Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet by Jonathan Schneer (2015)


I listened to Ministers at War and really enjoyed it, for a variety of reasons.

It was a perspective of World War II that I had not previously read about or been exposed to.  Of the cast of characters in this book, I was most familiar with Winston Churchill; several were bit players in other books I had read about Churchill; some were names only (Clement Attlee, for example) and others were totally new to me.  I liked that.  Schneer isn't the liveliest of writers; but all the same, he was able to more than adequately give breath to these long dead men.  

In books,  Winston Churchill usually looms like a giant above the landscape; Schneer brings Winston down to size a bit.  Here, he's not the brave hero of World War II, or merely friend of Roosevelt; rather, he's a canny politician who is often in the a fight not just for the country but for his political life as well.  What we usually don't get is Winston the politician, but that's who Schneer gives us, and it was refreshing.  Winston knew how to stroke and cajole, berate and make deals, and almost always got what he wanted.  He was not always very trustworthy; it sounds like the conservatives trusted him less than the Labour party most of the time.  He walked a fine line, rather well, and created one of those celebrated "team of rivals" that kept Britain alive.  All the while being overly loquacious and semi-megalomaniacal.   


"It is useful to remember that Churchill’s colleagues did not treat him with the reverence he so often receives today. They did not know how posterity would view him. They saw him at the time as a great and brilliant man, no doubt, but also as a difficult and flawed one. He seemed to them too fond of his own voice, too dictatorial, too sure of his own judgment. Some thought he drank too much. Some worried about his health. In short, they viewed him as a human being, imperfect like all human beings. During late 1941 and early 1942, not everyone viewed him as the inevitable and irreplaceable prime minister, even if that is how most of us view him three-quarters of a century later. Churchill had to maneuver with great cunning to defend his position from Cripps; he had to demonstrate a steady hand and steadier nerves to keep it from Beaverbrook. He could not count on the loyalty of either man, even though Beaverbrook was a friend of long-standing. There is no loyalty at the pinnacle of politics: only calculation, ambition and ideology."  

This entire passage was great; I think it's a nutshell of what this book was about; that last line is so very, very true.

"Dictators may compromise on occasion, but often they do not have to. Democracies depend upon the willingness of politicians to compromise sometimes: if a democratically elected government sticks to an unpopular policy, voters will punish it for having failed to compromise. Coalitions depend upon compromise always—or at any rate upon permanent give and take. Refusal by any party to a coalition to bargain and deal will doom the coalition."

The last two books of nonfiction I've read have led me to find parallels between our own government right now, and the governments I was reading about.  One was ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy; now World War II, when a coalition of rivals is what saved Britain from destruction.  These very different men, with different ideas about almost everything, had to come together on the same page and work towards a common good.  It's scary to think our current government - with shades of the last eight years thrown in as well - can't get it together.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a perspective of World War II that I had not read before. Essentially, a group of very different men in almost all ways, especially on the role government should play in the lives of individuals, had to work together in unity and harmony towards a common goal. They did so, and very likely staved off the destruction of their country. Of the cast of characters in this book, I was most familiar with Winston Churchill; several were bit players in other books I had read about Churchill; some were names only (Clement Attlee, for example) and others were totally new to me. I liked that. Schneer isn't the liveliest of writers; but all the same, he was able to more than adequately give breath to these long dead men.

In many books, Winston Churchill usually looms like a giant above the landscape; Schneer brings Winston down to size a bit. Here, he's not the brave hero of World War II, or merely friend of Roosevelt; rather, he's a canny politician who is often in the a fight not just for the country but for his political life as well. What we usually don't get is Winston the politician, but that's who Schneer gives us, and it was refreshing. Winston knew how to stroke and cajole, berate and make deals, and almost always got what he wanted. He was not always very trustworthy; it sounds like the conservatives trusted him less than the Labour party most of the time. He walked a fine line, rather well, and created one of those celebrated "team of rivals" that kept Britain alive. All the while being overly loquacious and semi-megalomaniacal.

The audio version of this book started out as quite dry; bits and pieces throughout remained so. The reader isn't the best I've ever listened to, but for this type of book, his voice and narration was quite good. 







