What I Read July 2018

I read two books again in July. I’d hoped the summer would free my time up some, but it really hasn’t. I might manage more in August than July, but I wouldn’t bet on such a proposition.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon is Entirely Vindicated

Whit Stillman

This is the adaptation of Stillman’s movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, which is included in this volume. The books sets itself up as a rebuttal, written by a relative of Lady Susan’s, to the Jane Austen story. It takes spins things to show that Lady Susan was good and thoughtful person subjected to gossip and innuendos from the stuck up De Courcy family. It is hilarious. The fictional author does his best to make Lady Susan look good, but it is clear who and what she is. The more interesting revelations about are about that fictional author, whose pathetic state are eventually revealed. It is mostly just an amusing supplement to the excellent movie. Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen Love and Friendship, you should really do so. The book sparkles with the same wit as the movie, as well as echoing its re-framing of Lady Susan from the villain she is in the original book.

Master and Fool

JV Jones

The final book in Jones’ trilogy with the most generic of all possible titles: ‘The Book of Words.’ This kind of feels like Jones didn’t really leave the character’s where she needed them at the end of the last book, so a lot has to happen at the start of this one to get things in place for the main thrust of the story. I feels a little forced, but it is mostly enjoyable, even if things don’t really link up as well as they might have. Mostly, I liked this book. While it is an ending, it doesn’t really feel like a final book. It leaves most of the characters in place for what could have been (maybe have been, I haven’t read any of Jones’ other work) more adventures.

I do have problems with the book. For one, it takes the female lead out of the picture pretty early on and gives her nothing to do for the bulk of the book. She isn’t exactly sidelined, but she doesn’t have anything to do other than to wait for the other characters to come back and save her. Another problem is how much time the book spends with the corrupt, plotting priest whose name I forget. He is a menacing yet comical character, but his machinations never really amount to anything. Other than providing updates on the rest of the world, he only really matters to about two chapters. Why is he there so much? He constantly feels like he is laying the groundwork for something that never materializes. All the pages wasted on that priest kind of highlight how rushed the rest of the story is. The book is enjoyable and fine, but it could have been better. I would read more by JV Jones, though.

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What I Read June

I managed another couple of books in June as it dawned on me that with my summer schedule, I am going to have no more free time than I did during the semester.

ABC Murders

Agatha Christie

I am not going to pretend that I have a lot to say about this Hercule Poirot mystery. Christie plays around with POV a lot in this one, but otherwise it is another of her mysteries. This time someone is apparently killing people based on the alphabet, Alice Ascher of Andover is killed, followed by Betty Barnard of Bexhill. Each time the killer sends a letter to Poirot, taunting him. Poirot, with the help of Hastings and some of the family members of the deceased, sets out to solve the murders. The identity of the killer isn’t readily apparent, though the general status of the culprit is pretty obvious. It is really good.

Guns of the Dawn

Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is really interesting, though I don’t think it quite follows through on its premise. It starts as kind of Austen-esque, or maybe more like Thomas Hardy, story about an impoverished noble family trying to deal with the changing times, including the fact that the eldest daughter has married below her station and war has broken out. Soon, her husband buys a commission and not long after the lone son is drafted. Eventually, women are added to the draft and the protagonist Emily is off to war.

There is a lot going on, with the home drama and the WWI style war that the protagonist is sent off to, and most of it works on its own terms. The problem I had with it is that it doesn’t really manage to meld the two halves together. The war is the war and home is home, while Emily as a character is definitely affected by what she has experienced, I don’t feel like the home portions of the book get adequate resolution. Maybe it is just that I actually found that portion more interesting than the fighting. I wanted to see how the characters personal lives played out, the grand designs of countries are far less interesting to me. It almost feels like the back quarter or so the book need to be the back half for to deliver a satisfactory conclusion.

I still highly recommend Guns of the Dawn, it is doing something different from most books of its ilk and both of its separate threads are worth reading in their own right.

What I Read May 2018

With class getting out for the summer, I finally got a chance to do some reading. I read through a couple of books about the Supreme Court I picked up because my Con Law class but hadn’t had time to read and one mediocre fantasy book I picked up out of a discount bin.

A Man Betrayed

JV Jones

I don’t know what possessed me to start reading a book series with the second book. That’s what I had with this trilogy, the second and third books I picked up for buck each at a used book store. It is fun, but largely generic fantasy. Jack is a castle baker who has mysterious parentage and mysterious powers (no points for guessing that he is probably a prince). He has escaped a castle with Melliandra, a noble’s daughter who doesn’t want to marry a mad prince. There is also Tawl, a knight who apparently failed in his quest to find some young boy (no points for guessing that boy is Jack) and Nabber, a young thief who idolizes the knight. After Jack and Melli are seperated, all of the characters save Jack end up in the powerful city-state of Bren.

