My set goal this year is 100 books, which is where I always start because I know I can do it. Goodreads tells me I read 222 books, my list says 223. Close enough. I think I did pretty well all things considered.
I wanted to read with an eye to cleaning out my library. I have so many books that I’ve had stacked up, glaring at me, and I did accomplish something of that. I’ll be filling boxes to donate or sell books in the new year.
Mysteries and books about food and the chain from farm to table, with a particular emphasis on fermenting, dominated my reading for much of the year, and took side trips into books about microbes and the microbiome. As always SF/Fantasy was well represented. Politics also made a strong showing with books by Rachel Maddow , Elizabeth Warren, and Ronan Farrow among others.
A lot of books by women here, a good amount by or about people of color, and a brief foray into graphic novels rounded things out, along with a couple of purely practical volumes about financial planning, medical marijuana, and tidying up. Yeah I’ll read just about anything.
I began on Jan. 1st, reading straight through the first book. Here we go:
- The No-Spend Challenge Guide – I read this in one breathless evening, on New Year’s night I think. Nothing much stuck except that I have got to do better at saving money. To that end I’ve made some changes in the way I do things, so I guess it helped.
- A Christmas Carol — Audiobook read by Tim Curry, and a delight. I’ve read this book many times, but this was the first time for listening, and it illuminated some things I’d never noticed before. I’m, so glad I got it as a freebie.
- The Winter of the Witch — This third volume of the story of Vasya and the Winter King was the most magical of a magical trilogy. I love these books.
- A Gentleman in Moscow — It is rapidly becoming a tradition for me to reread this book in January. I never tire of it, and it’s firmly on my list of favorite books ever.
- Any Old Diamonds — KJ Charles’ newest book. Good, but not as intriguing as some of her other work.
- Jackdaw — Speaking of which, this is the 4th of Charles’ Charm of Magpies book, and while I was a little skeptical at first, it won me over completely.
- The Iliad — Another audiobook, translation by Fitzgerald and reading by Dan Stevens who does an astoundingly good job. This is a story that you can read on several levels. You can look at it from an historical viewpoint, or a literary one, and both will be rich and satisfying. Or you can approach it with a 21st century mindset and spend a lot of time yelling “DIDN’T I TELL YOU THAT WOULD GO BADLY???” at the characters (especially Achilles, what a muttonhead) which is vaguely satisfying if you’re having a bad day.
- The Race to Save the Romanovs — Normally I like Rappaport’s work, but this one just seemed to drag on and on. I suspect the problem was that nobody who could have saved the family tried very hard, and those who did try were so utterly inept that it would have been a miracle if they’d succeeded. All of which somewhat blunts the tragedy of a family that was willing to live in quiet obscurity for the rest of their lives, but were not given the chance.
- The Masks of God: Creative Mythology — I love Joseph Campbell, but his Masks of God, particularly this volume, is dense and difficult. I found myself listening without hearing many times, and then suddenly hearing and understanding everything quite clearly at others. Nevertheless it is worth the effort.
- Dread Nation — Wow, I loved this book! I read it in a day, switching from print to audio and back again so I didn’t have to put it down. I loved the way Ireland wove real history into her zombie uprising story, and subverted some common tropes to make the story richer and more real. Can’t wait for the sequel.
- Rosewater by Tade Thompson — Strange and compelling book that gets stranger as it goes along. Afro-futurism meets Weird, I guess. Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
- The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark — Clark has a fully realized alternate Egypt, and I kind of love it because it’s filled with ghosts and djinns and other wonderful creatures.
- The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman — The first half was good, but after that it felt like more of the same as well as seeming disjointed. I bailed about 75% into it.
- The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library #5)by Genevieve Cogman — I have an odd relationship with this series. I like it, but the previous one left me cold. Or I thought it had until I began this one and realized how indelible some of the impressions left by the previous book really were. I expect this one will stay with me as well in spite of the fact that I took forever to read it because I kept dropping off to sleep. Blame my cats, not the book. It was a fun read, and I never saw that solution to the murder coming.
- The Symphonies of Beethoven by Robert Greenberg – Great Courses Audio — I needed a Greenberg course at the start of the year. The hamster wheel in my head was spinning out of control, and listening to Dr. G. gives me a chance to slow down and focus. Like virtually everyone on the planet I am familiar with some of LvB’s work, possibly more than many, but what I’ve learned as I’ve worked my way through this course has been enormous. If you love music, please treat yourself to one of Greenberg’s courses.
- The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: The Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way — So different from the Netflix series, which is to be expected, I suppose. These comics are largely plot-driven, but without extensive characterization, the TV series would have gone nowhere. I was disappointed, though, not to have gotten to know the characters better in the graphic novel.
- Jook Joint #1 (Jook Joint #1) and
- (Jook Joint #2) by Tee Franklin (Goodreads Author), Alitha Martinez (Illustrator), Mike Hawthorne (Illustrator) — This series is a tough read. On the surface it feels like revenge porn. Men of all colors meet horrible ends not only for breaking the rules of the Jook Joint, but simply for what they have been thinking, which I found problematic. But beyond all that it’s therapeutic, not just for women but for anyone who has ever been victimized. It’s also beautifully illustrated so all the gore is actually sort of appealing. I’m not entirely sure how many more of these I’ll read, but I’m glad I got the chance to read the first two.
- Absolute All-Star Superman (All-Star Superman #1-12) by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely (Illustrator) Superman sure has changed since I was a kid. DNF
- Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1-5 by Frank Miller, John Romita Jr. — I’m a fan of the Netflix Daredevil series, so this was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to see where Matt Murdock got his start. What I found was not the tight drama of the series with its compelling characters and multi-layered plot arcs, but high melodrama with characters so dull and trite I had to force my way through it.
- LaGuardia 1,
- LaGuardia 2, and
- LaGuardia 3 by Nnedi Okorafor (Goodreads Author), Tana Ford (Illustrator) — Damn this is good. Seriously, if Okorafor and Ford can give us such a rich and well-realized universe in a single issue, there really isn’t an excuse for shallow, violence-laden plots and wooden characters. Each issue got better as the story tackled some heavy issues of diversity, immigration, and bigotry.
- Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin — I should have known that any book recommended by Victor LaValle was going to be unsettling, but I really wasn’t prepared for how unnerving I found this short (< 200 pages) novel about a dying woman’s last hours during which she tries to make sense of all that has happened to her in the past months. She may or may not be joined by the son of a neighbor, who may or may not be some kind of alien. In the end it hardly matters because this is truly a fever dream, difficult, disconnected, and disturbing.
- Civil War: A Marvel Comics Event (Civil War (2006) #1-7) by Mark Millar (Goodreads Author) , Steve McNiven , Dexter Vines , Morry Hollowell
- Grendel Omnibus, Vol. 1: Hunter Rose (Grendel Omnibus 1) by Matt Wagner, Guy Davis (Illustrator), Mike Allred (Illustrator), Tim Sale (Illustrator), Teddy Kristiansen (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator), Ashley Wood (Illustrator), Duncan Fegredo (Illustrator), Dean Motter (Illustrator) , Mike Huddleston (Illustrator) — I find it difficult to believe that it’s been 30+ years since I discovered Grendel during a trip to Baltimore. It was the graphics that drew me to the book, the elegant Art Deco look of it. But as I read — inhaled it actually — I became intrigued by the story and the characters, all of which and whom have stayed with me. This was a wonderful chance to reacquaint myself with Hunter Rose, et al, and to catch up on things I’d missed. But in all honesty, none of the other stories grabbed me the way the very first one did.
- I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong — This book blew me away and sent me out into the world wondering what microbes I was encountering. I have become obsessed with the small things of our world, what they do to us and for us, how they live, and their beauty.
- Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff — I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I loved every single (important) character, even the bad guy who was weirdly charming. I loved seeing a fantasy play out in the Jim Crow era with Black protagonists and a White antagonist, and loved how they dealt with him. It’s a humane book, and a biting one at the same time. It made me want to seek out more of Matt Ruff’s work.
- The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark — Short, fun fantasy. Engaging, and driven by great female characters. Clark’s work has never disappointed me save in one important way, it’s never long enough to satisfy me.
- A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss — My brain hurts. No, really. Physics… I love reading about it, but there comes a point where it’s wordswordswords oh hey, here’s something I underst— oh never mind, it’s gone. But Krauss does a good job of explaining a great many difficult concepts, and I always feel that if I learn and understand even one thing clearly in a book like this, it is worth the time I spent reading and thinking about it.
- The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, #…by Roshani Chokshi— I read about this book and thought “I will move heaven and earth to read that!” Unfortunately I got about three quarters of the way through and gave up out of boredom. It’s not terrible, but unevenly written, maddeningly so in places, and the characters are just not particularly interesting. And as The Housemate put it, when we began to discuss it, I like this thing, and that thing, but the whole never quite meshes. I won’t be reading the rest of the series.
- Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live…by Rob Dunn — Fascinating book, and a natural companion to I Contain Multitudes because it also deals with the small things, but not just microbes. And if there’s a lesson to be had here, it’s that our desire to control our world, and eliminate anything that threatens us is probably the biggest mistake our species will ever make. Possibly the last one. The unintended consequences of our war on everything that inhabits our homes apart from people and pets, may well account for rises in autoimmune illnesses, autism, dementia, allergies, and many other worrisome ailments. We need to learn to re-wild our homes and ourselves.
- After the End of the World (Carter & Lovecraft #2) by Jonathan L. Howard (Goodreads Author), Ari Fliakos (Narrator) — Not only was I late to the party on this one, I came in through a side door. The Housemate had just rec’d these books to me, and I found I had this in my Audible library, so I started listening, not realizing it was the second book of two. And I couldn’t stop. Yes, it’s just that good. So good, in fact, that I finished it about 11 pm, and went over and used a credit I had with Audible to get the first book which is…
- Carter & Lovecraft (Carter & Lovecraft #1) by Jonathan L. Howard — I stopped EVERYTHING else to listen to this book, finishing it in a day. I’m knocked out by this universe, and by the characters of Emily Lovecraft (descendant of H.P. Lovecraft, woman of color, and total BAMF ) and Daniel Carter (descendant of the supposedly fictional Randolph Carter of Lovecraft’s stories, ex-cop, and Emily’s business partner.) They’re noir mystery/thriller horror fantasies, and some of the best stuff I’ve read in ages. Read these; I am not EVEN kidding.
The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft — I am utterly convinced that Lovecraft was being paid by the syllable. I’ve never encountered another writer who could use so many adjectives so ineptly as HPL, and I confess I don’t get the love for his work. Far from finding it frightening, I found the sound of the narrator trying to reproduce the R’lyehian speech as being hilariously like someone gargling molten oatmeal. However, I swore to myself and friends that I would persevere, so I look forward (!!!) to reading/listening to more HPL in the future. Yay.
- Dracula (Audible Audio) by Bram Stoker— I realized, as I was poking around trying to find something to listen to after being bitterly disappointed by The Call of Cthulhu, that I had never actually finished listening to this book. So I finally did, and have to say that it was a great way to revisit the book. Impressive production.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson — Don’t know why it took me so long to read this, but now I have and I enjoyed it a great deal. One thing that truly appealed to me was the strong POV which allowed the reader to suffer all the same doubts, fears, and concerns that the narrator felt, so that by the end, we are resigned to what happens. This one is a classic for a reason.
- Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler– This is the sort of stuff I love, the junction between reality and human creativity where you’re never entirely certain that what you’re looking at is real or fabricated. The Wunderkammer has much in common with world-building, or so it feels to me. They essentially exhibit the contents of the minds of the people who created the collections, just as a created world shows us the mind of the author as it has been informed by everything she has seen, read, heard, imagined, or otherwise experienced. While I found Weschler’s writing not to my taste, the contents of the book were fascinating.
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells — Another classic, and one I was sure I’d read, but no, it was only peripherally familiar, probably from repeated viewings of the old movie, which I loved. I found it weirdly problematic in the narrator’s seeming acceptance of the social inequalities he imagined. When he realized the truth of this society, though, all that intellectual analysis and tolerance went right off the rails.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez — Another rec by Victor LaValle, and one I find increasingly unsettling (at least one reviewer I read said she found it impossible to finish.) It’s the sort of horror that works best for me, a horror where you’re never entirely certain that the terrible things that happen have a supernatural source, or it’s just the actions of severely damaged human beings.
- The Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses by Peter Brannen — If you want to be simultaneously terrified and reassured about the future of our planet, read this book about what effect climate changes in the past had on our world. Bottom line: humanity is not going to survive climate change unless we stop it soon. Civilization almost certainly will not. But relatively diverse life may. Or not. We could end up with Slime World.
- LaGuardia 4 by Nnedi Okorafor — The final chapter of the story, and one which brought tears to my eyes because the message was so beautiful. Even if you don’t read comics, you should read this one.
- The Highwayman (Walt Longmire, #11.5) by Craig Johnson — My first Longmire book. I have NO clue how it got into my library, but on a whim I started it last night after feeding the cats, and I listened straight through to the end before I went to bed. Good writing, good mystery, engaging. I may read more!
A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain — An Audible Original, and one of the March freebies. It’s a short introduction to Marie Curie’s life and work. Though it seems to have a feminist slant, ultimately it’s more about her meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Pierre Curie. It’s all right, but nothing special.
- Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer — Though it comes under the sciences heading, this book is almost more a love letter to mosses, and their environments. Kimmerer is deeply involved with her subject and knows not only the facts of its existence, but the deeper meaning of mosses to human culture. I listened to the audiobook, and Kimmerer was the narrator, a woman with a voice that sounded so much like Meg Tilly’s voice that I had to keep checking to make sure I’d read the name of the narrator correctly.
- The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe — A reread in the form of the audiobook narrated by Dennis Quaid, who not only is intimately familiar with the story, having starred as Gordon Cooper in the film, but who does a remarkable job conveying Wolfe’s often breathless and frequently slyly funny prose. If all you know is the film, and lord knows I love that movie, this book will enlarge and enrich your knowledge of those events. The story is way bigger than you can imagine.
- Ferment: A Guide to the Ancient Art of Culturing Foods, from Kombucha to Sourdough by Holly Davis, foreword by Sandor Ellix Katz — This is a wonderful, hands-on volume that covers many different forms of fermentation in a no-nonsense manner. The instructions are clear and simple, the photos are excellent, and Davis’ clearly loves her subject.
- Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Heartier, Tastier Way with Vegetables by Ilene Rosen, Donna Gelb — The Housemate calls me a “salad whisperer” but the truth is that I get a kick out of making salads, and spend a lot of time composing them inside my head before I ever start chopping veggies. This is one of the better salad cookbooks I’ve found.
- Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome by Katherine Harmon Courage — Yes, another book on fermenting and cultures, and how they affect us and our world. And a really excellent and interesting one. Still a bit more sciency than practical, but well worth your time if you are fascinated with the subject as I am.
- The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz — Katz is something like the guru of the fermented food movement, and I confess I was skeptical about that reputation. But once I started reading, I realized that it’s well-deserved. This is the most comprehensive practical guide to fermentation I have yet encountered, and I don’t honestly know how anyone could one-better it. I learned about ferments I could barely imagine (parts of animals made edible by people who clearly were very, very… very hungry) as well as interesting facts about more familiar cultures. Seriously, if you’re looking for in-depth, it’s all right here. I listened to the audiobook, and now I have the hardcover on my wishlist at Amazon because it’s just that good a reference book.
- Platters and Boards: Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion by Shelly Westerhausen, Wyatt Worcel
- Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer— were books that I picked up because I’m interested in the kind of eating The Housemate’s mother called “småting” (pronounced smossing according to The Housemate) or picking, grazing, noshing; the sort of casual here’s-the-food-take-what-you-want arrangement that is so conducive to hanging with friends, having long, free-ranging discussions over a meal that lasts for hours. It’s a pickles and olives, cheeseboard, crudites kind of eating that feels tremendously friendly to me. Both books were lovely and inspirational.
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Magic Cleaning #1) by Marie Kondō — Oh yeah, I watched the series, then went right out and started Kondoing the bejeebers out of my apartment until I ran out of steam and moved on to less stressful activities. It’s a worthwhile effort, never doubt it, and Kondo has a lot of good, helpful things to say, but I still prefer the Swedish death cleaning approach.
- ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge by Brontë Aurell — I love Bronte Aurell’s books and between us, The Housemate and I have most of them. The only problem I have with any book about hygge is that it’s so hard to define because one person’s hygge is another person’s tedium. In reading about hygge, you need to take what you like (i.e., whatever makes you feel cozy) and leave the rest. Still, Aurell’s book is lovely and worth a look.
- The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg Elison — I was lucky enough to get both the ebook and the audiobook via Prime Reading, so I’ve been listening for the last two days, and finding this book both horrifying and compelling. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set at the tail end of a pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s people, though men fare a bit better than women or children. The net result is a world almost without women in which children are born dead and mothers often die at the same time. The effects on people’s psyches are predictably ugly, for the most part, and all-too-human. I really enjoyed it, though that’s a word I use guardedly in this case. I just found out that there are two sequels, but I honestly don’t think the story needs them. It’s tight and complete as it is.
- Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse — This was the last of the Victor LaValle reccs on my list, and it’s probably the one I enjoyed most, well enough to pre-order the second book in the series. The setting is post-apocalyptic (the drowning of the world after the ice caps melt), the protagonist is Maggie, a Navaho bounty hunter, but her quarry are monsters, not criminals. Trained by a legendary Navaho hero, and deserted by him a year before the story begins, she has pulled into herself, caring about very little until she’s dragged into a plague of monsters that will eventually make her question who she is and what she wants. Well thought out and rather chilling in its matter-of-fact horror.
- The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life (Audible Audio) by Rodney Dietert — Oh microbes, how I love thee. Dietert covers a lot of the same ground I’ve been over this month, but rings a lot of valuable changes, for me at least. The most interesting thing is that he believes that we can change our faulty microbiomes with a better diet and probiotics. And he doesn’t just talk the talk, he has and continues to walk the walk. After suffering for 30 years from NCDs (non-communicable diseases, i.e., asthma, allergies, diabetes, autism, depression, obesity, and a myriad of others) a simple change in diet showed him that his body could and would work with him for better health.