All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (2016)

A book about the end of the world, perhaps not the best book to read at what possibly could be the beginning of the end of the world.  But once I fall into a good book, it's like Alice into the rabbit hole:  I'm stuck and I can't get out until I wake up at the end.  Deliciously and delightfully stuck, I should say, because All the Birds in the Sky was a magical experience.  Anders writes with what I would call a touch of the absurb; strange things happen (expected in a fantasy and science fiction novel) and Anders strings them together in strange and wonderful ways.   Birds and trees may or may not talk (not spoilers here!); science and magic are at odds but don't even know it; love may or may not bloom between a witch and a scientific genius.  Anders writes comically, whimsically, crisply and lobs grenades of great beauty at the reader, like this one:

"There was something both aesthetically pleasing and satisfying about a great piece of engineering.  Shiny and sturdy.  She felt the same affection for this machine that she did for the old manual typewriters they sold in the hipster gallery on Valencia, or for a nice steam engine.  These things were made of hubris, because they always broke down, or worse, broke everything.  But maybe Laurence had been right, and these devices were what made us unique, as humans.  We made machines, the way spiders made silk."

All writing, I think, owes something to someone else; maybe "owes" is too strong a word; but all writers are readers, and shades of other authors who they read haunt their works.  So occasionally, I caught whiffs of Connie Willis, and stronger whiffs of Lewis Carroll - which both made me very, very happy. That may be because Charlie Jane Anders absorbed these two authors; or that may be my own synapses making these connections.  I'm not personally acquainted with Ms. Anders, so who is to say?!

This is what Ready Player One could have been!


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perhaps reading a book about the end of the world isn't the best to read when the world may be starting to end - but I enjoyed the hell out of this book all the same. When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she was stuck in Wonderland until she woke up; I felt the same way. Perhaps that's a bad analogy though, because Alice hated Wonderland, and loved the crazy near future Charlie Jane Anders created. There is definitely a touch of surreal here, or perhaps absurd. Anders has terrific comic timing; she is quite witty and crisp, sometimes whimsical. I could also say something witty of my own, such as the book is a cross between the movies Weird Science and The Witches of Eastwick. But I won't because (unlike those fun movies) tucked amid some funny stuff is some beautiful, romantic, moving writing. 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Life of Greece by Will Durant (1939)

In used book stores and yard sales, or on some of the dustier shelves of libraries, you can often find them:  Will Durant's (later Will and Ariel Durant's) The Story of Civilization. It's often moldering way, which I always think is a shame, because every one of these books that I've read - I will admit I have not read them all - is excellently written (I can't authoritatively speak for the research; plus these are old books; The Life of Greece is 1939, and surely some new discoveries have happened in archaeology of ancient Greece since 1939).    I can remember when I first encountered them, I was enchanted by the dust jackets (so colorful on shelves of brown and brick colored books) and intimidated by the size (they are big books). I sort of remember using Caesar and Christ to write a paper about Antony and Cleopatra for my college Shakespeare class.  I think I also took this on a beach trip one summer.   In the recent past, I know read a large chunk of The Renaissance before my trip to Italy a few years ago; I didn't finish it because I didn't want to lug around this doorstopper of a book on an airplane (this was before I became a Kindle user).  The Age of Faith I have read before; I think I also read The Reformation.  But I have not read the entire series; I think this is the year I will try to remedy that.

Durant is a writer of what I call pop history.  Maybe other people call this kind of book pop history too; I don't know.  Pop history is accessible to the average reader, have a narrative structure, and don't get too bogged down in details - but not so stupidly broad or dumbed down that you don't feel like you are learning something.  Entertaining as a novel, and won't put you to sleep while trying to read it.   I think Durant captures all of this in each of his books.  Plus, he's a marvelous writer and word painter.    He's able to expertly set various scenes.  He also isn't afraid to inject himself, his emotions and feelings, his thoughts and ideas, into his works.  I like this.  There is nothing dry about Durant, ever.  So like this:  he's writing about the Heroic Age, when history was a mixture of mythology and legend and truth, and in talking about Jason and the Argonauts and his encounter with Medea, he describes her eloquently and mysteriously as "his daughter Medea, who loved strange men and ways…” (43) which was so richly evocative, and told the story of Medea in a few words.

