I started the year’s reading on a rough note. I bailed on thirteen books. I am pissed off by that. I hate bailing on books. But I don’t have time to continue on with books that don’t interest me. That said, I did enjoy several of the books I read this month.
I won’t list the bails. So, I will only write up the books I completed.
Star Trek: Treknology by Ethan Siegel is okay in a workman like fashion. The science is interesting. But Michio Kaku’s Science of the Impossible is far better.
Someone by Alice McDermott is good. But I found it rather dull as the story goes on.
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie is delightful even on reread. A much needed reprieve from my reading slump.
Line by Line by Claire Kehrwald Cook is a very useful source for learning to editing one’s own writing. But, the book is dated.
Alexander the Great and His Empire by Pierre Briant is amazing. I absolutely loved this book. Probably my second favorite book this month.
Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy by Lauro Marines is exhaustive and exhausting.
Texas Blood by Roger D. Hodges is an idiosyncratic exploration of Texas through one family’s generations long experience in the state. It mixes family and personal memoir, history, reportage, and literary criticism. The problem is that Hodges fails to capture what it means to be Texan (largely because that is an impossible task). Indeed, the book lacks focus. I will say the critical analysis of Cormac McCarthy is engaging, though.
The Vast Southern Empire by Matthew Karp is my favorite book of the month. It is an awesome exploration of Southern dominated American foreign policy in the years before the Civil War.
The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham is exhaustive and exhausting.
The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans is a wonderful guide to writing science fiction and fantasy. I especially like his question heavy strategy.
Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley is a really good intermediate book on pastels. Of especially interest will be the chapters on plein air and the business of pastels (which, let’s face it, is never usefully explored in any of these books).
So, that is all the books I finished in January. Hopefully, I will have a better month in February.
I end 2017 on a positive note. The last book I read was amazing. Though I started the month off in the reading doldrums. Here is what I read in December.
I began the month with the disappointing Spineless by Juli Berwald. A book on jellyfish should focus on jellyfish. And a book on jellyfish should not be a closet memoir.
I enjoyed The Planet Factory by Elizabeth Tasker. The latest planet science is fascinating. But there are some serious grammatical issues.
I needed some comics this month so I read volumes one through three of Teen Titans (the second New 52 run) and volumes one through three of New Avengers (by Al Ewing). Mediocre is a good description of all of them. As much as I like Bunker, the Teen Titans in the New 52 are shit. End of story. New Avengers is more enjoyable, though I’m not a fan of Ewing’s humor. And it needed more Wiccan and Hulkling.
After the disappointing comics binge, I bailed like a bat out of hell on The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear, Age of Assassins by RJ Baker, The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne, and The Bostonions by Henry James. I may return to The Stone in the Skull and The Hearts Invisible Furies one day. But probably not the others.
I am torn on A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. I like Wilson’s writing and imagination. But I do not understand what he is getting at in this story. I want to write a more in depth review of this novella along with the other Tor.com novellas I read in November.
I have already reviewed The Root by Na’amen Gobert Tilahun. It is like two posts down. Check it out. I do not know if I want to continue the series. I am still bitterly disappointed.
Finally, the last book of 2017 (and one of the best). The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Boddard is just amazing. I loved it from beginning to end. Expect a review at some point.
That is it for 2017. Should I continue this into 2018?
Damn. I haven’t written a post in almost a month. I really need to pay more attention to the blog.
Anyway, my reading month has been decent even with allergies kicking my ass.
Here is what I read last month:
A Most Dangerous Book by Christopher Krebs is an amazing exploration of Tacitus’s Germania and its tragic and malignant influence on German intellectual life to the Second World War. The best book I read in September.
I followed a five star book with another. Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green is masterful. Green wonderfully captures the forces leading to Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency as well as giving a good look at Steve Bannon, who he is, what his ideology is, etc. A must read for those interested in contemporary politics.
Next, I read Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock. I love this book. That is all.
Following Christie, I read Soleri by Michael Johnston. I didn’t like the novel. I found the world building poor and tired. The hints of narrative left me less than impressed. And the characterization of the first primary character the reader is introduced to is rage inducing. A young man imprisoned since early childhood would not act in the way he does at the beginning of the novel. Then again, what evil empire would do such idiotic shit to begin with? (Batman influence not withstanding). But I do recognize I might be too harsh on Soleri and may give the novel another look in a few months.