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf — Each time I read Orlando I get more out of it, and this time I saw myself there so clearly in the gender fluidity and the vast sense of history and nature and the desire to know who I am within both. Gorgeous book if you just go with its flow.
Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse — The sequel to Trail of Lightning (above) came out the day I finished the first book so of course I devoured this one. And it was just as good as the first, possibly even better. The only thing I’m not happy about is having to wait for the third book.
Bad Monkeys: A Novel by Matt Ruff — After having read Lovecraft Country last month, I tried to read Mirage, but found it rough going. Then I gave Bad Monkeys to the Housemate for her birthday and (of course) read it as well. It was everything I love about Ruff’s work, weird, unexpected, twisty, the sort of story that keeps you guessing. I’ll go back to Mirage eventually, but there’s more than enough Matt Ruff to hold me for a while.
- I Hate Vegetables Cookbook: Fresh and Easy Vegetable Recipes That Will Change Your Mind by Katie Moseman – Neither of us hate vegetables, but I never underestimate the power of a recipe designed to change the mind of skeptics. They’re usually extra yummy. This book is no exception. Some wonderful riffs on veggies here.
- The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes–Inside and Out–for Lifelong Health by B. Brett Finlay, PhD – Not precisely a nuts-and-bolts how-to, but close enough. I listened to the audiobook, which was great but as there was no downloadable PDF for all the references, I ended up buying the Kindle version as well so I could follow more of the information.
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – This one was disturbing because I understood it too well. The protagonist wants to sleep. It’s not that she can’t, it’s that she can’t sleep 24/7 for the next year that bothers her. To achieve sleep on her terms she finds a therapist willing to furnish her with every sort of sedative and sleeping pill ever invented, many of which she chases down with cough syrup or gin. She knows what can happen, it happened to a schoolmate of hers. But it takes her about 75% of the book to get at what she’s really chasing. When she does, she clears her head, clears her life, and makes herself a promise to do or die. Not a restful book.
- Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharara — I heard Bharara on a podcast recently, and he was such a compelling speaker that I knew I had to read his book. What I gleaned from it was a deeper understanding of the whole process of justice in our country. And while he makes some pointed and not very flattering observations about Trump and his policies, though rarely by name, they are well deserved rather than cheap shots, because they make a point about how the rule of law is being strained to the breaking point in this administration. Bharara is thoughtful, intelligent, and incredibly well-educated. Listening to this book is a legal education.
- The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea by Hannah Crum, Alex LaGory, Sandor Ellix Katz
- Ten Big Ones (Stephanie Plum, #10) by Janet Evanovich —The Housemate loves the Stephanie Plum books, so I decided to try one. It was fun. This isn’t deep or literary, it’s brain candy, and we all need it from time to time. There’s a scene where three women are trying to get information from someone via torture, and it got me laughing out loud. Why? Read it and find out. Yes, it stands alone.
- Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna — Priya Krishna is a hoot, and it sounds like her parents are as well. But what originally sold me was that this cookbook would be a way for me to get into Indian (ish) cooking with its big flavors, high fiber, and wicked good nutrition. This kind of food is cheap and good for you, something The Housemate and I truly need. And the bonus is that the cookbook is immensely readable and fun.
- The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin Sonnenburg — If you’re going to investigate gut health and its influence on our whole body, this is a good place to start. It’s comprehensive and informative, with sample menus and some good recipes as well.
- Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore — This one had been on my TBR list for yonks, and I finally got the audiobook from the library. By this time I couldn’t really remember what it was that made me want to read it, but once I got into it, I fell totally and completely in love with it. I love Michael Poore’s brain, I love his writing, I love his weird and whacked-out imagination. One of the best things I’ve read all year.
- This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren — I love Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s a smart, amazing woman who gets things done. This book restored my faith that we can still win our country back.
- Lock In (Lock In, #1) by John Scalzi and…
- Head On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi — I don’t know why I haven’t read more Scalzi, he’s SO good. His prose is tight and clean, and it propels the reader through stories that seem simple, but which have layers of meaning and importance. This series (and I hope there’ll be more) concerns an FBI agent who contracted a disease as a child that left him completely paralyzed, trapped in a body that doesn’t listen to his brain. “Huh?” you say. Read it, you will not be disappointed. Damn, he’s good.
- I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 by Robert Graves — Like virtually everyone else on the planet, I was familiar with the book because I watched the PBS series. And unlike the series, the book is chatty and catty, like a gossip columnist pretending to write history. There’s a lot of the latter there, but of course the real draw are the foibles of the Roman ruling class. Fun.
- Eleven on Top (Stephanie Plum, #11) by Janet Evanovich — Everyone needs a palate cleanser from time to time. Thanks to The Housemate for introducing me to Stephanie Plum and her crazy family.
- Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester — I’ve been meaning to read this for a good long time, but purely on a whim, got the audiobook from the library, and enjoyed the heck out of it. I didn’t know much about Krakatoa or the events that essentially turned the volcano into a gigantic caldera, and killed more people than any other volcanic eruption in history. Absolutely fascinating.
- Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry — What I didn’t know about bees was a lot more than what I did know. And Paige Embry has done a lot to change that. Lovely discussion about wild bees, and how they fit into our food chain.
- Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter — Not scintillating. Certainly not titillating. A fairly pedestrian, often forced-feeling narrative about same sex couples of the 19th – 21at centuries. Steitmatter does try to make both partners interesting, but sometimes it’s a losing battle.
Ghost Riders: When US and German Soldiers Fought Together to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Horses in the Last Days of World War II by Mark Felton — Lovely book about saving the Spanish Riding School of Vienna from the Red Army. There’s a whole lot of military stuff here, and much less about the horses than I would have hoped, but it was still fascinating.
- The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan — I bailed about 75% of the way through the book. I simply found it impossible to care about what he was discussing. Some interesting stuff, but unless you’re a die-hard student of the history of the Great Lakes, I’d say don’t bother.
- Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum #2) by Janet Evanovich — Against my better judgement and because I’m impatient, I borrowed the second audiobook from Hoopla in spite of it being abridged. And it was okay, but like the first one, it lacked something. Between that and this flu, I fell asleep several times while listening.
- Even Tree Nymphs Get the Blues (Mystic Bayou, #2.5) by Molly Harper — An Audible original, and one of my June freebies. Sweet and lightweight, but charming take on the paranormal interacting with the human world. Utter brain candy with a nice bit of humor, and female friendship which I always enjoy.
- Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook by José Andrés — Mostly I’m one of those people who find recipes online and skip right to the recipe, bypassing the backstory. (Not always, but mostly.) However Andrés is so appealing and I enjoy his take on food, eating, cooking, people, et al, that for me the real appeal of this book is the introductory chapters that discuss not just cookery, but gardening, produce in general, and other things which are important to him. The recipes are a mixed bag for me. Some look amazeballs, others elicited a “meh.”
- Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food by Dana Gunders — I don’t want to say “Game Changer” about this book because it’s a nuts-and-bolts guide to being a more frugal cook in every sense of the word, and doesn’t have the sparkle of Marie Kondo or some other self-help books I’ve run into. But boy howdy it’s about as detailed as you could want with a lot of information you didn’t really know you needed. The recipes are pretty much ancillary to first half of the book.
- Alien III by William Gibson — The other June Audible freebie. Wow, I’m sorry to say that this just doesn’t work for me. First, much of the dialogue is incomprehensible because it’s delivered over ship-to-ship radio, often in heavily accented voices. Audio also doesn’t serve the action genre well, and this is pretty much all action. What isn’t action is more of the Weyland-Yutani are total jerks stuff that we’ve been getting all along, and it’s capped with a fairly preachy suggestion by Bishop that maybe they all gotta hang together against this larger threat. Gee, ya think?
- Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich — For the most part I enjoyed the story, but by the time I got to the end I found myself wondering, “So?” Honestly I’m not sure it works, but boy is it beautifully written.
- Lean Mean Thirteen (Stephanie Plum, #13) by Janet Evanovich — Another fun Stephanie Plum. I honestly don’t recall what happened, they mostly run together. But while I’m reading them, I’m getting a real kick out of them.
- Fearless Fourteen (Stephanie Plum, #14) by Janet Evanovich — So far my favorite Stephanie Plum. More crazy people doing more crazy things. A potato canon, Lula in a bridal gown. I love these things, they’re like potato chips.
- The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution by Derek Dellinger — I didn’t honestly know what to expect from this one since I picked it out of the available library offerings on a whim. And I loved it. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the ebook. Yes, it’s one of those weird food books, but it’s way more than that. It’s about food, health, how we perceive the world, and a whole lot more. On the strength of this book, I want more by Dellinger.
- Medical Marijuana: The Basic Principles For Cannabis Medicine by Aaron Hammond — Recreational MJ becomes legal in Illinois in January and I’m studying the subject now so I can make some sensible choices about pain relief, better sleep, and maybe alleviating depression. Why not medical MJ? Because prior to the last month or so the list of ailments which could qualify someone for a card was ridiculously restrictive. Good basic info here, but nothing comprehensive.