The Life of Greece isn't a straight line, chronological point A to point Z type of book.  If Point A is the dawn of the idea of Greece (for Greece is always an idea and a ideal, and a people, but never a "state" until recently in our history) and Point Z is the point the Graeco turns to Roman, Durant zig and zags between these two points, always headed towards Z, and always generally forward, but swinging from art and science to philosophy to politics, art and culture, with the great figures of Greece like lights on a string of Christmas lights - Homer and Socrates, Aristophanes and Euripides, Sappho and Alexander the Great.  Durant gives each one his due, and between them is a grand and epic adventure in art, culture, science and civilization.

As our democracy teeters on the edge of some abyss, The Life of Greece is scarily prescient.  America is Rome is bandied about; but America is Greece could also be true.  Perhaps the history of the world is simply a cycle of rebirth and decline; or a war between classes; or a clash of ideals; or a pendulum that swings from left to right; or all of these things.  Or none of these things. I don't know.  Democracy in Greece rose and fell and rose and then finally fell, to be replaced by Rome, which also had democracy that rose and then fell hard for 500 years or so.  Durant says, of the leadership and government of the great proponent of freedom and democracy, Pericles:  "Any form of government seems good that brings prosperity, and even the best seems bad that hinders it.”  He could be talking about various elected governments of the last century throughout the world, the Nazis included.

This was actually my first foray into ancient Greece.  I've read oodles of stuff about ancient Rome, at least the last years of the Republic and all of those I, Claudius villains and villainesses.  And, like everyone, I knew a smattering about Greece:  some mythology, Socrates and company, everyone has at least heard of Alexander the Great.  But this is the first entire book I've read.  So I state the following with little knowledge of what other books about Greece were like at the time (or are like now).

___________________________


It's 1939, and I'm a closeted gay man or lesbian (how many folks were out of the closet in 1939 outside of New York City; not many I imagine), and stroll into a book store, and see this lovely book about the Greeks.  Upon reading this book, I think I would have been pleasantly surprised to find others like me not only mentioned, and not always just in passing, but not portrayed negatively either.  Durant simply doesn't shy away from the gayness of the ancient Greeks. I know, I know - "gay" is a modern term, and the Greeks didn't have an identity based on their sexual orientation. I get it.  But I also think if I were some kid on a farm in the middle of 1940s Kansas, and I knew I liked dick, and I also felt completely alone in the world, save for Bugs Bunny at the movies in a dress, and maybe even crazy, then Durant's almost casual matter of factness about the gays of old would have made me feel like there was some sort of hope in the world.  At the very least, I would have felt like I had some historical company, and some of that company was pretty fucking rad:  Alexander the Fucking Great had a boyfriend.  Eat it, conservatives.  The new old saw is "It gets better."  In 1939, Durant was telling little gays "It was better.  You aren't alone."  Whether he meant to do this or not, I have no idea.  But he did.

If you look up "homosexuality" in the index of the edition I have (I do not know if the editions changed over time; the book I read is about 20 years old and is my own personal copy), it is mentioned five times.  I think in reading the book, it was at the very least alluded to several times more, but I didn't take copious notes.  Maybe in having only five citations in the index, Durant was trying to dodge the censors. Here's Will on page 48, discussing Homer and the morals of the Heroic Age:  "Friendships are firm among the heroes, though possibly a degree of sexual inversion enters into the almost neurotic attachment of Achilles to Patroclus..."  Little baby 1940s queer does a doubletake:  HUH?  Homer's Achilles was a pansy?  Now that's just a hunch on Durant's part, but on page 83 talking about the Spartans, he lays it all out for us to see and ponder (and maybe drool over:  "As to love, the young man was permitted to indulge in it without prejudice of gender.  Nearly every lad had a lover among the older men."  WTF?  Those badass Spartans were sodomites!  And in talking about the poet Anacreon of Teos, whose subjects were "wine, women and boys", he even tells a story about his love for one particularly boy.  "His Eros was ambidextrous, and reached impartially for either sex."  Now Durant adds the B to the G of the GLBTQ quintet (or how many ever are in this grouping now).  And no discussion of Sappho is complete without her love of women, so he adds the L as well.  There is a whole discussion about "the placid acceptance of sexual inversion" on page 301, and while not a cheerleader, he's certainly not a castigator either - he quotes Plato that "love between man and man is nobler and more spiritual than love between man and woman."  As a gay man of long-standing (I'm a card carrying homosexual), I'm hyper-aware of authors who use a poisoned pen when talking about my Ganymedic bros and Sapphic sisters, and Durant just doesn't do it.  I wouldn't read him otherwise (see:  Orson Scott Card).  Durant would not even have to write about homosexulism  (his word, not mine) if he did not want to - although I think the fact that the Greeks loved love regardless of gender was common knowledge in the Middle Ages, let alone 1939, making it difficult to avoid when writing about them.    To Durant, homos were  just another part of Greek life.  And to me, that's pretty damn cool.  

