January 5th, 2014

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Extras, Reminiscences, and Welcome Prophecy; Make Good Wish

Letters and Reminiscences of Alfred Russel Wallace, vol. 2, edited by James Marchant (public domain, nook)
Wallace believed a lot of strange things in his old age. Still, I like learning more about him, and I enjoy unvarnished Victorians, even when they weird me out.

Extras, by John Scalzi (nook)
Fun, slight stories. I like Scalzi better in long form, but this was good airplane company.

Lies and Prophecy (and Welcome to Welton), by Marie Brennan (nook)
Absolutely loved this. Urban fantasy - well, college fantasy really. With the exact right amount of characterization, snappy banter, scary plot, magic geekery, and assorted other delights. And, as a bonus, I really liked the philosophical struts.

How Not to Make a Wish, When Good Wishes Go Bad, and To Wish or Not to Wish, by Mindy Klasky (nook)
What's even better on a plane than literate, intelligent chicklit? Literate, intelligent chicklit with djinns in! These books rang some fairly straightforward romance novel changes, andbut they made them their own. Good times.
(243, 244, 245)

So that's it for my 2013 reading. Read lots of books, many of them good. Read some books I owned before last year, read some books that were ARCs, not as many of either of those as I would've liked. I'm still in school (on top of working full time), so I'm still not setting myself any official goals for next year - other than SURVIVE. But once I graduate in May, I might reconsider that. Will be counting the same things I counted last year. I've kind of settled into a rut, but it's a very comfortable rut, so I have no desire to escape it.
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my favorite reads in 2013

I think this is the shortest yearly roundup I've ever done. As always, I'm mostly reposting the reviews I wrote back when I first read these. Usually I have to fight to confine myself to 10 percent of the books I've read, but this year - despite the many many wonderful books I'm not listing here - there were a few books that really took me to the woodshed. So much so that for the First Time Evar, I'm breaking my rules for this post by including a reread AND not just one, but TWO series.

So, my very most favorite books from the past year.

The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, as read by Christina Moore
Here's what I said after the first one:
I loved this book so much! The story was great! The characters were great! The language is delicious! New York City is incredibly well-described! Anything I say will sound a bit goofy because I am so enthused! Also, the reader did an amazing job. Mostly, I'm just wondering wtf I didn't read this as a 10 year old when I was reading Every Other YA Fantasy The Library Had.... it came out in 1983. I'm so excited that there are 9 more of these, although I realize my inner 10 year old probably can't sustain this level of enthusiasm that long.
And here's what I said part way through:
This series has come to mean an awful lot to me. I listen to it when I can't sleep or when I'm lonely or when things seem really hard... like the rope you hold on to when you're crossing a log bridge, you know? It's that kind of a story.
I'm in the middle of the eighth one now, and my inner 10 year old is still completely in love.

Not-yet-published theses, by no-longer-undergraduate friends (bis)
As transparent as this pseudonym is, I somehow don't feel like naming these. Or even saying much about them :D. But they were very, very good.

Bluets, by Maggie Nelson
This book was heaven for me. I read it all in one go over lunch and then I immediately bought a copy for me and two for friends. I will be rereading it again this summer. At least once.

Evil for Evil, and The Escapement, by K.J. Parker
Oh, man. These books wrecked me. Particularly close readers *might* just possibly remember that I've read the first book in this trilogy, Devices and Desires, several times, and that I've occasionally accused it of being My Platonic Book. I love it so. These ones are equally tightly plotted and they rise to absolute brilliance regularly. And yet. And yet. They are so heartbreakingly sad. I found myself, at the end, telling myself consolingly that I wasn't meant to *believe* this story's thesis about the world; instead, I was meant to react against it, and in so doing formulate my own more joyous and less desperate conclusions. Whatever the intent, I loved these. Fucking K. J. Parker, man; there's no one else like her.

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi
I loved this book so much. Twisty and beautiful and sharp-toothed, and everything resolves perfectly at the end, without resolving at all. <3 <3 <3. <3 <3. I'mma reread it soon. And various persons should count themselves lucky I didn't actually make them listen to the last two chapters on Skype. Unless, I suppose, any of you would actually LIKE me to read you the last 2 chapters on Skype. In which case, let me know, eh?