There isn’t a lot new or special here; it is mostly going through familiar beats in the typical fantasy story. That is actually kind of comforting, though, when I haven’t managed to read much new in what has long been my favorite genre. It is very much from the same school that birthed Game of Thrones, the kind of fantasy that focuses on the ugly aspects of made up semi-medieval life. That probably explains some of my indifference to this book. That and not having read the first book. This is fine.

The Brethren

Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong

A look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court in the 70’s, written while many of the Justices in it were still sitting, compiled with the secret help of Justice Potter Stewart. It follows the Court starting with Warren Burger taking over as Chief Justice. It is a rather unflinching look. None of the Justices are spared an at best humanizing look. William O Douglas comes off as selfish and condescending, but also frequently brilliant. Thurgood Marshall looks disinterested and lazy, but also personable and caring. Byron White is inscrutable. Harry Blackmun is conscientious, but indecisive. The one who comes off looking the best is William Brennan, though he is not shown to be without fault. Burger, though, comes off looking completely terrible. I don’t know that I’ve read a more unflattering portrait of a man. He is intellectually dishonest and just dishonest in general. As the book goes along even his ideological allies seem to turn on him personally.

That humanizing look is what makes The Brethren work. It shows the Supreme Court Justices as people as they try to decide the cases they see. They are sometimes petty, sometimes sometimes honorable, but always people. It makes for an enlightening and entertaining read.

Becoming Justice Blackmun

Linda Greenhouse

This biography looked almost exclusively at Justice Blackmun’s papers to tell a short version of his story. It briefly details his youth and his life before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, but it is mostly about his time on the Court. A large portion of it is about Roe v. Wade, one of Blackmun’s early opinions that he came to represent. He also drifted to the left as he sat on the bench, joining Justices Brennan and Justice Marshall to form the liberal block of the court in the 80’s. It also details how his relationship with Chief Justice Burger disintegrated, going from them being childhood friends in Minnesota to being called the Minnesota Twins when Blackmun joined the court to them barely speaking by the time Burger stepped down. It is a rather slight biography, it works mostly as a supplement rather than a thorough examination. It is well written and a very readable biography, but it too short to have much depth. Still, it is very worth the read.

What I Read April 2018

Another one book month. I hope to pick up the pace in May since I’ll be out of school. But we’ll see.

The Fallon Blood

Reagan O’Neal

The author of this book is actually by Robert Jordan, who wrote my favorite fantasy series the Wheel of Time. I stumbled on this in a used book store and thought I would give it a try. There is a lot to recommend about this historical adventure/romance. It moves quickly and has some vibrant characters. It also has an odd mix of historical accuracy and the pulpiest possible romance. I mean, women can’t help but fall into bed with the protagonist, though it takes a good 100 pages for the book to make him even seem charming. All of its characters are supposed to seem flawed, but it is more like there are good men and men who are absolute unrepentant monsters and every woman is kind of awful. They are not awful for the same reason, but they are all awful in some way.

It also tries to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to slavery. Telling a story set in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War it is a subject that must come up. At first it tries to set up the protagonist as being some kind of anti-slavery anomaly, but then his wife makes some unforgivable decisions for him, so it’s not his fault. The worst part of this particular thread is I can’t tell if the book his highlighting how awful the decision the protagonists made or supposed to be making us empathize with them over how hard it is to choose to enslave people. I fear it is the latter. Still, that issue aside, the book is mostly a fun romp. That being said, I don’t think I am going to do much work to track down its sequels.

What I Read March 2018

I only got one book read in March, but it was a long one. I don’t have much to add. Law school involves a lot of reading for class, which leaves little time for reading for pleasure.

The Jackal of Nar

John Marco

Another epic fantasy, this one I believe was the first published work of the author, and that shows. It isn’t bad, but it feels a little small despite the scope of its plot. The Jackal of Nar is inconsistent. Sometimes the protagonist Richius is a seasoned veteran, sometimes he is a lovesick teenager. Maybe there is room for both in character, but for him it seems like a switch that goes on and off. Maybe that is because I don’t really buy the romance between him and Dyana. There is a nice set up of the very religious and mystical Trin versus the scientific Empire, but I don’t feel like that idea was fully explored. There are two more books in the series; I assume that thread continues to run. Despite the impression I think I am giving, I liked the book, it just always left me wishing it was doing something different. It seems to rush past the parts that work and linger on the parts that don’t. It feels like a first book.