- The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story by Dimitra Papagianni — I enjoyed it, though I think it could have been better. Nice background on the Neanderthal presence, and some interesting speculation on how much contact there was between them and other hominins,. Yes, the word used to be hominids. Yes, I am aware that hominin, and homonym are (almost) homonyms, and yes, I find that amusing.
- Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks — You can trust Tom Hanks. You can trust him to tell you a pleasant story that won’t squick you or make you feel like going out to the garden to eat worms. There’s nothing really deep about these stories (many revolving around typewriters) but they made me smile, occasionally laugh out loud, and feel as if life might actually not be quite as dire as I sometimes think it is. Thanks, Tom.
- Kombucha: for Beginners: How to Make Kombucha at Home (Kombucha, Kombucha Recipes, How to Make Kombucha, Fermented Drinks, Fermented Tea, Kombucha Mushroom Book 1) by Sakura Yamazaki — I picked this up from Kindle Unlimited, and I think it’s good enough to spend the very modest $2.99 on if you’re looking to start making kombucha.
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich — Another fun Stephanie Plum book, with pretty much the same cast of crazies doing their thing, but it always seems to work. There’s always a scene where I laugh out loud, and I really do get Stephanie’s inability to choose between her two men. I love these characters, even Rex, the longest-lived hamster on the planet.
Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum, #16) by Janet Evanovich — Yeah these really are like potato chips. They’re fun, fast reads with characters so crazy that your own weird friends and family look dull by comparison. Which is fine because a week inside Stephanie Plum’s head would probably kill most of us. It’s not a problem reading these out of order since Evanovich is good at getting her readers up to speed, so jump in anywhere. You’ll catch on fast.
Hemp Oil and CBD: Complete Beginners Guide to CBD to Faster Healing, Reduce Pain & Better Health by: Emily Mayr — So-so guide to hemp oil and CBD. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I’ve read better guides this month. Possibly good for someone new to the subject.
Smokin’ Seventeen (Stephanie Plum #17) by Janet Evanovich — Oh yeah another Stephanie Plum. The Housemate has all of them on hold or on her wishlist at the library and they seem to be dropping fast these days. As ever, it’s a fun read. I was pretty sure I knew who was doing what early on in the book, but it hardly matters. I don’t really read these for the mysteries, you know?
Four to Score (Stephanie Plum, #4) by Janet Evanovich — And one final Stephanie Plum to round out the month. This one was okay, nothing special. The characters seemed less developed than in the first couple of books which was a surprise. On the upside, we meet Sally Sweet in this one, and that’s good news.
- American War by Omar El Akkad — But of course the first book on this list is not a lighter choice. It’s a dark, devastating look at a United States ravaged by climate change, in which southern states, unwilling to give up fossil fuels, secede from a union where those fuels are outlawed, and bring about a second American civil war. I found it impossible to sympathize with anyone in this book, but I expect that’s part of the point.
- Hot Six (Stephanie Plum, #6)by Janet Evanovich — Yes, still reading the Stephanie Plum books. I’m not sure there’s anything new to say about them; they’re formulaic down to repeated phrases like “swiping on mascara” and so on. And yet they’re each different enough, and appeal to my sense of the absurd, and I’m enjoying them.
- Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi — Contrary to the rather sensational title “Mutants,” and sometimes equally sensational covers, this isn’t some kind of wild expose of the world of different people. It’s a scientific (often highly so) exploration of how mutations occur, what their functions are, and the historical attitudes and ideas surrounding them. Really fascinating.
- Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum, #19) by Janet Evanovich — I read this in one night. It really was a lot of fun, and it kept me occupied so I didn’t fret too much about the insomnia.
- Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny — A good friend has been raving about this series, and I, who have never (before this year) been much of a fan of mysteries decided to give the first one a try on her say-so. I am so glad I did. While Penney’s style is difficult at the beginning of the book — her POV is really awkward and confusing — it calms down enough that I got hooked. I love the town and the people in it, and while Gamache seems like a decent enough guy, I’m looking forward to getting to know him better. He unfolds slowly. That’s okay, I’m ready to try #2 as soon as the library sends it to me.
- The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan — So this morning I sat down to breakfast, turned on the audiobook which I’ve been listening to for days, and thought “I think I’m too old to enjoy this.” I felt a lot of impatience with this book. I spent a lot of time muttering, “Just fucking talk to each other!” It’s not like I don’t get it. I have an acute understanding and experience of grief and loss and their attendant guilt, trust me on this. And I understand family secrets; my family had some gonzo ones. But it makes me nuts when an author propels their plot by ensuring that the characters never actually talk about things. At about 75% I stopped listening, returned the audiobook to the library, and I feel much better.
- All You Need to Know about Kefir Water Plus 45 Recipes: Today’s Superfood, Facts, Health Benefits, Weight Loss (Today’s Superfoods Book 7) by Jennifer Weil — I confess I read this the way I read most cookbooks, sideways. I start at the ToC and move through the chapters based on what I’m curious about. The one thing I would say about this book, which is quite good, is that Weil often writes about both sorts of kefir (water and milk – very different!) in the same chapter, and it can be confusing.
- Seven Up (Stephanie Plum, #7) by Janet Evanovich — Yup, another Stephanie Plum. I’m nearly caught up to The Housemate on the series so I can finish reading them in order. This one made me laugh a lot. I love the characters in this series.
- Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by
Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters #1) by Amy Stewart — Got this via Kindle Unlimited purely on a recommendation from Book Riot, and I’m happy I did. It’s less a mystery than a story of the guilty finally paying the price for their crimes, and the Kopp sisters are a delight. On the strength of it, I’m going to look for the rest of the series.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – I wanted to read this because I’d enjoyed the movie. What I found was that the film, though compelling enough to provoke my interest in the book, failed to capture the beauty of it. It isn’t just the glorious use of language that doesn’t translate well, but what that language describes, turning a bleak landscape and story into something deeper and almost mythic.
Great World Religions: Judaism by Isaiah M. Gafni – This is one of the Great Courses, and one I’d been wanting to listen to for a long time. It’s a short course, only 12 half hour lectures, but it’s an excellent overview. I learned a great deal, and found a lot of threads I want to pursue. If you’re interested in the history and structure of Judaism, this is an excellent starting point.
High Five (Stephanie Plum, #5) by Janet Evanovich – I wasn’t feeling All That last night, so I retired to my bed, read this in one sitting, and caught up to The Housemate’s reading of Stephanie Plum. I loved this one, and I’m kind of glad I read it out of order because I knew about some of the events, and knowing intensified the creepiness factor. Also? Funny as hell.
Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future by Rob Dunn – Dunn has become one of my favorite science writers, and this book is not just exceptionally interesting, but it’s a warning about how our eating habits (global, not just in N. America and Europe) are setting the stage for an enormous disaster on the level of the Irish potato famine, but this time world-wide.
Cafe Neandertal: Excavating Our Past in One of Europe’s Most Ancient Places by Beebe Bahrami – In spite of a slightly dodgy audiobook file, I have fallen completely under the spell of this book and its author, and now I want to read everything she ever wrote. This is so much more than a scientific overview of the Neanderthals. It veers in and out of the personal, paints indelible and often humorous portraits of the people who study Paleolithic life, offers enchanting portraits of places that I now want to visit, and makes some important points about what it means to be human.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I had lunch with my girls the other day and all of them recommended this book. I raced through the post-apocalyptic story, (I seem to be reading a lot of these lately.) but I have the sense that the deeper aspects of it will be poking at me for a long time to come.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher – A reread, this time in audio form which could account for why I had no memory of having read it before. It is so very different when I hear it in Carrie’s voice rather than the voice inside my head that interprets words on a page. So different that it makes me wonder how any two people ever manage to agree on what a book says or means. And I confess I loved the book even more this time around. I adore Carrie, and miss her. She was a take-no-prisoner sort of woman, and she is missed.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig – Another reread. Actually I have reread this book on a semi-regular basis since it was first given to me by one of my teachers at the Art Institute. It’s a book that changes as the reader does. This time around I’m finding a lot of meaning in Pirsig’s discussion of mental illness, and somewhat less in the philosophy, though much of what he discusses had echoes in other things I read. This book may not be all things to all people, but I never fail to take some new ideas away from my reading of it.
Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson — The author just loves bugs and wants us to love them as well. 40 years ago, this would have been a hard sell for me, but as I’ve grown older, learned more about insects, and decided that I was not going to be held hostage by creatures so much smaller than I am, I have learned to love them. Sverdrup-Thygeson gives an excellent overview of what bugs do and how necessary they are to our existence. Without them we wouldn’t last a year. Seriously, they’re that important to human life.
- From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity by Bart D. Ehrman – Another of the Great Courses, and truly fascinating. Ehrman is a Christian who doesn’t hesitate to point out the problems with Christianity as its practiced today. He also makes the point, which I’d never before considered, that it was Paul (who never knew Jesus) who is essentially the person who created that version of Christianity, turning what was intended to be a message of goodness and decency into a religion about one man, a cult of personality. And perhaps this is why so many people who think they are Christian feel that no matter how horrible they are, if they believe in Jesus, they’ll be saved. Paul did us no favors, did he?