Disappointment follows disappointment with The Vagrant by Peter Newman. I started loving the story. The narrative is fast paced and engrossing. But there is not much meat on the skeleton here. Characters are discarded before any characterization attaches to them (including the main protagonist). The world building, though interesting, doesn’t quite work. And the conclusion is a deus ex machina. I will read the sequel, The Malice, before unhauling both.
Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel by Liz Haywood-Sullivan is very good. Haywood-Sullivan is one of my favorite artists. The techniques she provides are wonderful. But I do wish she didn’t rely on underpainting washes so much. And, if you have seen one of her videos on the Artist Network, you pretty much cover the same material as covered in this book. A must read, nonetheless, for lovers of pastel.
South Africa: A Narrative History by Frank Welsh is a well loved single volume history of South Africa. Welsh’s history brings a sensitivity to the subject that elucidates what happened to make South Africa the racist nightmare it was for most of the twentieth century.
I don’t like Marius B. Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan as much. It is still a very useful textbook. But it is too dry and overly scholastic for my taste.
I’m torn about my reaction to Bettany Hughes’s Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities. I enjoyed the early history of Byzantion despite some obvious factual errors. But as Constantinople takes the stage, Hughes loses me as she writes the Christianization of the Roman Empire. And she never quite recaptures my interest. (It must be noted, however, that as I read Istanbul, I accompanied my mother to an all day doctor’s appointment.)
Following Istanbul, I took a look at The Locomotive of War by Peter Clarke. It was not what I had hoped it to be.
I finished September with two outdated books on the Hittites. The Hittites: People of a Thousand Gods by Johannes Lehmann has some interesting ideas. But it is very outdated. Similarly, The Hittites and Their Contemporaries in Asia Minor by J.G. Macqueen is interesting, but again outdated. A new history of the Hittites is desperately needed.
That was what I read in September. Now, let me see if I can post more frequently.
I am okay with my reading in August. I am still in something of a slump. But I am getting out of it. Now on to the books I read.
I have already written about Dark Valley Destiny and Blood and Thunder in my last post, so I won’t repeat what I have already written.
There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon is the first novel I completed in the month of August. It is a tale of one woman’s experiences during and years after the Spanish Civil War interspersed with her relationship with her granddaughter. I like the novel well enough. But the remembrances aren’t visceral, there is an insurmountable remove from the memories of the past.
Next, I completed two Poirot novels by Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun and Peril at End House. I really enjoyed both novels quite well.
Following Christie, I decided to tackle one of the novels on my much neglected Historical Fiction Challenge by reading The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory. Oh my. That book was just not for me. I’m not sure giving Elizabeth Woodville the voice Gregory gives her is the best idea. It immediately put me off. Probably won’t return to her work.
Next up, and again following my Historical Fiction Challenge (I think) came Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I like it better than The White Queen, but I think it drags. And I am not fond of the characterization.
For a change of pace, I read Street Angel After School Kung Fu Special by Jim Rugg et al. I am not in the target audience. I didn’t see a point to the story. Nice art though.
By this point in August, I yearned for some contemporary literary fiction. So, I checked out The Ministry of Utmost Hapiness by Arundhati Roy. The writing is good. But I wasn’t feeling it at the time. I may return to it later on. Or not.
I had the same feelings for Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Just not for me.
The bright spot of August must go to Elizabeth Mowry’s Landscape Painting in Pastel. An amazing instructional work. I really should buy it when I get the money.
I wanted to get a fantasy series read in the month of August, so I chose to finally read The Sundered Realm by Robert Vardeman and Victor Milan. Okay. I wish I had paid more attention to who the publisher was. Yikes. This novel is bad. From poor characterization, cartoon villains, bad plotting, and so much more, I still marvel how I finished the novel.
August also saw me interested in returning to literary criticism. I chose to read one of my favorite literary critics from my first literary theory anthology. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time to dive into R.S. Crane’s work.
