What I Read in March 2019

I only read one book in March. March was a rough month, even with a week off from law school for spring break in the middle of it. Still, even with finishing only one book this month I am still on pace to read more this year than I have the last two.

The Woman Who Died A Lot

Jasper Fforde

The one book I managed to finish in March was a reread of one of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books.  The last Thursday Next book.  I didn’t forget how incredibly inventive Fforde is, especially in this series but also always, but I did manage to forget nearly the entire plot.  That is unusual for me.  Generally, once I start a reread the detail start to come pretty fast.  I might forget details or even whole characters, but as soon as I start with the book it is all there.  Here, it was like reading it all again for the first time.  I remembered that Thursday was old in this book, and I remembered a few other details, but I didn’t even remember the conceit that got the book its title.

This book is called “The Woman Who Died A Lot” to reference the fact that Thursday keeps getting replaced with synthetic duplicates for reasons that are not clear at first.  Her mind is somehow transferred into this fake version of her.  Unfortunately, these fakes are only designed to live for about a day.  When they die, she returns to her body.  The contrast here is that current Thursday is both getting old and injured.  So she can only really fight back against the evil Goliath Corporation when she is a duplicate.  Over the course of the book, she dies a lot.

I have long since accepted that Jasper Fforde is my favorite author.  I think I accepted that as he went a half decade without publishing a book.  Rereading this book, a perfectly fine but apparently forgettable entry in his signature series reminded me why he is my favorite and reinforced his position.  I am ready for whatever he has next, and until then I guess I’ll reread what I’ve already got.

Advertisements

What I Read in June ‘14

Another four book month and this one includes a reread. At least I finally got the millstone that is Acacia off my back. I am so glad to not be reading that book any more. I hope to keep up the pace in July, which it looks like I will at this point.


acacia

Acacia

David Anthony Durham

This is the book that has been slowing me down for the better part of four months. It came highly recommended by some people I know, but the more I read it the less I enjoyed it. It follows the royal family of the Acacian Empire: the Emperor and his four children. At the end of the first part, the Emperor is killed, his empire crushed and the children are scattered. It is quite similar in set up to A Song of Ice and Fire. In the second half of the book, the children have grown and they come together to save their homeland. The big twist is that the protagonist’s empire is an awful place. The government distributes drugs to the populace and pays of a distant power with a yearly quota of slaves. Of course, the people that conquer them are no better.

My big problem with this book is that is ponderously written. It features a lot of telling rather than showing. Instead of having the read find out about the drugs or slaves, it just flat tells it in narration. The reader doesn’t get to see the characters mature, they are just told that it happens. It switched between the four, as well as a few other characters so frequently that it is hard for any of them to build any narrative momentum.

SPOILERS. I also don’t buy a lot of the events in the second half of the book. The eldest daughter is captured by the bad guys and spends ten years (or however many it was) a essentially a prisoner trapped in the palace. Suddenly, she goes from hating Hamish Mien, the villain, she falls in love with him. Falling for her captor, that is an understandable development, but having her hate him for all those years before suddenly changing her mind was hard to swallow. Then there is the death of the eldest son. While leading an army, he accepts a duel to the death to determine a battle. Instead of finishing a battle he has already essentially won, he chooses to fight a man he knows he can’t beat in a duel that even he calls a bad idea as soon as it is suggested. It is just a monumentally stupid plot twist. END SPOILERS

Those moments of just flat out stupidity, on top of how far removed the book keeps the reader from the characters, really killed the book for me. I understand why this got recommended to me, but I really didn’t enjoy it at all.

5red

The Five Red Herrings

Dorothy Sayers

Another Wimsey mystery. Possibly my least favorite in the series. There is just no personal stake here. There is no victim to feel for or diabolical criminal to catch. There is just a guy that nobody liked getting killed and everyone is a suspect because nobody liked him. Wimsey also doesn’t get a lot to do in this book. That was also true of Gaudy Night, but there he was replaced by his love interest and an interesting character on her own. Here he is replaced by some bland policemen. The mystery itself is actually quite enjoyable, but most of the Wimsey stories I’ve read have had another layer that this one lacks.

daf

Diamonds are Forever

Ian Fleming

The odd thing about this fourth Bond novel is that the spy stuff doesn’t really get going until past the halfway point of the book, and even then there is very little of it. Bond is investigating a diamond smuggling operation, so he goes somewhat undercover and smuggles some diamonds into America. His payment is arranged by the mobsters he’s smuggling for in a fixed horse race. He meets up with former CIA Agent Felix Leiter, who is investigating the same people. Leiter throws arranges for the fixed jockey to throw the race. So Bond’s mobster employers arrange for him to get paid with fixed gambling. So he goes to Vegas.