An Angel at my Table, by Janet Frame
Oh my god. This is brilliant. Recommended for anyone who likes a) memoir, b) affectionate family stories that are also sad, c) reading about other people's time in college, d) historical context around psychology and psychiatry, e) stories rooted strongly in a sense of place, f) non-fiction about writing and/or writers, g) New Zealand. As I like ALL OF THESE THINGS, I was well-satisfied.

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme (reread)
I first read The Bone People as a young teenager - 13 I think? - and the father in the story was so like my own father, good and bad both - more so, but still recognizably alike in a way no other father in a book ever had been - that I managed to block out everything about the book except that it was really good, so I didn't have to think too hard about what it meant. Rereading now, it was even better - because I'm not so in need of compartmentalizing as a coping mechanism, and so there were a lot of powerful things I could look at more squarely. Also her writing is amazing, and there are allusions I caught this time around that I wouldn't have heard at thirteen. [Warning: It's a very violent book. Bad things happen to a small child at the hands of someone he loves. Please don't read it if that will hurt you. It helped me, both times, because the book doesn't stop there.] I loved it so much I went and read everything else of hers I could easily get my hands on, and then started ILLing things that are harder to find.

The Love School, by Elizabeth Knox
Chronological collection of Knox's essays and occasional nonfiction. I am so in love with this author I cannot even tell you.

Anyone out there reading this, who hasn't already told me what books they dug in 2013, is hereby strongly encouraged to do so. Actually, even if you already did, I welcome additions or reiterations :)
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Dead Dog Cat

#4, 5

What with one thing or another, I finished a couple more books yesterday.

First was Osprey Raid #11: Pegasus Bridge: Benouville D-Day 1944, a story of a small part of the whole invasion of Normandy. This particular set of bridges were sited behind two of the British beachheads, and were taken by glider infantry landing practically on top of them. The bridges needed to be taken and held to keep the troops from being bottled up too close to the beach. Nicely done piece of work.

The second was Osprey Raid #13: The Bruneval Raid: Operation Biting 1942. It tells the tale of a specific commando raid on a German radar station, so that the British could investigate the Nazi's radar capabilities, and possibly make use of them within their own systems. Not a bad read.

2014 Books #1-4

I Didn't meet my 50 book quota for last year...Well, I technically did, but since I -re-read a couple of series of mine, I didn't include them in my count....So starting over fresh this year.

Going to start over with a new challenge...

1. My Story by Elizabeth Smart-new read-Elizabeth is an amazing young woman to experience the horrific cruelty at the hands of her kidnapper, but with her faith and the loving support of her family and friends she has come out of her ordeal a very strong woman.

2. A Memoir by Shirley Jones-new read-I learned things about Shirley Jones I'm not so sure I wanted to know. Lol. A very interesting read.

3.2013 Short Story and Novel Writer's Market by Writers. Com- New read- Besides supplying various information for writer's about magazines and book publishers and agents, there is also info on how to write a book, make your characters strong, etc.

4. Into the Wilderness by Sarah Donati-New read- I really enjoyed this book. It was recommended to me by fellow fans of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander Series" and it seems that Sarah is a fan of Diana's too, since she mentions Jamie and Claire Fraser and Young Ian Murray within her story.  Elizabeth and Nathaniel's romance doesn't quite hold me captive as DG's Jamie and Claire's does, but they are wonderful characters nevertheless and their love is timeless too.
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Exquisite American Gift; Red Incredible Tale

The Last Gift of Time, by Carolyn G. Heilbrun (reread)
Essays, or musings, about being an old lady. The best of these were amazing, but sometimes she frustrated me. I don't mind though, because, wow. Heilbrun. I wish she was still around, and I will keep doling her out to myself in small doses. Weirdly, I realized about 50 pages from the end that I had read this before, in my very early 20s. Now I sort of want to reread it once a decade. We'll see.
(1, O1)

Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, by Jessica Jenkins Kerwin
It took me a long time to get into the groove of this reference book, but once I did I zoomed through it. Pretty, magazine writing - but in the best sense of the words.

The Best American Comics 2013, edited by Jessica Abel, Matt Madden, and Jeff Smith
As always, this was a combination of enjoyable rereads, delightful new finds, and tiresomely opaque things I would never seek out on my own. Thank you, o editors.

Red Rocks, by Rachael King
Simple and straightforward, emotionally solid story about a young boy, his father, and old man, the Wellington coast, and selkies.

The Hobbit: The Incredible Journey: Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters, by Daniel Falconer
Not as interesting as the art and design book, but still full of very pretty pictures.