- Curious Minds (Knight and Moon, #1) by Janet Evanovich – and
- Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich – This is a new series (Knight and Moon) by the author of the Stephanie Plum books, and after reading the first two I’m pretty sure I won’t bother with more. They’re essentially Stephanie Plum redux with very similar characters, sometimes gender-swapped. (Cousin Vernon is Lula reborn as a good ol’ boy.) and utterly whacked out plots, which should be fun but felt forced.
- The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – Such a lovely, magical book. It’s warmhearted and funny, and it made me happy.
- Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World’s Most Famous Human Fossils by Lydia Pyne – Unfortunately the Hoopla audiobook player didn’t want to play this audiobook, so I listened to about 85% of it then gave it up as a waste of time when the dropouts happened more and more often. What I heard was interesting, though. Pyne presents us with 7 iconic human fossils, the three-foot tall “hobbit” from Flores, the Neanderthal of La Chapelle, the Taung Child, the Piltdown Man hoax, Peking Man, Australopithecus sediba, and Lucy, and discusses why they are iconic. It’s a fascinating look into paleontology and the popular imagination.
- The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz – and…
- Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome by Katherine Harmon Courage and…
- Food: A Cultural Culinary History by Ken Albala – I started on a reread binge about mid-month, refreshing my familiarity with a number of books on food, fermenting, and how it all affects the human body. This time around, with more hands-on experience with fermenting, much of what these books said made more sense to me. All three are audiobooks and the third is a Great Courses program. I’ve since treated myself to a hard copy of the Katz book, and put Cultured on my Amazon wishlist because both are wonderful resources. I’m continually delighted by my explorations into food, it’s history, and the science of it.
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – The Housemate saw this on President Obama’s summer reading list, and borrowed it from the library. The day after she started it she said, “You are going to LOVE this.” And I did. This is so very different from the science books I’ve been reading, and yet, I felt like I was learning a great deal about trees and plants while I was learning about Hope Jahren’s life, her struggles with mental illness, and the bonds of love and friendship which keep her centered. It’s a wonderful book that made me look up at the tree in front of our house this morning, and say “thank you,” to it.
- Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives by Mark Miodownik – Interesting book about the liquids which are such integral parts of our lives. Miodownik frames his material as ruminations on the types of liquids he encounters in the course of a plane trip from the UK to San Francisco. And so much of what he says was news to me. I learned a great deal even if the framing device occasionally felt strained.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – An odd book that reminded me strongly of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Because I was expecting this to be more traditional SF/F I found it slow going at first, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. And in the end, the fantastic elements proved to be more metaphors for the changes we experience in our lives, and for how often they throw us into situations that change us, make us more ourselves, perhaps. As the author says, “We are all nomads through time.”
- Wild Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation by Sandor Ellix Katz – There appears to be some confusion about this book. The one I got from the library was essentially a booklet, and it made me wonder how on earth the publisher was asking $18+ for it on Amazon. Turns out that there is also a book proper of 300+ pages, which neither of my libraries have. So this review is for the booklet a stripped down guide to the basics of fermenting. And because it’s Katz, you can take his instructions to the bank.
Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman – Ruhlman is one of my favorite food writers, and the more I read of this book the more certain I am that every single one of us who buy our groceries (which is just about everyone I know) should… no let me rephrase that, must read it. It’s eye-opening, and not just in an OHGODOHGOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! way that so many books about the American way of eating are. Yes there’s reason for concern and he addresses some of them. But mostly what this book is is a history of grocery stores, an examination of the part they play in American life, and a look into the future of how we’ll shop for our food. I never appreciated how low the margins are on grocery profits. It’s a business that’s nearly as iffy as the restaurant business. And given that we’re buying more and more prepared foods from our grocery stores, they are on their way to becoming de facto carry out restaurants.It’s a fascinating book, and fantastically well written. I really recommend it.
- Top Secret Twenty-one (Stephanie Plum, #21) by Janet Evanovich — I actually read this at the end of August but somehow it got overlooked when I was checking my list. More Stephanie Plum, which always delights me. This one is as goofy as all the rest. If you love this series the way I do, you won’t be disappointed.
- The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan – Another one of the eating-in-America books I’ve been devouring lately (see what I did there?) and particularly eye-opening in terms of labor issues. Shocked as I was by farm owners complaining about being forced to provide water and shade for workers, the cultures of Walmart and Applebee’s were surprising and disturbing in different ways. If you want to know what goes into your food chain, you really ought to read this book.
- Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic by Nick Carr – Charming short from Audible. I’m so glad I got over my “oh it’s just a kid’s book” ‘tude and chose it as one of this month’s freebies. Now I want to read more Nick Carr.
- Calvin Trillin, Piece by Piece by Calvin Trillin – Trillin reads Trillin with a flat, deadpan delivery that becomes funnier with each piece. Some of this is laugh-out-loud stuff. If you know his work, you’ll get what I’m talking about. If you don’t… you should.
- A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #2) by Louise Penny – Yup, I’ve started a new mystery series, and I’m loving it. Not only do I adore Inspector Gamache, but I kind of want to live in Three Pines and work in the bookstore. Penny has a few problems as a writer, but I found it easy to get past them because her characters, setting, and plots are so good.
- Sword and Pen (The Great Library #5) by Rachel Caine – The final book (maybe) in the Great Library series, and it wraps up very satisfactorily, maintaining my interest in the characters and how they were going to solve all the problems being thrown at them so relentlessly.
- Going Bovine by Libba Bray – Totally out of left field. I don’t even remember why I wanted to read this, but it came up in my library queue and I started listening, not knowing what to expect. Wow, what a weird book, and what a wonderful one. It’s the journey of Cameron Smith who is a piece of stoner driftwood when we first encounter him. But he contracts Mad Cow disease (hence the title) and everything in his life changes dramatically. I am SO glad I read this.
- The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester – Wryly funny history of the making of the OED. You wouldn’t think a history of a dictionary would be laugh-out-loud, would you? But Winchester manages to make it both funny and moving as well as informative and interesting. Better, IMO, than his history of Krakatoa, which was excellent.
- The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #3) by Louise Penny – More Gamache. This time a woman is murdered at a seance, and there are plenty of people who have motive and opportunity. Gamache sorts them all out, while the rest of the citizens of Three Pines go about their business, feeding each other and rescuing baby ducks. I love this series.
- A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #4) by Louise Penny – While celebrating their wedding anniversary, CI Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie get involved in a bizarre murder in a family of even more bizarre people. One thing I’m starting to pick up on as I read this series is that Penny weaves her overarching theme throughout the story, so that if you’re paying attention you should begin to see how the information fits together. But if you don’t, don’t worry. These books are still wildly interesting and fun.
- In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe – An interesting overview of the art scene in Montmartre in the post Belle Epoque era. While Matisse is prominent as the title suggests, the book really seems to revolve around Picasso. But it’s the supporting cast, people like Braque, Laurencin, Vlaminck, etc. who give real life to the narrative.
- KOREAN KIMCHI: Perfect Korean Kimchi Made Easy by Julia Truffle – Only a handful of recipes. Not worth it, IMO.
- The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #5) by Louise Penny, and
- Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6) by Louise Penny – I paired these two because the story arc begun in The Brutal Telling runs through Bury Your Dead. In the first, a man is murdered in Three Pines (this place is the Cabot’s Cove of Quebec!) and one of the most beloved citizens of Three Pines is suspected of the killing. In the second, not only does Penny deal with the repercussions of the events of the previous book, but she presents the reader with a new mystery that revolves around the final resting place of Samuel de Champlain. I love Penney’s mysteries. Not only are her plots complex and satisfying (often I can’t begin to tell who dunnit) but her characters are weirdly appealing.
- Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo Naledi and the Discovery That Changed Our Human Story by Lee Berger, John Hawks, Harrison Ford Douglas Chadwick
- The Hangman(Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6.5) by Louise Penny – Penney’s strong suit is long format fiction. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Hangman, but it seemed so… quick. I wanted more.
- L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz – The Housemate loves David Lebovitz, he’s her Baking Boyfriend. And after listening to this audiobook, I can see why. Not only does he cook and bake amazing stuff, but he’s funny in a dry, self-deprecating way that I find irresistible. This is the story of how he bought and remodeled his Paris apartment. With recipes, because of course there would be recipes.
- The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes – As interesting as I find this subject, the book suffers from a couple of problems. First, and probably the thing that makes me most impatient, is how highly technical much of the writing is. Sykes is a scientist after all, and expects his readers to follow many of the technical details of things like mitochondria and recombination. So for me it was like reading through an interesting narrative and suddenly it switches to wordswordswords just long enough to drop me right out of that narrative. It leaves me feeling as if I’m not really getting the important parts of his discussion. The second is that it’s already quite dated. In the section where he discusses Neanderthal DNA, he writes about how they have disappeared entirely, with no trace of their DNA anywhere in the world. Of course I know this isn’t the case, so I checked the publication date and realized that the book was published well before Svante Pääbo’s groundbreaking work in extracting and analyzing Neanderthal DNA. Still, as a history of progress made, it’s well worth a read, even if sometimes all you get are wordswordswords.
