What I Read in July 2016

Another kind of lacking month from me. I just haven’t been reading as much as I usually do lately. I think I can still get back on track over the last half of this year, but I am way off my pace right now. Still, I got three books in July, which isn’t too bad, and I have a handful of one that I half finished. Hopefully I can get those done by the end of August and boost my numbers a little bit. I also meant to read more nonfiction this year, and I haven’t really done that, so I am going to make a concerted effort to fix that as well.


Hard Revolution

George Pelecanos

I read The Sweet Forever from Pelecanos a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Since then the rest of his books have been on my long list of things to read and I happened upon a paperback copy of Hard Revolution. If anything I liked it more than The Sweet Forever, though I don’t recall the book perfectly.

Set in 1968, Hard Revolution takes place in DC around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the reaction to that. The fractured and tense nature of race relations in the city and the country provide the backdrop and backbone for this story. It follows a pair of police officers, the young black officer Derek Strange and veteran officer Frank Vaughn, as they investigate the murder of a couple of young black men, one of them Strange’s brother. At the same time, two separate groups are planning robberies. One group wants to knock off a convenience store; the other a bank. The book takes a long time to set its pieces in place, but that is largely where it is most effective. Pelecanons is terrific at setting and tone. Tons of period detail, largely stuff about local sports and music, helps ground the work in its time and place. What car a character drives and what music the listen to tell the reader important things about those characters. It doesn’t sugar coat things, but presents the times with their warts all apparent.

I know that Strange is the protagonist of other such novels, so I am not surprised that his story is not complete here, but while he is certainly an interesting protagonist, he doesn’t actually get that much to do. All the time on the set up, set up for a half dozen characters that have major roles in this story, leaves very little for the police work side of the story. The balance between committing the crime and solving the crime are unequal. It left me wanting to know more about Strange, but not feeling like I knew enough about him for a story where his personal relationships should very important. It is also a very dark tale. It all comes together with the death of MLK with things looking bleak for just about everyone involved. Other than some minor quibbles, I liked this book a lot. The set up stuff that dominates the book is its best stuff. It creates, or maybe recreates, a world where each character’s history almost makes their actions inevitable.


Followed By Frost

Charlie N Holmberg

I enjoyed Charlie N Holmberg’s delightful if slight Paper Magician trilogy, so I went ahead and picked up this book by her. It is largely more of the same which is largely a good thing. It is a little rough getting its premise set up, but once protagonist Smitha is cursed and sets out on her odyssey it really hits its stride.

Smitha is a selfish brat in the way that many teenagers are, perhaps a little worse. She is in desperate need of some growing up. Unfortunately, Followed by Frost hits something of a sour note in forcing that growth. When a local young man proposes marriage to her despite her making it clear she wasn’t interested, she sets up down hard. Too bad it turns out that he is wizard and curses her to have her whole body be as cold as her heart. It is going for a fairy tale sort of opening, but placing this blame on Smitha is a backwards way of looking at what is more the wizards awkwardness and inability to handle rejection. She was undoubtedly mean, but the punishment completely outsized compared to the crime.

Fortunately, it really picks up once Smitha is cursed. She first flees to the north, but the unnatural cold that follows her makes it impossible for her to live with other people. The cold is so bad that she is hunted. Eventually, she finds a way to make her curse useful and finds romance in the doing. From there on it becomes a full on romance. That fairy tale feeling from the beginning holds throughout the book. It is an effective way to frame this story, which sees Smitha grow from a spoiled young girl to a thoughtful woman. While the wizard who placed the curse on her disappears completely after the curse, Smitha’s interactions with Death, brought to her by the curse, are much better. Aside from the mixed message about gender relations, Followed by Frost is a pretty great fantasy romance.



Agatha Christie

This one felt like a big change from the other Miss Marple stories that I read, mostly because Marple is a major player throughout the book. In the previous handful of Marple books, she has been more of a goad to get the investigators on the right track or even just a deus ex machina to come in at the end with a solved mystery. This time she is actively investigating. The whole thing is a little contrived, though. I realize that is the point of a lot of the book, that Miss Marple is acting on a strange deathbed request from an acquaintance, but there are other parts that don’t make sense either. Like how she ends up staying where she does, put up by people who don’t know her and have secrets to hide. While I did like having a more active Miss Marple, her actually being the focal character of the book, but mystery wasn’t Christie’s best. The only way it keeps up for the length of the book is by having no one know what mystery is being investigated for nearly the first half. I guess that has its own sort of appeal as a mystery, but to me Nemesis didn’t quite work.

What I Read February 2016

I got a lot of reading done in February, but I doubt I’ll manage a similar feat in March. It was mostly fantasy, a genre I’ve always loved but have drifted away from somewhat in the last few years. Drifted away from reading, but not so much from acquiring. I’ve ended up with quite the stack of unread fantasy doorstops, so I’ve started wading through them. Actually, most of those I read this month were either recent purchases or digital books. Still, I cut down my reading list quite a bit.