I finally watched Stranger Things in August. Given that Stranger Things has been compared to Paper Girls, I decided to give the later a look. I did not like the series at all. Nothing to really recommend it, in my opinion.
The last novel I read in August wass The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro. I really wanted to love this novel. But I don’t think the novel really works all that well.
The final book I read in August was The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce. This is an amazing, thought provoking book. It certainly opened my eyes to an interpretation of the malaise that has swept the “West” since the end of the Cold War. My one complaint is that Luce posits a hypothetical war with China as the opening of his chapter titled “Fallout” that doesn’t truly advance his thesis. Rather, it detracts from it. But over all. The Retreat of Western Liberalism is a must read, even if it will enrage the reader.
And so ends what I read in August. September is already looking to be a better month. But we will see.
My reading endured a sustained slump over the month of July. I had personal issues to deal with throughout the month. And I did not have much luck with the books I selected baring a few exceptions.
The first book I read, or rather attempted to read, in July was N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I wasn’t too pleased with what I read of the novel. I admit that I do have trouble reading Jemisin’s work. I have yet to enjoy her fiction, though I do think she is an excellent critic of science fiction and fantasy. But I recognize that I really should go back and give the The Fifth Season a second shot.
Following The Fifth Season, I read Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History Sybille Haynes. I liked the book well enough. But I didn’t get a sense of Etruscan history.
Next came The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn, about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. It is a comprehensive biography of Jim Jones and his ministry/ cult. The book is pretty good if a bit overly sensational.
By this point, I realized my reading slumped. So, I decided to binge on some comic books. I started Dennis Hopeless’s All New X-Men volume “Hell Hath No Fury.” I like Hopeless’s work on characterization- the personal dramas are written well. But the super hero plot stank. That is one of the worst interpretations of the Goblin Queen I’ve ever read. Next up came Wonder Woman “The Circle” and “The Ends of the Earth” by Gail Simone. I can’t say I enjoyed these volumes. Wonder Woman as a secret agent with limited access to her power has never been appealing. Wonder Woman should never be in a white catsuit. Following disappointment, I reread Geoff Johns et al.’s amazing Sinestro Corps War crossover. Still an amazing work of comics storytelling. But, I’m not sold on Johns’s interpretation of fear, especially when Kyle Rayner becomes possessed by Parallax- he should be filled with rage, not fear. And I didn’t care for the focus devoted to Sodam Yat in the second half of the arc. The focus should have remained on Hal and company. Finally, Superman/ Superboy Prime should never be used. As a hero, as villain, as whatever. He is a dumpster fire of a character. Period. The last comic book I read was War of the Gods by George Perez. There is so much wrong with this story I don’t know where to begin. Parts of the narrative seem missing, Circe’s plan is nonsensical, the conclusion is a massive disappointment, etc. Over all, my comic book reading for July bummed me out.
After comics, I read a few more histories: 1381 The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt by Juliet Barker and The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir. I enjoyed both books. I prefer 1381 because of the sources used and the convincing argument. The Wars of the Roses, though well written, suffers from Weir’s penchant to enthusiastically sensationalize and pass moral judgement on her subjects.
Next up, I finally got around to reading Brad Watson’s short story collection Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. Before I DNFed the collection, I did not care for the stories I had read.
The bright spot of my reading in July was Agatha Christie Mallowan’s Come, Tell Me How You Live. It is a delightful loose memoir of Agatha Christie’s life working with her husband, Max Mallowan, on his archaeological expeditions. While I like the book, there are a lot of problems. Christie plays very loosely with events and facts. This is an impressionistic memoir rather than a solid piece of autobiography. The writing isn’t the best, if I’m honest about it. And Christie is quite condescending to the natives who work for her husband though she doesn’t intend to be. But, I still enjoyed the book.
Next up is a surprising find at my local library (okay, every book save The Fifth Season comes from my local library system), The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson. The book is okay. It is more an incomplete encyclopedia rather than a history or critical analysis of superheroines and other female characters in comics.
The penultimate book I tackled in July is my third or fourth attempt on The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’m conflicted when it comes to this novel. The writing is amazing. It is lush and gorgeous. The story is interesting and engrossing. But the characters are all pieces of shit (which is, of course, the point). And I don’t buy Richard’s obsession with the Classics Clique. Needless to say, I still have issues regarding The Secret History. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Or maybe I’ll just give up.