- Tricky Twenty-Two (Stephanie Plum #22) by Janet Evanovich – I don’t honestly know if it was a Gamache hangover, or if I’m just getting a bit tired of Evanovich’s formula (Reading Dangerous Minds and finding so many parallels to the Plum books didn’t help.) In any event I had a hard time getting into this volume, but I shook all that off, pushed ahead, and found that it became as engaging as the others. Her characters are her strength, and her willingness to put them into insane scenarios is one of the big pleasures of this series. In the end I enjoyed it, and that made me feel a lot better.
- A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #7) by Louise Penny – Fallout from events in previous books makes the investigation of (another) murder in Three Pines emotionally fraught for both the investigators and the suspects. People are falling to pieces as we read, and it’s unnerving. Wonderful book.
- Summer Frost (Forward Collection) by Blake Crouch – An Amazon original, available in both ebook and audiobook form, and the story that confirmed my love for Blake Crouch’s writing. I read all of Dark Matter in one sitting, and I did the same with this. (In fairness it’s only 75 pages.) Another what-happens-when-AI-becomes-self-aware story, and I got a real kick out of it.
- Emergency Skin (Forward Collection) by N.K. Jemisin – You think you know what’s going to happen, and you don’t. You really don’t. The use of a particular cell line is a brilliant stroke, giving unexpected depth and importance to the story, and tells you everything you need to know about the people who mounted the mission to save what they believe to be the last of humanity. Jemisin never disappoints.
- Randomize (Forward collection) by Andy Weir – Andy Weir has a grand sense of mischief, something which made The Martian so readable. Randomize, about video gambling of all things, is the shortest piece in this collection but so clever that you’ll ache for more.
- The Last Conversation (Forward collection) by Paul Tremblay – Creep inducing, to be at the mercy of someone else’s obsession, someone who holds godlike power over your life.
- Ark (Forward collection) by Veronica Roth – She broke my damn heart. I’m not even kidding. I listened to this story about the end of the world, and I wept.
- You Have Arrived at Your Destination (Forward collection) by Amor Towles – I love Amor Towles and while I can’t think of him as a writer of SF/Fantasy, this short story rests comfortably in the SF/F framework constructed by the curator of this series. It’s a surprising tale of an ordinary man who stumbles (drunkenly) on a frightening truth, and dammit, he does something about it. Its light-hearted approach masks a lot of serious questions.
- Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch – Because there are still a waiting list of several centuries for Recursion, I decided to try Crouch’s early series since it was available through Kindle unlimited. And it didn’t take long for him to freak the hell out of me. This is my kind of horror, about the truly icky ways human beings can behave. Monsters? Nah, I grew up on monster movies, and I love them. Frankenstein and Dracula were childhood pals. Crazed cannibalistic slashers? Nah, I find them silly and often distasteful. But ordinary humans being inhuman to each other scares the living crap out of me. I listened to this with my toes clenched.
- The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8) by Louise Penny – This is a departure from all the previous books in the series because it doesn’t happen in Three Pines. (What? You mean murders in Quebec happen somewhere other than Three Pines? Inconceivable!) The setting is a monastery in a remote part of the province, and the victim is its prior. It’s a claustrophobic book, and a disturbing one, not because of the murder but because of all the emotional upheaval going on in the lives of the main characters. I liked it, but I missed the usual gang of weirdos.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher – OMG, I am NEVER reading this again. It’s like watching someone slicing themselves open in front of an audience. I adore Carrie, but this book made me curl up and moan because she just tells us too much about what goes on inside her head. Her diary entries are painful to endure.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – This should be required reading for every American. It should be taught in schools. It’s a reminder of how close we always are to the rule of tyrants and dictators. It’s short, took me about half an hour to read, but it’s one I’ll reread, and make notes in, and refer to for the rest of my life.
Wayward (Wayward Pines, #2) by Blake Crouch – I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s a bit of a sophomore slump in #2, but it’s not as crazy tense as the first. Rather it builds tension slowly with Ethan being pulled in many different directions. Good, but not quite at the level of the first one, and not nearly as good as Dark Matter.
The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway, #1) by Elly Griffiths – Oh god, I think The Housemate has hooked me on another mystery series. I had to force myself to stop reading this morning about 3:30 and resented it. Yeah it’s that good. Ruth is a 30-something forensic archaeologist who carries around a lot of baggage about the past, her reclusiveness, her future, her weight, and her parents, but at the same time she is a smart and feisty woman who changes her life for nobody. Okay, well maybe her cats, but no human being. She’s called in to consult on the discovery of a body in the salt marshes of southern England where she lives. It’s an Iron Age find, but it leads her into a murder investigation. Someone is kidnapping and killing little girls. Two things I’ll tell you upfront, first for those who are bothered by such things (like me) there’s an animal death in the first half of the book. It’s not gratuitous, IMO, but you may not want to deal with it. Second, I had a gut feeling right from the start about who the murderer was, but far from spoiling the book, it made the reading that much more tense and harrowing. I’m definitely wanting more of this writer.
- The Janus Stone (Ruth Galloway, #2) by Elly Griffiths – The second of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, and just as good as the first. The Housemate and I have discussed this series in a general way (as we do with everything we’re reading) and we tend to agree that one of the most appealing things about this series is that the relationships are all very adult. I don’t mean that in an R-rated way, but rather there’s not a lot of emotional drama and silliness. But much as I like this approach, I have to say that I also find myself stressing about one relationship in particular. It’s ridiculous, the people involved aren’t stressing, but I am. This one is another child murder, and it’s a nasty one. Griffiths is good at misdirection, but she’s also good at tossing us clues. Really well-written series.
The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway, #3) by Elly Griffiths – Oh dear, Ruth is not dealing well with single motherhood. But the ensemble cast is taking good shape, and the characters are becoming richer and more appealing. The murderer was a complete shock to me, never once saw it coming, and yet the information was all there for us. As I said before, Griffiths is a dab hand at diverting the reader’s attention. Yes, I want to read more.
The Last Town (Wayward Pines, #3) by Blake Crouch – Picks up immediately after the end of book 2, and deals with the fallout from Ethan’s big reveal. And it’s ugly. I had the sense that the epilogue might be signaling a 4th book in the series because it feels pasteded on, and I think it spoils what’s been a good narrative all along. There were things I thought felt a bit pat, but on the whole it was a good finish to a good series.
How the Light Gets In Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #9) by Louise Penny – “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” —Leonard Cohen — While on the surface, this is a mystery about the murder of a woman whose life was essentially stolen by her fame, the real story here is about the cracks.
The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10) by Louise Penny – Much as I enjoyed this book, and I did, I felt the ending was weak. I’m not quite sure why such an engaging story turned into a nothingburger of an ending, but it ultimately didn’t detract all that much from my pleasure in reading another Gamache. I love Three Pines, and I want to live there, so I’m not easily put off.
Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire – I read the next book in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, months ago, and while I liked it, I had no plans to read any further in the series. But now that I’ve read the first book, I get it (and in fact am rereading DAtSaB) I was absolutely enchanted by the weirdness in this, and loved the metaphor for differentness of all sorts, but here specifically in terms of orientation and gender identity, finding myself in Nancy, and Jack, and especially Kade. You don’t have to love the idea of their otherworlds — the Halls of the Dead, and The Moor don’t really appeal to me — but what you need to recall is that their otherworlds are their natural home; the children were chosen for a reason, and it’s on us to accept them for who they are.
The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray – I picked up The Diviners because I loved Bray’s Going Bovine. Alas, this one was not to my taste. It took me forever to get through it, I didn’t like the characters and actively disliked some of them, and found the plot less than engaging. I won’t be reading the other books in this series. Oh well…
Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire – This was a reread for me. After finishing #1, I wanted to tackle it again to see how knowing what comes next affected my reading of it. And I must say it did change my perceptions. I knew what was going to happen and why, and the story was all the sadder for that. And the abrupt ending was not really a problem, knowing what came next. These don’t really need to be read in any sort of order, but it’s kind of interesting to see how the characters and their stories developed for the author.
- Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3) by Seanan McGuire – We’re back at Eleanor West’s school at the beginning of this book, post events of book #1. A girl falls out of the sky and demands that the students of the school help her find her mother. If they don’t, she says, she can never be born. And of course they’re going to help. There are some familiar characters, and some new ones, the most central of whom is Cora, who immediately won my heart for being the smart, fat girl who is constantly worrying what other people are thinking about her body, anticipating slights and cruelties, and generally wishing she could simply disappear to her otherworld. But it’s her strength and intelligence, qualities which have nothing to do with her weight, that carry the others through this quest. As ever The Wayward Children series is about those of us who grew up “different” and who are looking for our own paths.
- Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (Ruth Galloway, #4.5) by Elly Griffiths – A short, standalone (more or less) Chistmas story about Ruth and her family of choice, and how they truly belong together even thought the fit is not perfect. Lovely story. No murder, just a life saved by a bit of pilfering.