What I Read in February 2018

I finished Oathbringer after reading it for a couple months. I also fell behind at in my reading for class, so I don’t expect to keep being able to get stuff read in the next few months. We’ll see. I hope for at least one book a month.

Oathbringer

Brandon Sanderson

I have been a fan of Sanderson for sometime now, but I am coming to the conclusion that this series isn’t really my thing. Not that there is anything specifically wrong with this book, but am finding it hard to maintain an interest in this setting. I really don’t remember much from one book to the next, which is something I am usually really good at.

This book has the conflict of this series coming into focus. It focuses on Dalinar, the oldest of the protagonists and goes over his long history as essentially his brother, the former king’s attack dog. He was good at fighting and that was what he did. It makes for a hard transition as he tries to build a peaceful coalition as they try to fight the voidbreakers. The other characters get some development as well, with Shallan struggling with coming into her power and Kaladin building a small army that follow in his footsteps. I want to have more to say about this book, but the only parts that really spoke to me were Dalinar’s flashbacks. I really like that conceit, with seeing a character in the present before jumping to the past to see how they became that person. I liked it in the first two books with Shallan and Kaladin, and I liked it here with Dalinar. There are other interesting or cool things that happen in this book, but I bounce off of them like I don’t with Sanderson’s Mistborn books or some others. I wasn’t reading it thinking it was terrible, I was reading it thinking that this kind of book might not be for me anymore.

The Dragon Reborn

Robert Jordan

Oathbringer had me wondering if I still liked epic fantasy. I had also stumbled on a Wheel of Time reread that I really liked. So I pulled out my favorite book in that series. I still love this series and I am pretty sure I still like fantasy, I just don’t know that the Stormlight Archive is going to be a favorite of mine.

What stood out to me the most on this read of The Dragon Reborn is how Jordan does perspective. He uses a very close third person that really gets the reader into the head of the character. To use that perspective effectively, the writer really has to know his characters. It also leads to people who do rereads and podcasts to import the opinions of Jordan’s characters onto the writer himself. It is one of the things I like best about the series. Not the mistakes, those are frustrating, but how well Jordan gets the reader into the characters’ heads.

What I Read in January 2018

I managed to read three books while on break from school. It was a good start to the year. Maybe I’ll keep some of that momentum going into February. I hope to at least finish Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer.

The Incrementalists

Steven Brust and Skyler White

The first of the books I got for Christmas that I managed to read. I read a Brust book a few months ago and liked it, but this is something completely difference. The Incrementalists is about a secret society that can save their consciousness in a mental garden and after they die combine it with an new person to live on. They try to make the world better by making small, incremental changes. First, the protagonist Phil finds a someone to take his lover Celeste’s consciousness. Then there is a mystery about how exactly Celeste died and why her memories didn’t come through. I liked the idea and the characters, but really wished the book had done more to show what this secret society does. Other than argue with each other, I guess. It is a lot of drama within the group and everything else is kind of vague.

As You Wish

Cary Elwes

This is not a book that I want to give a harsh review to. There is nothing bad about it, there just really isn’t anything there. It is Cary Elwes recounting his time making The Princess Bride. While that is a great movie, and there were a lot of interesting people involved, his recollections are pretty low impact. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it; I love the movie and liked learning every little bit about the production that I did. But this book lacks something to make it into anything other than a curio for super-fans. I guess it is good to learn that making the movie seems to be as positive an experience for the cast as viewing it was for everyone else. It is genuinely heartwarming to read these recollections, but that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t lack the drama that would make it something really memorable to read.

The Beggar King

Oliver Potzsch

This is the third book in Potzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series. It has some of the same rough spots as the previous two books, the dialogue has a lot of modern turns of phrase for a book set in the 17th century and characters frequently come off as unreasonable. Whether that is on the writer or the translator I can’t say, but those are pretty consistent flaws in what is otherwise an enjoyable adventure/mystery.

The Beggar King starts with Jakob Kuisl, the hangman, going to the city to help his sick sister. When he gets there, he finds her and her husband murdered and he is framed for killing them. While he sits in jail, his daughter Magdalena and her lover Simon fun afoul of people in their hometown and run away to her aunts and to start in a new life in the city. There, they find out the fate of her father and get embroiled in the machinations that led to his arrest as they try to free him. It is a fast moving, fun adventure that goes some strange directions. I don’t know that I’ll remember the details by the end of the year, but I enjoyed reading it.