I guess the point of the book is Bond’s growth as a character. He feels like he’s moved on from Vesper in Casino Royale and actually connects with her as a person. Most of the book is just Bond touring America and sharing his thoughts. Unsurprisingly, his thoughts tend to be sexist and racist. Shocking, I know. This book was pretty much the opposite of what I want from a Bond story. I would rather have action and monomaniacal villains, not normal gangsters and ruminations on the fleeting nature of life and love.

tea

The Eyre Affair

Japser Fforde

I first read this more than two years ago and absolutely loved it. Now that I’ve read the rest of the series, as well as the rest of Fforde’s body of work, I still love. It is a great book. One of my absolute favorites.

Thursday Next is just a great character. She is highly competent and brave, but also flawed. The big conflict between her and her love interest is that she is unwilling to admit that the tragedy she was involved with in the ongoing, at least in the books reality, Crimean War was at least partly the fault of her brother who died in that tragedy. It is her loyalty to her brother straining everything else because he was at fault. She is also the perfect kind of character to be the lead this sort of screwed up mystery. She is tolerant of nonsense while not stooping to participate in it.

I think on of things that draws me to this is that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classic novels. It is also a weird book, being kind of Gothic and kind of a fairy tale and kind of a romance. It is the prefect book to fiddle with in this sort of meta-fictional manner. Read this.

What I Read in August

I read what is basically my monthly average this month, four. Three of them are from the same series, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries. While I did read three of them in a month, I’m not sure I really liked them all that much. They are easy reading on my Kindle at work, and I didn’t not like them, but I’m not going to be gushing about them like I did about Japser Fforde’s Thursday Next books for example. Also, I’m having a hard time separating some parts of each of the Maisie books since I read them so close together.

Maisie Dobbs

Jacqueline Winspear

This is the first Maisie Dobbs book and it reads like it. It is very much like a comic book origin story, with only a halfhearted attempt at a mystery. That being said, I did enjoy it quite a bit. Maisie is an interesting character, and this exploration of her was a good read. It just wasn’t the mystery I was expecting. It helps that I am a sucker for that time period. I love to read about Pre-WWII 20th century.

The novel moves back and forth from the life of young Maisie, from when she goes to work as a maid for the Comptons, to when she opens her own private investigators business. She is solving the mystery of what happens in a commune filled with WWI vets disfigured by the war. The emphasis is greatly on the life of young Maisie, with the mystery being little more than an afterthought. Maisie’s personal history is a good read, though the ultimate outcome is predictable. There isn’t a lot of investigation to be done as far as the case goes.

Birds of a Feather

Jacqueline Winspear

This one is about a runaway heiress which turns into a murder investigation, which also is heavily reliant on aftermath of WWI. This one is actually a mystery. The woman who Maisie is searching for, who may be a potential victim or the criminal herself, is not a very likable person neither for the reader nor Maisie. Maisie has to solve the mystery, though. This one is much more interesting as a mystery than the first book.

Pardonable Lies

Jacqueline Winspear

Another missing persons case, actually a few of them, where all the missing persons supposedly died during WWI. She is hired by a father to look for his son, the last request of his recently dead wife. She also agrees to look for the final resting place of the brother of one of her friends. She also has to deal with her own recollections of the war. I was a little less enthused with this one than the previous ones.

I read these three books really close together, so some of the details run together. I’m not quite sure one book ends and the other begins. But the overall they paint a consistent portrait of Maisie as a character. She is independent, to the point of fault. She is thankful for the help of her friends, but no longer wants to except that help. Maisie exists at a place between classes in a time when long held prejudices are eroding. She has to square her loving, dependable lower class father with the upper class education she has received. It makes for some compelling reading besides the mysteries, which were the real draw for me.

First Among Sequels

Jasper Fforde

The title here is not just a marginally amusing pun, it is also accurate. While this is the fifth Thursday Next book, it is definitely a break from the previous four. The last book, Something Rotten, effectively tied up most of the series loose ends. First Among Sequels picks things up 15 years later. The amusing wit has not changed one bit. It is still a lot of fun. However, it seems that the longer we spend in Thursday’s world, the more it loses its magic. Of course, the more time we spend in the world, the more we grow to know it and therefore formerly strange things become normal. That is not what I am feeling here. With the events in this book, Fforde has drained much of the weird out of his universe. It is not the strange becoming familiar, the strange is being syphoned right off the pages. Despite my misgivings, First Among Sequels is still a lot of fun. Plus, all the next Next book has to do is a small infusion of weird to right the ship.

The mystery this time involves a reinvigorated Goliath Corp conspiring with the council of genre’s to take over fiction, as well as the plot that goes right to the heart of the Chronoguard. It is much like the previous books in the series, with a very tongue in cheek look at the conventions of fiction mixed with a satisfying in its own right story. As long as Fforde can keep up the this love letter to literature, I will probably to continue to enjoy it. Thursday is an appealing character, and the addition of Thursday Next (fictional) to the cast is a good one.