_________________________________________

I could write reams on Durant's reams - his varying takes on religion and Christianity (Dionysus becomes Christ, for example).  

His foray into class warfare - never far from the surface of any civilization or society; the rich and the poor are always at it in some way, with the middle class regardless of its size, caught between.  

_____________________________________________


(page 312) “The thought of the gloomy fate awaiting nearly all the dead darkens Greek literature and makes Greek life less bright and cheerful than is fitting under such a sun.” Another example of Durant's glorious turn of phrase.


(page 27) "Civilization is always older than we think; and under whatever sod we tread are bones of men  and women who also worked and loved, wrote songs and made beautiful things, but whose names and very being have been lost in the careless flow of time." He mentions in passing, on page 119, of "hybris" or "insolent prosperity." Wow, that term rang true for the 21st century: a few months ago, I would have referenced the gross perpetrators of hybris the klan Kardashian, but alas and alack for our country, I now would have to use our own president Trump as an example. If Trump and his ilk are slimy with hybris, I don't know who is. It's related to "hubris" - the words seem almost interchangeable, but having a word to describe the rich who rub it in your face in a degrading way, that's a word I want keep using.


(page 552) Energy is only half of genius; the other half is harness. About Alexander the Great.



The Life of Greece (The Story of Civilization, #2)The Life of Greece by Will Durant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In used book stores, yard sales, or on some of the dustier shelves of libraries, you can often find them: Will Durant's (later Will and Ariel Durant's) The Story of Civilization. It's often moldering way, which I always think is a shame, because every one of these books that I've read - I will admit I have not read them all - is excellently written and completely enjoyable. I can't authoritatively speak for the research; these are old books; The Life of Greece was published in 1939, and surely some new discoveries have happened in archaeology of ancient Greece since 1939. But I know I can speak for the quality of the writing which isn't merely good or great: if you love history, it's magical. Durant is a wonderful wordsmith; a true painter of words. One could write reams on the reams that Durant has written: his life of Greece runs the gamut of a little bit of everything one could possibly want to know about the Greeks. There are too many things I loved about this book to list them all here; it suffices to say that this is well worth some deep reading. 

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Satan in St. Mary's by P.C. Doherty (1986)

Satan in St. Mary's has a very, very slow start.  And not particularly to my taste either, as within the first few pages, a Satanic Cult is meeting to discuss the overthrow of King Edward I.  The 80s was the heyday of Satanic Cults - they were everyone from about 1975 to 1985, lurking around every corner, sacrificing preschoolers on altars to Lucifer, hiding messages in Beatles records.  So much hysterical bullshit.  So I certainly wrinkled my nose during that chapter and almost put the book down.  But a little niggling voice in the back of my head said "remember the 50 page rule" so I kept up, and I'm glad I did.

I was reminded of Steven Saylor's first book in the Roma Sub Rosa series.  This is one of my most favorite mystery series, but the much better books came later in the series.  The first book had to set everything up; and the characters weren't as developed.  The writing was sharper and crisper later as well.  I'm hoping P.C. Doherty's series is the same way.

Because after 50 pages, I started to get into the "whodunnit."  Doherty's medieval London is filthy, dangerous stew, complete with cutthroats and pickpockets and rogues and criminals.  It stinks and is dirty and dank and dark.  Add Satanists slitting the throats of old women, and you have a setting that's both frightening and interesting.  Hugh Corbett began to be a believable and likable character as well, and his sidekick Ranulf added a bit of comic relief.

The inclusion of a male brothel was interesting as well, and I thought Doherty handled the homosexuality as well as can be expected for 1986; I certainly wasn't offended.  Of course all the gays died; but that kind of novel where the gays live happily ever waits for future decades.

