory: The Battle of Quebec and the Birth of an Empire. This book is very very very much about the Battle of Quebec and very very very little about the birth of an empire. Judge your interest levels accordingly.

G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen. One of the things I love about this book is that it was present or very near future–the setting was not at all out of line for one of Cory Doctorow’s novels that get classified as near-future SF. And it was tech-savvy along those lines, albeit in a very different (Muslim) cultural matrix. However, it was fantasy also! This is good! I see no reason why the future (near or far!) can’t have fantasies in it. I wish I saw more of that. Also Wilson’s handling of “the convert” showed a sophisticated self-awareness I wish I saw more of in whatever kind of fiction. More please.

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