- In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire — I confess that I wasn’t enthusiastic about reading this since Lundy wasn’t a character who appealed to me in book #1. But here I found I rather liked her. Hers is a far more cerebral journey than the others; Lundy has the brain of a lawyer and is good at loopholes, but in the end it’s her loopholes that prove her undoing. In this book it’s the plot that drives the story, not the characters, and it’s well worth reading even if it’s my least favorite of the four I’ve read so far. I’m looking forward to book #5 which is due out next year, I think.
- Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow – While I respect Farrow’s journalism and am firmly behind the #metoo movement, this wasn’t a book that had registered with me until I read that attempts were being made to suppress publication of the book by former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard which pissed me off enough to use one of my Audible credits on the Farrow-narrated audiobook. And the more I listen, the more pissed off I get. The book focuses on Harvey Weinstein, and Farrow’s attempts to bring to light the stories of his victims. Money and power kept Weinstein and other serial abusers safe for decades, and now they’re trying to get the book banned. But Catch and Kill goes well beyond the Weinstein case, with both national and international, social, political, and security implications. It’s very well written and with one exception, Farrow’s narration is excellent. I just wish he hadn’t done the accents. It’s distracting.
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – Oh Charles Dickens, I owe you an apology. You are not dull and silly, you are wise and clever, and a brilliant observer of humanity, and also damn funny.
- The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #11) by Louise Penny – This volume strays into thriller territory with the discovery of a weapon of mass destruction in Three Pines. Running parallel to this story are 1) the story of a serial murderer whose crimes were so horrific that the details were kept from the public, 2) the murder of a nine-year-old boy, and 3) the murder of a middle-aged woman who is staging a play written by the serial killer. How these plot lines fit together and involve other members of the Three Pines community is complex and, yes, thrilling. This one kept me up at night.
- A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise Penny – I’m closing in on the last available Gamache mysteries, and I suppose I should space them out, but I’m so caught up in this world that I find it impossible to stop reading. AGR picks up what may be the final threads of the Sûreté scandal that led to Armand’s retirement. He’s taken the post of head of the Sûreté academy with the intention of rooting out the last of the rot. There’s a bit of a McGuffin involved this time, and a sub-mystery about one of the cadets. In all, an immensely satisfying read.
- A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay – I don’t recall who recommended this to me but I’m glad I listened. It’s a compulsive read, and (I know I”m going to be in the minority here) a very sad one. It also made me angry because there’s so much I-know-what’s-good-for-you going on in it, and it infuriates me when children are bullied into participating in adult craziness, or their needs are ignored by the very people who should be most vigilant about seeing to them. All that said, it’s a good story with an Autumn sadness about it.
- The Tell Tale Heart and Other Creepy Classics – Audiobook includes: “The Tale-Tell Heart”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe; “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving; “The Hand”, “Was it a Dream?”, and “The Horla” by Guy de Maupassant; “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells; “Moon-Face” by Jack London; “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. The most disturbing of all was “Moon-Face” a story that made me want to crawl under my bed. The most fun was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story was an old favorite of mine from childhood when I got the watered-down version. But hearing it read reminded me of why I enjoy Hawthorne’s writing. The de Maupassant stories were generally forgettable, in my opinion. I just listened to these yesterday and I had to think for a while to recall what “The Horla” was about. “The Yellow Wallpaper” was one I read last year, I think it was, and it’s just as upsetting now as it was then. And then there’s Poe. I actually listened to a different recording of “The Tell-Tale Heart” before I started this collection, one narrated by Basil Rathbone, and it was, of course, beautifully realized which made it interesting. But for the most part I fear I’ve lost patience with dear old Poe, and I found myself snarling “Get ON with it, will you?” quite a lot. I used to love his work. It makes me sad that I’ve lost my feel for it.
- The Dunwich Horror – Another audiobook, a Librivox recording, and a darn good one. I’d never read this one before, and like all other Lovecraft, I find it only marginally disturbing (as well as marginally, and unintentionally, hilarious.) Lovecraft’s retrograde attitudes are on display here, but it’s not so in-your-face that it put me off finishing.
Glass Houses: (Chief Inspector Gamache 13) by – Technically I finished this before midnight on the 31st, but since I didn’t expect to, it didn’t end up on the October list. Much as I enjoy this series, and much as I liked this book, it seemed disjointed to me. Penny is usually good at multiple plot lines, and very good at running them up to the point where you’re dying to know more, and then switching to another line. However I found this done to excess in Glass Houses, and I don’t think it served the story well.
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels – I know I read part of this when I was first published back in the late ’70s, but I didn’t finish it. I did, however, rabbit off to investigate some of the cited texts, most notably The Thunder, Perfect Mind, which I have loved ever since. This time around I listened to the audiobook, and I did finish, so yay, go me. It proved to be a good overview of the Gnostic texts from the Nag Hammadi library, and an explanation of Gnostic beliefs, and how they differed from orthodox Christian beliefs. There’s a good deal of discussion of the politics of early Christianity, and oy, the gate-keeping! Gnostics threatened the domination of the Christian clergy over the people with their belief that personal experience of the divine was a more reliable route to salvation than faith. It’s a fascinating subject, and Pagels does it justice.
Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny – Picking up some months after the events of Glass Houses, we find Gamache still on suspension from the Sûreté . He, Myrna, and a young man they’ve never met are called upon to be executors for a will that is, at best, eccentric. The weaknesses that I found in GH aren’t problems here. It’s tight and gripping. And I adore Gamache’s godfather.
A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15) by Louise Penny – I’m finally caught up on the Gamache series. Along with the requisite criminal activity, this one deals with the result of global warming, the potentially destructive quality of social media, and domestic violence. It’s sad and tense, and provokes a great many questions.
Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow – One of the (many) reasons I love Rachel is that the Snark is strong with her. And it gets a lot of play in this book about the oil and gas industry, and the price our planet pays for petroleum products. It describes a diabolical web of corruption, greed, intrigue, and ineptitude with a host of bad actors and useful idiots, not just in the US, but in Russia as well. Impeccably researched, as you would expect, and wonderfully narrated by the author. It’s a must-read if you want to understand what’s going on in the world today.
How Chefs Holiday by Dana Cowin – Cowin, an editor at Food and Wine Magazine, talks to a handful of well-known chefs about their holiday traditions, both what they grew up with and what traditions they’ve begun as adults. The audiobook, an Audible exclusive, includes recipes from each of the chefs.
War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow – Over coffee the other day, The Housemate and I were discussing Rachel Maddow’s Blowout, which inevitably led to mentions of Ronan Farrow, reminding me that I hadn’t yet read WoP. I started listening immediately, and have been fascinated by the story of the destruction of our diplomatic corps. In fairness (yes it galls me to have to be fair to the Trump administration, but honesty compels) the process has been pretty much on-going since Sept. 11th. Even the Obama administration made significant diplomatic errors. But the Trump administration has essentially dealt the State Department a death blow with its firing of so many career diplomats. It will take years, even decades to recover if it ever does. Meanwhile, China is poised to take our place as the major diplomatic power in the world. I don’t think I need to belabor the stupidity of this policy, do I? But don’t take my word for it, read Farrow’s book. Really, you should read Ronan Farrow. He’s brilliant. I should add (pause for preening) that this is my 200th book of the year.
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery #1) by Elly Griffiths – While not as appealing as Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries, TZZG is an interesting introduction to another series of mysteries set in post-WWII England. The sleuthing team is a detective and a magician who served together in the war, and the murders are highly theatrical and rather gruesome. Not sure I’ll read further in the series, but that could change.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – While it is on the surface, an examination of the institution of slavery in the antebellum south, TWD is much more a coming of age story. Hiram’s life from his earliest memories to the point where he makes an informed commitment to use his gifts for the good of others shows us not just the deeper meanings of both slavery and freedom, but the true scope of what family is. It’s a gorgeous novel, beautifully narrated by Joe Morton. I think it’s one of the best books I read all month.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz – I have an odd relationship with this book. As I read I love it, but if I’m about to sit down and start reading, I think, “How much longer is this thing going to go on?” I suspect this is at least in part because it’s a harsh story about a family that seems cursed by their life in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Trujilo, and by the violence and bad fortune that overtake subsequent generations in the States.
A Room Full of Bones: A Ruth Galloway Mystery (Ruth Galloway series Book 4) by
A Dying Fall (Ruth Galloway #5) by Elly Griffiths – I find the Ruth Galloway books remarkably easy to read and to like. Griffiths has done what I love best in a series, she’s created a cast of characters who not only work together in various ways, but whose affections add to the sense of community. In this volume, the purported discovery of the bones of King Arthur, and the realization that Arthur may still have important secrets to be learned, is the central plot, but the increasingly complex and often difficult relationships are really at the core.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, narrated by Rosamund Pike – Audible was offering a free trial of their romance audiobook club, so I thought what the heck? I’ll pick up some classics to reread, or just read for the first time. Of P&P, I can say little that has not already been said. It remains a favorite, one I’ve read a number of times. An appealing though imperfect heroine, a hero who is much improved by being firmly put in his place. a couple of long-suffering lovers, and a few characters who need to get soundly bitch-slapped, makes it a satisfying story all around. S&S, on the other hand, was one I’d never read, though I was familiar with the story, or at least the stripped-down version presented in the film. (Which, btw, was quite well done and true to the spirit of the book.) Talk about someone who needs to be bitch-slapped! Marianne is even more insufferable in the book than she is in the film, and that’s saying something. I still believe that Eleanor marries the wrong man, but it’s a lovely, slyly funny tale of love and manners in Regency England. Pike’s narration is faultless, in my opinion.