Glamour in Glass

Mary Robinette Kowall

I read the first book in this series a couple of years ago and found I liked it better in theory than in practice. I liked the concept of a fantasy novel that is set up like a classical romance. Really, I like everything about it but that romance. Something about it didn’t ring true to me; I’m having trouble recalling at this point. I liked this sequel a lot more. It continues the story, but here I can just accept the central couple.

This is set in the 18th century (maybe early 19th) and Jane and Vincent take a trip to Europe to study Glamour, their shared passion. While there they make some progress with research about how to trap the illusion of Glamour so it can be moved. However, they are stopped when Jane becomes pregnant and can’t do Glamour any more. While that strains her relationship with Vincent, it is nothing on the encroaching return of Napoleon to France. This is not a particularly long book, but its two central characters are very well drawn. And it feels to come more naturally from the characters than the first book did. It also sets up more for the series going forward than the largely stand-alone first book did. This was a very good read.


The Glass Magician

Charlie N Holmberg

The problem I had with the first book in this series, The Paper Magician, was that it seemed to move a little too fast to its climax. It didn’t give the reader enough time to get to know its central characters before expecting an emotional connection for the big finale. Basically, my problem was that the book was too short, which isn’t the worst problem to have. I enjoyed reading it very much even if it didn’t leave me fully satisfied. The sequel mostly fixes the first book’s problem by not having to introduce all the characters. I ended up liking this one quite a bit more than the first and I’m eager to get to the third one.

In this one, Ceony and Emery have to deal with an even greater threat than last time, this time focused on Ceony instead of Emery. While the elder magicians work to keep her safe, Ceony blunders into trouble that makes things worse. You know, basically how every Harry Potter book goes. Not that this book owes much more to that series other than the concept of a magic school, it certainly does its own thing. Ceony ends up uncovering information that could change everything people understand about magic. The Glass Magician is an improvement on its predecessor, though I would still like a bit more.


The Bands of Mourning

Brandon Sanderson

There is a lot about this book that I like. I like how it gets out of Elendel and how it expands the Mistborn world. Unfortunately, those things happen in a book with some incredibly obvious plotting and one of the most painful supposedly comedic scenes I’ve ever encountered.

The plotting is the bigger problem. Every twist in this book isn’t so much foreshadowed as they are immediately obvious. It plays out exactly how you’d expect. I expect more from Sanderson, this book is just limp. The bad comedy scene is a bad comedy scene. It was reminiscent of his attempts to write Mat in his first book of the Wheel of Time series. That was a character known for being funny and Sanderson failed completely to get that across. Most of the character work in this book is good, but it still left me pretty disappointed. That said, I am still eager to get the final part of this trilogy. This is the first book by Sanderson that I would call a miss, but it wasn’t a bad miss.


Striding Folly

Dorothy Sayers

This short story collection contains the last of Dorothy Sayer’s Peter Wimsey stories. There are still plenty that I haven’t read, but these are chronologically the last ones. It’s just three short stories, but they are interesting ones. The first is just the usual murder mystery, starting with the set-up and a brief investigation before Wimsey wanders in and solves the mystery. The next one is more involved, with Lord Peter leaving the hospital after the birth of his first child and he happens across a bemused police officer. He has witnessed what he thought was a murder. The two of them get drunk and he explains what he saw, which is enough information for Lord Peter to get to the bottom of things. The last story is only barely a mystery, being set several years later and it deals mostly with Lord Peter and his oldest child. There is a mystery, but it is about as low stakes as possible. Still it is an entertaining read.

The most interesting thing about this collection is that two of the three stories don’t have crimes at the center of them. This is going to spoil both stories, by the way. The first is more a prank than anything else, though a convincing one that gets a hapless police officer in trouble. The second is mostly about how Lord Peter disciplines his children.


Red Seas Under Red Skies

Scott Lynch

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but this one does not quite live up to it. It is two different books mashed together, with the connecting tissue between them not being exactly strong. It starts well, picking up some time after the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, with Locke and Jean in a new city running a new con. As they painstakingly set up their heist, their past catches up with them and they are forced to work for the cities Archon against his enemies. It sets up a good struggle, with the protagonists trying to free themselves from his control while not messing up their other scheme. Then the Archon decides that he needs to send the two of them out to be pirates, despite them not being trained as seamen. What follows is a sequence with them acting as pirates. It’s not bad, but it does take Locke and Jean far away from their more interesting other plots. It all comes together for an ending that doesn’t serve either side particularly well.

I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. While it strays from the books strengths, the best new characters appear in that pirate portion. At times it is a lot of fun even if it feels pointless. And Locke and Jean remain an excellent pair of rogues. I received both this book and its sequel for Christmas and I will be getting to that sequel sooner rather than later.


The Complete Peanuts Volume 3

Charles Schulz

This was part of a Christmas gift, where I got volumes 3 through 6. This is still early Peanuts, but it is just about perfect. It nails that Peanuts tone of somewhat mopey nostalgia; combining silly animal jokes with some dark existential fretting. It’s really good, but you know that. I don’t know how much else I have to add. I guess it’s worth noting that these collections from Fantagraphics are really nice. The books feel good and they come in nice slipcases. The outsides are as nice as the insides.