Finally, I read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. The novel is well written. But I found it a slow, dull slog before I gave it up.
That concludes my disappointing July.
Nine days into August, things are looking up.
Crap. Over a month since I last posted. Unfortunately, June and early July saw my mother hospitalized twice for extended stays. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get more blogging done now that mom is back home.
Anyway, on to the books.
The first book I read in June was Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo- Saxon England by Barbara Yorke. For an academic audience, the book is likely indispensable for students of Anglo-Saxon England. But too academic for a general readership.
I followed with a significant number of books I did not care for including: The Wilds by Julia Eliot, The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis, Prepare to Die by Paul Tobin, Boycam by Sam Stevens, The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee, Gutterboys by Alvin Orloff, and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell.
I also read and didn’t particularly like The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.
I’m disappointed that so many books didn’t work for me. Some of them are genuinely bad. And some of them may just be the victims of me being in a reading slump or pressed for time.
The lone novel I enjoyed this month was Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. The book is wonderful and enjoyable. But Lee does not flesh out later generations of her characters.
I enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing. King presents the reader with good advice. But he could have cut out the memoir part.
For research, I read Witchcraft Continued edited by de Blecourt and Davies. Some of the essays are interesting and useful. And some of them are neither interesting or useful.
Rounding out the research books, I read Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology, a decent textbook, and Eric H. Cline’s very good Three Stones Make a Wall. My one complaint is that Cline gets a wee bit repetitive.
By far the best book I read in June is Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. I loved the book. It is engrossing, provocative, and deeply satisfying. But, and there is always a but, the world building could be better. I plan on doing a review once I finally read Wilson’s follow up A Taste of Honey.
Any way. That is what I read in June.
May has been an interesting month in terms of my reading. I read some really good books. And I read some stinkers. To be honest, I think I am in a mood for more science fiction and fantasy rather than realistic or literary fiction. I am also reading more books for research. And finding good and useful research texts is hit or miss.
Anyway, here is what I read in May:
I already reviewed Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (which I loved) and The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge (which I hated).
The best book I read in May was Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. It gets everything I want in a fantasy novel right. Just an awesome book.
I followed Kings of the Wyld up with Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele and Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. Both books are disappointing. I enjoyed Steele’s reboot of Captain Future better than Vandermeer’s phoned in biopunk new weird novel.
I reread Sappho translated by Mary Barnard. I enjoyed the poems, but the don’t have the same impact they once had.
Keeping with Greek mythology, I read Colm Toibin’s House of Names. There is so much wrong with this novel. Especially the lack of consistency in narrative perspective. A worthy competitor with The Night Ocean for worse book I read this month.
I reread two novel by Kawabata Yasunari this month. Thousand Cranes and Master of Go lack the impact that they once had. This is similar to my experience with the poetry of Sappho. Maybe I am turning away from the literature I once loved.
To round out my fiction reading, I attempted The Root by Na’amen Gobert Tilahun. I like what I read. But taking a few days off to read other things ruined my desire to return to the book. I will return to it in a few months. Hopefully I will love it on the second attempt.
Before I touch upon the research texts, I want to skim over the graphic novels I read. I was not fond of Titans volume one “The Return of Wally West” (I do like the art though), Apocalypse Wars (a terrible idea in three comics), and Wonder Woman volume two “Year One” (the only part of Rucka’s jettisoning of the New 52 Wonder Woman I like is Nicola Scott’s artwork).
Now, what research books have I tackled?
The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder is a disappointing look at Arthurian myth. The First Decadent by James Laver is a disappointing (and likely dated) biography of J.K. Huysmans. The Road from Decadence, a collection of Huysmans’s letters is useful for Huysmans scholars, but not for what I want to write. I did enjoy the very useful Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World by Gary Lachman. Less enjoyable and useful is Janine Chapman’s The Quest for Dion Fortune. A. Norman Jeffares’s W.B. Yeats is an interesting if very dry biography of Yeats. The Etruscans by Raymond Bloch is not exactly what I want from a book on the Etruscans. Maybe a newer study/ history is in order? Another disappointing look at an ancient people is Jean Markale’s The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture.