Ekho

Christophe Arleston and Alessandro Barbucci

This comic has a fun gimmick, even if it did turn out to be a little more risque than I expected. It stars a woman who finds out she is her aunt’s heir in a fantasy mirror world. She is joined by the man who just so happened to be sitting next to her on the plane that she was transported out of. In the world of Ekho, Fourmille, the main character, is possessed by the spirit of those who were murdered until she figures out who killed them. In the first volume that is her aunt. After that, she and her friends move around to new places. They are pulled to new areas in her job as a talent agent. She also moonlights as part of her secretaries burlesque show. It mostly seems to be an excuse for the artist to draw fantasy versions of what he wants, from Marilyn Monroe to Paris, France. Also, boobs. There are lots of boobs. It is a light, fun affair. If new volumes go on sale on comixology again, I’ll likely pick them up. It was fun enough.

What I Read December 2017

Here’s what I read in December: nothing. For the first time since I started doing this on my blog, I have went a month without reading a book. I hope to never do that again. We’ll see. I wasn’t sure I should even write something out, but I decided marking the occasion that I read nothing was worth noting. I finished The Phoenix Guard near the end of last month and just didn’t try to start anything else before the end of the year. I did get Brandon Sanderson’s newest Stormlight Archive tome, Oathbringer, but that is a huge book and I barely got started with it.

What I did read were some old issues of Nintendo Power, which made me incredibly sad and nostalgic. Out of my disorganized collection, I just happened to pick up one of the issues I had as a child, from the days just as the SNES was coming out. I read my issues from that period over and over as a child. The other one I grabbed was the last issue of the magazine. It is still equally satisfying and heartbreaking to read. I do think their list of greatest games covered is nonsense, but there is no way to do that list without it being nonsense.

Next month, hopefully I’ll have something read.

What I Read November

Only one book in November, along with a few comic collections I sped through with the intent of writing a longer piece about them that may or may not happen after finals.

The Phoenix Guards

Steven Brust

This is my first encounter with Brust. I quite liked it and will make a point to chase down some more of his stuff. The Phoenix Guards does very little to explain its setting, which I understand is used in his larger series of which this book is an off shoot, but that doesn’t hamper it too much. What The Phoenix Guards is is an homage to The Three Musketeers. A young man from the country comes to the city to join an elite guard, where he makes some friends and they have adventures. It is good fun, though while I am a fan of most of the setting stuff, I am not as fond of the prose style. It is deliberately styled to read more like Dumas, but that somewhat purposefully stilted was occasionally tiresome. I don’t have that much to say about it overall; it is a very fun romp that doesn’t really inspire any thoughts outside of the simple enjoyment of the adventure.

Thy Kingdom Come Vol 1, 2, 3

Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin et al.

With Johns and DC getting ready to launch a follow up to probably their best loved story, I got it in my head to revisit the last time that Johns wrote a follow up to another much loved DC story, the Kingdom Come sequel Thy Kingdom Come. In this case, he did it with not only the approval, but the help of one of the collaborators in that first story, Alex Ross co-wrote and drew portions of this story. It was part of Johns Justice Society of America, the relaunched version that is mostly remembered for getting bogged down in this story. I disagree with that assessment; this is a long story but I think most of the individual chapters are very enjoyable. The plot in brief is that the Superman from KC ends up on Earth and teams up with the JSA, fortified with new members reminiscent of characters found in KC, as they deal with the emergence of Gog, the last of the Old Gods that died to make room for Jack Kirby’s Fourth World New Gods. It also deals with the emergence of the new Multiverse, brought back during Infinite Crisis, another time Johns wrote a follow up to a famous DC story. There is a lot going on, and I have more to say that I am saving for an eventual full post about it, but it works as a capstone on Johns’s JSA run, with the only flaw the story that came after it.

What I Read in October 2017

Just one book in October, I don’t have much to say. I don’t have my normal reading time and with all the reading for class I have to do I don’t really have the inclination to do much reading in my free time.

The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

I’ve read this before and I always assume a lot of this book happens earlier in the series. This one has Thursday Next spend the whole book in Book World. She is pregnant and forgetting her erased in time husband. She also has to deal with a hostile takeover of the entirety of Book World. I love this series, and I hope Fforde has something new coming soon. It has been too long since I’ve read a new book of his. The therapy session in Wuthering Heights remains one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever read, though it would mean little to someone who isn’t familiar with Wuthering Heights. There is also the perpetually late agent Godot, but luckily they don’t wait for him.