I'm going to at least try one more in the series; they are really short and pretty easy to read, and the mystery was okay - although Doherty left some red herrings, I kept on the trail and knew the murderer by the end.

_____________________

Oh wow - I've read this before!  I knew as I read this that several scenes were deja vu!  One word review on Goodreads from 2007:  "Fun!"

__________________________



Satan in St Mary's (Hugh Corbett, #1)Satan in St Mary's by Paul Doherty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess I had read this ten years ago; I had deja vu several times while reading it this time. My previous Goodreads review was one word: "Fun!" I also originally gave it four stars. I didn't come away from the mystery this time with the same impression this time; I'm downgrading four stars to three, and "Fun!" to "Engaging." The Satanic Cult - I don't think this a spoiler, because Satan is in the title, and the cult's coven gathers in the first chapter - was one of the lamer parts of the book for me; what I found engaging was the description of London during King Edward I's time - dirty, dangerous, dank, dark, disgusting. I also though Hugh Corbett and his sidekick Ranulf were strong detectives, although the whodunnit was definitely easy to solve (of course, I'd read the book before, so maybe the whodunnit had stuck subconsciously in my head?) . Doherty lays the trail with plenty of red herrings though. As historical murder mysteries go, this one was pretty good.


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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn (2016)

Lian Hearn is a prolific writer of novels, but this is actually the first one by her I've ever read.  I really dug her style,  at least in this one, which was almost dispassionate, and reminded me of an old translation of the Grimms or Hans Christian Anderson, giving the book a folklore feel.  It's not a traditional fantasy.  It's part of a trilogy; I'd like to read at least the next book (but not quite yet). Book 1 was Star Wars adjacent; it also reminded me several times of Lord of the Rings.  Biggest complaint:  so many characters that I had some trouble keeping their names straight. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really dug the style of this book; the narrative voice was cool and dry, and reminded me of an older translation of the Grimms or Hans Christian Anderson. That created the feeling of folklore that (mostly) lasted for the entire novel. The book is certainly Star Wars adjacent; it had shades of Lord of the Rings too, particularly the end.


March: Book One by John Lewis; Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (2013)

This was a book made up of two things I have trouble reading and liking (or even finishing):  memoirs and graphic novels.

I can't name a single memoir I've ever liked.   Sometimes they are drippy, often not well written, and almost always self indulgent.

I can name some graphic novels I've enjoyed, but they are few and far between.  When it comes to comics, I'm more of a comic strip fan first (Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes) and then Disney comics (Uncle Scrooge) and then (begrudgingly) I will read graphic novels.

March: Book One was a National Book Award Winner.  Whatever.  Books win awards all the time that I personally don't like.

Would I flush March down the toilet? No way.

Would I recommend it to others?  Sure.

Would I read Books 2 & 3.  Nope.

John Lewis is a great man, who did great things.  But I thought his comic book was mostly meh.  (he wasn't self indulgent though; also:  I bet dollars for donuts this Andrew Aydin person wrote most if not all of it; it's nice that John Lewis gave him writing credits).


March: Book One (March, #1)March: Book One by John             Lewis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This combined two things I have a hard time reading: graphic novels & memoirs. Therefore: I had a hard time reading it. By "hard time" I mean that the experience wasn't enjoyable. By enjoyable, I mean a book I want to keep on reading and not trying to find another book to read.

Would I flush March down the toilet? No way.

Would I recommend it to others? Sure.

Would I read Books 2 & 3. Nope.


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Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age by D.J. Taylor (2007)

D.J. Taylor drops us into London's Jazz Age with plenty of name dropping but without enough backstory to make this worth my while.  About half way through, the book fell apart for me.

Also, Mitfords dart in and out of the book, but their spirit remains aloof.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Year in Reading 2016

I challenged myself to read 120 books in 2016, and didn't quite make it.  On New Year's Eve, I (unexpectedly) finished my last book, for a total of 101 books.  Eleven more than the previous year (good) but not as many as 2013.  One big difference, however, is my consumption of picture books.  In 2013, I read many more picture books than last year.  They are quick reads for me (well, for everyone) although harder to write about (art!).  I'm pleased with reading over 100 books though.