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
If this is a year where every month I read a book that is as shimmering and earthy and heartfelt and carefully structured and real and surreal as this one, it will be a very good year indeed.
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girl in lace reading

2014 Book 2: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

UK Cover
Book 2: The Thirteenth Tale.
Author: Diane Setterfield, 2006.
Genre: Gothic Mystery. Period Fiction.
Other Details: Paperback and Unabridged Audio (14 hrs,15 mins) Read by Jenny Agutter.

Margaret Lea is surprised to receive a letter from one of Britain's most prolific and well loved writers, Vida Winter, requesting that Margaret travel to her Yorkshire home with the view to writing her authorised biography. Margaret is not a well-known biographer and is perplexed as to why Miss Winter has chosen her. She prefers classics to modern literature and has not even read any of Miss Winter's books. While pondering whether to accept she opens her father's rare copy of Miss Winter's Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and is enchanted by what she reads. She discovers that there is no thirteenth tale and intrigued by this mystery decides to meet with Miss Winter.

She finds out quickly that Miss Winter is dying and is eager for her life story to be recorded. Miss Winter promises her a ghost story and a story about twins and it is this that finally convinces Margaret to stay as she had discovered at the age of ten that she had a twin, who had died shortly after their birth. It turns out to be a story full of dark family secrets centred on Miss Winter's childhood home Angelfield, a now burnt-out estate near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in this strange and troubling story.

Audio Cover
The novel's narrative voice switches between Margaret's as she records Miss Winter's story and investigates the events at Angelfield House and the stories recounted by Miss Winter. It is a novel that consciously references the Gothic tradition yet does so with a modern awareness. It is the kind of novel with an appeal for bibliophiles as novels such as Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Henry James' haunting 'The Turn of the Screw' are mentioned as literature as well as their elements being incorporated as part of the narrative.

It was certainly was an accomplished début. Its time setting seems to be deliberately obscured as it seems to be set in the near past though the author quite clearly avoids mentions that would evoke any specific date and no references to the 21st century are present. Margaret writes letters and uses the telephone so no mobiles or computers. It is an intelligent, multi-layered story exploring themes of loss, death and the sense of identity gained from family and place.

I am so glad that I finally got around to reading this atmospheric mystery. I have had it for ages but this winter was spurred into action by the BBC showing its adaptation over Christmas. I knew from the novel's reputation that it was important to stay spoiler-free, which I did and I am glad that I read the full work before watching the drama, especially as there were some changes in the screenplay.

Diane Setterfield's web page on 'The Thirteenth Tale' - includes link to opening chapter.

2014 Book 3: The Nightmare by Lars Kepler

Book 3: The Nightmare (Joona Linna #2).
Author: Lars Kepler, 2010. Translated from the Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg, 2012.
Genre: Police Procedural. Political Thriller. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Hardback. 500 pages.

Stockholm, Sweden: the lifeless body of a young woman is discovered on an abandoned boat. Later, a man is found hanging alone in his apartment. Should the deaths be treated as suicide or murder? Only four people know the answer. And one man wants them dead. Can Detective Inspector Joona Linna keep them alive long enough to find out the truth? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The young woman found in the opening pages has apparently drowned even though her body and clothes are dry. Then with the first chapter the narrative moves back to the recent past and we learn that she is the sister of a noted peace activist, Penelope Fernandez, who was also on the boat along with her boyfriend. Likewise, the man found hanging is Carl Palmcrona, the director of the National Inspectorate of Strategic Products, the government agency responsible for the export of armaments. Detective Inspector Joona Linna looks into these deaths as well as the whereabouts of Penelope and her boyfriend. He is teamed with Saga Bauer, an investigator with Sweden's security service (SAPO) and an expert in anti-terrorism.

I found this a stronger second outing for Joona Linna though I had also enjoyed The Hypnotist (2011 Book 90). As with other writers of Swedish crime fiction there are underlying social issues at the core of the story; here the issues associated with the dealing of arms to war torn countries. The twists and turns certainly provided thrills as the meaning of the title became clear. The ending was genuinely chilling. There is also a theme of music as is evident by the author's prefacing the novel with the legend of Paganini, the violinist said to have made a pact with the Devil.

It was also an interesting coincidence that Joona's co-investigator, Saga Bauer, was often referenced for her beauty and elf-like appearance and this drew to mind another young Swedish investigator named Saga, the character in the TV programme 'The Bridge'.