I also read Tom Nichols’s The Death of Expertise. I enjoyed the book. Nichols raises many interesting and cogent concerns about current American culture. But I can’t help but point out that Nichols’s writing is hampered by repetition and the settling of political scores (who else is writing outside of their area of expertise besides Noam Chomsky, hmm?)
Finally, I want to return to novels before I close out what I read in May.
I am in a bit of a gay erotica craze at the moment. To satisfy my craze, I read Brad by Ken Smith. Where do I begin? I have so many issues with this novel that I want to do a detailed review. But would anyone want to read a review about a gay erotic novel?
That is what I read in May. On to June.
My April reading has continued the general trend of my readings over the course of the year so far. But, there have been rays of light. I know what has been plaguing me. I’ve been forcing myself to read a lot of literary fiction. And I’m just not in the mood for those books. Instead, I am hungering for science fiction and fantasy. Also, I have cut down on the massive numbers of books I’ve checked out of the library at any one time. Not having so many books lessens the pressure on me to speed up my reading.
Any way, what did I read this last month?
The best two books I read in April, and contenders for the best books I’ve read this year, are Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. Both books are awesome. And I posted reviews of both novels Monday.
I also finally read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood and Burger’s Daughter to a disappointing end. I talked about my feelings for both books in a previous post as well, so I won’t spend much time on either of those.
The first book I read in April was The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales. I can’t say much about this collection except that I was less than impressed with it. What is it about literary speculative fiction that so often falls flat?
The second book I read was Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. This novel is definitely not my cup of tea. I never connected with the characters or the writing.
Next up was Jump and Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer. I really enjoyed “Jump” and a few other stories. But other stories were not terribly compelling.
I also read Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge. I didn’t care for it at all, I’m sad to say.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift was boring. Why did I have it on my to be read list again?
I really liked The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. The story of the people who fell in love with octopuses is touching and well done. But I wish more attention had been paid to the octopuses.
Finally, I read Ismail Kadare’s Broken April. This novel is evocative and haunting. I enjoyed this story of early twentieth century Albania.
That is what I read in April. On to May’s readings!
February has been another disappointing month in terms of my reading. On the whole, it was better than January, but not by much.
Again, a part of my problem is I am still using a TBR list that I made when I wanted to read more literary fiction. And I don’t want to read literary fiction.
Anyway, here is what I read this past month:
I started the month with The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde. I wanted to like this collection. But beyond a few poems, I found myself uninterested.
Another book of poetry I read was Amiri Baraka’s Transbluency. Unfortunately, I found myself struggling with Baraka’s homophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. Baraka is an important poet, but his early work is hard to get into for contemporary readers.
The first novel I read this month was Kindred by Octavia Butler followed by The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. I didn’t particularly like either of these books. I struggle with Butler’s work. And I am disappointed I didn’t like Naylor’s first book. I really enjoyed her novel Mama Day.
I attempted Paul Austers’s 4321. This book is bad. Just bad.
I also attempted Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. I really wanted to like this book. I really did. The world building is awesome. The plot has potential. But the protagonist is weak. I love Unar’s ambition. But the plot directed stupidity she routinely displays makes the novel ultimately disappointing.
The second to last novel I read this month is Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman. This novel is wonderful. It is beautifully written. Almost poetic. But it is also boring at times.
The final novel I read this month was Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey. This novel is a marked letdown from Leviathan’s Wake. Avasarala is a nice addition to the POV roster (indeed she steals the book). But I can’t say the same for the other new POV characters. This novel struggles, I think, to hide the cultural problems of the world building and some problems with the plot. (I want to write more on this after I’ve read more books in The Expanse.)
The best things I’ve read this month, actually, have been collected volumes of superhero comic books. I read: the first two volumes of Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Totally Awesome Hulk by Greg Pak, Scarlet Witch by James Robinson, and Thor by Jason Aaron. I loved all of them. Though my favorite must be Scarlet Witch and Thor. The reveal of Thor’s identity and her motivation is amazing. She is what a true hero is. And Scarlet Witch is all sorts of awesome.
February was disappointing. I hope March will be better.