On Goodreads, I gave five stars to 30 books, and four stars to 25 books.  Over half of what I read was Excellent or Very Good - but much of that was re-reads of things I'd loved in the past. I'm going to take the 55 books, and first separate out the "re-reads".

The Five Star Re-Reads.  These are books that stood the test of time; they are as good this time as whenever I had read them before:

The Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede
To Say Nothing of the Dog  by Connie Willis
The Secret Country trilogy by Pamela Dean
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink
Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (hote:  the first book in this series is still great; I found a new appreciation for the second book; but the third book was still ho-hum).
Birdology by Sy Montgomery
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
I Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert by Eve Bunting
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Four Star Re-Reads
The Tuesday Club Murders  by Agatha Christie
Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg
The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker
Murder in Amsterdam by Theo Van Gogh
The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones
A Wizard of Earthsea  by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones (first three books only; even a master storyteller can have a stink, stank, stunk story - and the fourth one in this series was terrible).

What I can state about these two lists is that some of these books made me the reader I am today; and many of them are among some of my favorite books of all time;  they will definitely be re-read again in the distant but too distant future.

Five Star Books that I read for the first time in 2016:
California by Ina Donna Coolbrith
There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith
The Magic World by E. Nesbit
Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmundson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Ronald Reagan by Jacob Weisberg

And the Four Stars I read for the first time:
Good Evening Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Magic in the Park by Ruth Chew
Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
Arcadia by Iain Pears
Crown and Country by David Starkey
Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare
Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

Honorable Mentions
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever
The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory

Best Fiction:
Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell
A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmundson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Arcadia by Iain Pears

Best Nonfiction
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
Ronald Reagan by Jacob Weisberg
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Bair
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon

Best Audio
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.  This was the one audio all year long that I never wanted to leave the car for.  Little Women and The Magic World come close though.

Best Book I read last year:  I'm going to go with Aurora.  I still remember much of it; it was gripping and interesting; it was an audio (which may have something to do with this) with a terrific reader. The characters were engaging and interesting; the ideas behind it were thoroughly engaging as well.  I have recommended it to many people as well.

Best Book I actually read, not listened to:  I loved the book about Queen Victoria.  I thought A Man of Some Repute was an excellently written mystery. And I loved Witches of Lychford. But I'm going to go with Arcadia - looking back over my reviews of this brought back pleasant memories of an awesome book that I couldn't put down.  Not as engaging as Aurora but nearly so, and really interesting in concept.  

Honorable mention:  listening to Little Women and reading Susan Cheever's biography of Louisa May Alcott at the same time was a great experience. 

Worst Book
Most of the time, if I hate a book, I don't finish it, and then don't bother reviewing it.

I gave two books 1 star last year.  One of them I actually didn't finish.  The other I listened to and hated every. single. moment.  I don't know why I even kept going, other than maybe it was like a trainwreck, and I couldn't tear away my eyes.  The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais is quite possibly the worst book I've ever read - and I've read thousands and thousands of books.  It was memorably bad.




Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell (2015)

My last book read in 2016 may end up being one of the best books I read all year long.  Witches of Lychford was a magnificent little novella.  It does read like the episode of a really good television series - and it should, because Paul Cornell wrote for Doctor Who.  That occasionally bothers me in a book - Ready Player One comes to mind - but didn't detract from this at all. That is probably because Paul Cornell is a master at creating characters.   The novella is a short journey for a writer (and reader) to make - yet in those few pages (144 only, to be exact), Cornell creates some moving and memorable characters.  Add a strong, sort of gripping, and slightly creepy plot, and you have a 5 Star in your hot little hands here. Neil Gaiman lovers will love this one.


Witches of LychfordWitches of Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last book I read in 2016 may end up being one of the best I read. Cornell's fantasy novella - I would say urban fantasy, but the setting is more suburban than urban - is one of those books that sends little jolts of pleasure into your brain continually as you read it. You really won't be able to put it down. Cornell's plot is unique and intriguing, gripping, and also a tiny bit scary (I'm easily scared). His characters are masterfully written into life as well. Cornell did all of this in a novella, 144 pages to make these people and this story come to life. He succeeds brilliantly. I loved this book; fans of Neil Gaiman (of which I am one) should love it as well.


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