A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell – If you’re looking for a direct Holmes-Watson analog, you’re not going to find it here. Rather you’ve got a gender-bent situation in which two women of color take the roles of Watson (doctor, lost an arm in the Second Civil War, can’t go back to being a surgeon unless she can get a replacement prosthetic) and Holmes (covert agent, wealthy background, seemingly courting Watson almost from the start) in a tale about dying veterans, Big Pharma, and debts of honor. Alas, I found the narrative cold and the characters unappealing. Doubt I’ll bother with the second book in the series, but you never know.
The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson – Predictable plot, highly irritating and unlikable characters (particularly the protagonist), and a romance you can see coming a mile away, but which remains sadly uninvolving makes this a no-go for me. The only reason I bothered to finish the nearly 400 pages is because I needed to know if Meyerson could come up with any rationale about why the characters behaved in ways that made them look stupid, selfish, and shallow. With one small exception, she didn’t manage even that much.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2) by Ray Bradbury – It’s been years, decades, since I read any Bradbury, and I’d forgotten the sheer beauty of his writing, so complex in its simplicity, so evocative, such acrobatic prose, rolling off the tongue and tumbling through the mind. On its own the story would be haunting, but it’s the writing that makes it so very special. A wonderful way to end the month.
The Outcast Dead (Ruth Galloway series Book 6) by Elly Griffiths — More Ruth Galloway, and an immensely satisfying one. It’s another child abduction/murder story, and considering the number of young children in Ruth’s circle, that ups the tension dramatically. And then there’s the Awkward Family Situations that Griffiths seems to enjoy writing. But Ruth’s career seems to be taking off in unexpected directions with a book being published, and a possible television career on the horizon (Will she ever get over feeling like Elephant Woman when she sees herself on screen, though?) People are messy, and Griffiths is good at messy situations, messy emotions, messy events. Audiobook Hardcover Paperback
The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel by Alexander McCall Smith — This is my first encounter with McCall Smith, and I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a bizarrely funny send-up of Scandinavian crime novels in which the internal lives of the police take the center stage with strange crimes happening around them. The dialogue is often hilariously digressive, veering into subjects like fishing, and imaginary friends. I honestly can’t figure out if Ulf Varg (Wolf Wolf in translation) is a brilliant cop or a complete idiot. His cases seem to solve themselves, and the one he apparently solves felt like a solution he pulled out of thin air. Still, it was good enough to keep me reading the series, and that’s something. Kindle Book Hardcover Paperback
The Starless Sea: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern – Yes, I finally finished it, right at the end of the month. And I was sorely tempted to go back to page one and start all over again. Like The Ten Thousand Doors of January, this is a gorgeous, book that embraces the magic of words, and of reading and writing. It gives shape to the idea that no two people ever read the same book, but even more than that, no two people will ever write the same story even if they have all the pertinent information about it. Stories become doorways, and your choice of door will take you on a journey only you can make no matter how many people open that same door. I love this book with the fury of ten thousand suns, and I will keep it close because I may need to read it again at any moment. Audiobook Hardcover Paperback
Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti Book 1) by Donna Leon – This one sucked me right in almost immediately. It was a fast read, and I enjoyed it right up to the end when I found myself thinking that it was one of the most contrived solutions to a mystery I’d ever encountered. That was disappointing. However, I liked it well enough to try a second book in hope that Leon will give me something more believable next time. Hardcover Paperback
Moonheart Audible Audiobook – Unabridged Charles de Lint (Author), Paul Michael Garcia (Narrator), Blackstone Audio, Inc. (Publisher) – Many years ago I was browsing at Kroch’s and saw this book. It spoke to me and I answered, devouring it, forcing it on my friends, and turning them into evangelists for de Lint’s work. I haven’t revisited it in a long time, but I find that when I’m low, Charles de Lint’s work will soothe me and lift me up. So I found an audiobook version and began to listen with high hopes. Unfortunately the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t like the narrator. He’s okay, fairly pedestrian to be honest. My biggest quibble with him is that his pronunciation is not what I expect. His rendering of Arianrhod made me cringe.
But the other thing is that I’d forgotten that in this early work, de Lint’s writing is clunky and often unsophisticated. He’s grown so much as a writer in the subsequent years that it came as a shock to me how much both narrative and characterization bothered me this time around. But as The Housemate likes to remind me, I’ve often said that Tolkien was a similarly clunky writer but boy could he tell a story. And that’s true of de Lint as well; the man can tell a helluva story! Moonheart is filled with the magic I remember, magic that tingles in me as I read reminding me of why this book captured my imagination so strongly. Don’t let the awkwardness put you off, just let the story wash over you, let the magic run through you. You’ll be a happier person.Moonheart, the Kindle edition which I recommend over the audiobook. It’s illustrated by Charles Vess. Hardcover (new and used only) Paperback
The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway series Book 7) by Elly Griffiths – Once again, in this novel about the discovery of a WWII airman’s body in a place he should never have been, with clear signs that he was murdered and had been buried somewhere else since the war years, is a nice mix of the mystery of who moved the body and how the man died, and all the increasingly sticky personal relationships between the recurring characters. Ruth and Nelson can’t quite let go of what’s between them while a relative newcomer to the police force is making the situation far more difficult. Always a good read for a mystery lover. Paperback
Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint – I have found that whenever I am truly down, I can turn to the work of Charles de Lint, and find a place that feels homelike. It’s not always a cozy, comfy place; sometimes it’s downright scary. But in spite of a healthy creep factor, his work lifts me up and makes me feel better. I will also note here that the writing has matured dramatically since Moonheart, and the wildness and lyricism of these stories sometimes makes me catch my breath with delight. Kindle Book Hardcover (new and used only) Paperback
Recursion: A Novel, by Blake Crouch – Blake Crouch broke my brain. I”m not even kidding. Recursion is a wild ride through time and the unintended consequences of resetting timelines. I love this man’s writing, and it does seem to get better and better as he goes along. If you liked Dark Matter, I think you’ll love Recursion. Kindle Book Hardcover Paperback
The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway Series Book 8) Kindle Edition
by Elly Griffiths — Yes, I’m hooked on the Ruth Galloway books, and a big part of the draw for me is the community of characters that has formed around Ruth. During a discussion of books the other day, I remarked that one of the things which makes a mystery a cozy for me, is that community building. That doesn’t mean things don’t get messy, they can and often do. But I always have the sense that friendship and affection will win the day. The murders of two beautiful women, and an attack on Nelson’s wife drive this mystery, and many things get exposed. Hardcover Paperback
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway Mysteries Book 9) Kindle Edition by Elly Griffiths — I found Ruth #9 particularly fascinating because of the theme of underground cities. People are going missing or being murdered, and it has something to do with the network of chalk tunnels under Norfolk. Huge sinkholes open up, seemingly at random, and there are rumors of a whole population of underground dwellers. And as always, Ruth is in the middle of it. Audiobook Hardcover Paperback
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries Book 10) Kindle Edition by Elly Griffiths – Notable more for the sheer messiness of the personal relationships than for the murder. Still worth reading but not the best in the series.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January Kindle Edition – by Alix E. Harrow – This book is one of the reasons why I didn’t finish The Starless Sea in a more timely manner. Like that book, it’s a gorgeous narrative about the power of stories, and words, and how they open doors to other worlds. I had the sense, at the end, that this would be the first of a series. I hope I’m right, but if I’m not, it’s still an immensely satisfying ending. Audiobook Hardcover Paperback
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power Audible Audiobook – Unabridged Rachel Maddow (Author, Narrator) – Rachel never disappoints. This is a smart, piercing look at our country’s uneasy relationship with our military and with war in general. Rachel delves into the use of civilian soldiers – The National Guard and The Reserves – during wartime, a move intended to involve the entire country in the decision, making it harder for politicians to go to war for frivolous reasons. But politicians, not wanting to bump up against that potential roadblock, took a page from those who chose to privatize non combat jobs in the military, and began to employ civilian contractors in combat positions. Of course they did.
She also paints a damning portrait of the presidents who have supported these end-runs around the law. The most damning of all is the picture she paints of Reagan, a man who can arguably be thought of as Trump Lite for his arrogance and sheer intellectual laziness. But no one from Reagan on escapes her gaze, nor should they. War has become endless and profitable. The American people, most of whom are entirely insulated from its effects, no longer seem to care where our troops are or why. If you want to understand how we went so very wrong, and how we might make this right, Drift is a must-read. Kindle edition Hardcover Paperback