xenith: (Bookshelf)
[personal profile] xenith
Fiction

I didn't read much fiction this year, that I can find a record of. Next year I need to go back to recording things as I read them so I can remember what I read. Stars are out of five.

The Soldier's Curse, by Meg & Tom Keneally. Stars: ***

This is a historical mystery, set in Port Macquarie (NSW penal settlement) in the 1820s. Now if you like historical novels with a mystery plot included, and you don't mind the usual tropes being wheeled out, this is a easy to read, entertaining book. If you're looking for an interesting mystery book, it's somewhat ruined by this big arrow pointing out the guilty party from fairly early on. I kept reading in case I was wrong but nope. And once we're informed of who the guilty party is it goes on and on. (Incidentally, if you're into mystery/crime novels from that era, I have one you can read :)

A Darker Shade of Magic & A Gathering of Shadows & the third one, by Victoria Schwab. Stars ****, *****, **

A fantasy trilogy. I borrowed all three from the library but the notifications for the third one have disappeared from my email. That's about how I feel about the third book. I like the first one, loved the second and... found the third one incredibly disappointing. It feels rushed. There are bits in there it doesn't need. But worse, all the stuff that makes the second one so delicious is just not there. A line here or there. Unfortunately, book 2 ends on a cliff-hanger so I can't say if you haven't read them, just read the first two. I live in hope one day she'll edit the third one to bring it up to the standard of the other two. Also, I am keeping an eye out for cheap copies of the first two so I can take them apart (the words not the pages) and look at how they work.

A Murder Unmentioned, Give the Devil His Due & A Dangerous Language, by Sulari Gentill. Stars: ****, ****, ***

This is not a trilogy, but a longer series. Book 6 (A Murder Unmentioned) was in my show bag at the HNSA conference so I read it on the way home. Why would I start with book 6? Because I can. There are references to past events and to some extent it feels like a "here we are with this familiar characters" story but it was easy to just step into the series midway because the stories are self-contained. This is partly (mostly?) because there's no obvious character development/overreaching arcs. There's very little emotional engagement. There's not a lot of depth to them at all, and that includes the plots such as they are. Yet as you can see, I read book 6, and then book 7, and then the latest one (and I note this, because #8 was only released a few weeks ago. It's not often you get a new, never read by anyone else book from the library). That's because what these books do, they do very well. You're following a bunch of friends around on their adventures. Not unlike an episodic TV show, where you sit down each time with some idea of what you'll get and it delivers. So if that's what you like and you're in Australia (they're a bit harder to get overseas), grab a few and read them. Oh, and I should add they're crime novels set in Sydney in the 1930s.

Non-fiction.

I read Fashioned from Penury: dress as cultural practice in colonial Australia, but I didn't get it finished before the library wanted it back, and I'd read enough to get the gist of what the author was saying. I need more books like that. (How these things differed here to usual/standard stuff. You know what I mean.)

Acquired.

Some books are missing because I can't find them, can't remember what they are, or they're elsewhere so I couldn't take a photo. Also some of these I seem to remember writing about previously, but I can't find where.


I stopped in at Petrarch's during the Crazy Day sale and they had boxes of books 3 for $10? $2 for $8? Something like that. I can't remember what the others were, but that one is lovely big photos of interiors of 19th century Egyptian palaces. Good for inspiration.

The other book is from the other end of the book-buying spectrum. Not easy to find, not at all cheap. It also has big photos, the Sydney police museum exhibition of the same name. Some fascinating early 20th century "crime scene" photos, of a time/place you don't usually see photos from. The photos are available online if you take some time to browse, but large, printed photos are much better.



As I've said before, there's very little written about the history of policing in Australia that isn't about administration etc. So I've read some English-equivalents and then adapted them. The Ascent of the Detective was useful in that regard. A lot about the background of suitable candidates (they tended to be working class but educated (so self-educated often)) and problems they faced and other stuff that would have been applicable to their colonial cousins.

The Secret People of the Palace I picked up for half-price when the secondhand bookshop closed. Useful for building a palace community for fantasy novel.

I got two or three books about Victorian interiors/households, but the others are elsewhere. They might be self-explanatory :)
Ditto with the Hobart book (which is a very nice hardback with dust jacket, not obvious from the photo)

I ended up buying three volumes of London Labour & the London Poor. For some reason I decided I didn't need #4. But #2 doesn't match with #1 and #3. It's taller with an olive spine, & the other two have a bright orange spine, but I can't justify buying a new copy of #2 (and now Wordery don't have it anyway, also why do they have #1 & #3 for $34 and #4 for $16? Are they telling me I need #4?)

Forgotten Voices of Burma turned up in this....


but I can't remember what the second wrapped book was. The Heart of the Sea maybe?



These two represent the books from the Friends of the Library Book Sale. I bought others, I had two bags, but I can't remember what they others are.



One of these was free, one I never got around to reading, one I was reading but left it in a bad place and now it's distorted :( and one is a useful book for finding locations of hotels and things.



Also, acquired these two but they've been mentioned elsewhere.

So that is 2017 in books.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead is the children's book for the Great Genre Challenge. Minor spoilers, sort of, but not really.

A few pages in, I thought I'd read this story before. Different names, different setting, different details, but the same story. Having finished it, I know I've read the story before. Kid's life is disrupted by Major Event and he has to deal with this along all the usual kid stuff like school, bullies, making/losing friends, but in the end everything ends happily, with bonus Cool Parents.

So I wonder, if this the sort of story adult writers think kids want to read (or should be reading?) because they can Relate To It. Or it's safe and reassuring and confirms the status quo?


Adds a note: I was not impressed by the large extract from another book at the end. Fortunately, I'd looked forward to see how much longer I had to read and realised the chapter headings at the end were a different font so most of the last bit was a different story. If publishers have to do this, can they at least mark the edges of the pages as being different?
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I finally finished Fated. Mostly I found I didn't care. I didn't care about the MC or his friends, or if he was killed/made to work for either/both bad guys, or if he won or lost, or his explanations or direct comments to the reader. It was quite readable, and if I'd picked it up years ago I might have actually enjoyed it.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Cocaine Blues, by Kerry Greenwood.

Once the story actually starts it improves, and I guess if you read it fast enough, you don't notice the inconsistencies/continuity errors. If you want women with agency in your books, it shoved full of them, and it's amusing in places. But I don't care much for MCs who are perfect and wonderful and good at everything they do. Mark it as a "not for me" book.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood, the first in her Phryne Fisher series. For this I blame Lena.

It's short.

cb
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt

This is an odd little book. Actually, it's a standard sized paperback, but it was the smallest book on that shelf at the library, squeezed in between hardcovers and trade paperbacks so I had trouble finding it.

The story is simple: the two brothers, Charlie & Eli Sisters, are heading to California to kill a man for their boss. It has all the elements you'd expect to find in a Western (not that I've read any, only watched them) with small towns & saloons & lots of people getting shot. What it also has is a weird humour running through it and a POV character, the younger brother Eli, who is a little too sensitive for the role he's been give in in life. He wants to be loved, worries about his weight, is endlessly fascinated by his newly acquired toothbrush and minty tooth powder (which also comes in other flavours, but he doesn't care for them) and is too attached to his useless, one-eyed horse. I saw it described somewhere as an antiWestern and that seems appropriate. Genre-bending.

It is very funny in places (I actually laughed, this is rare with books) although there are other places where you think it's trying to be funny but it's not, or it just doesn't work, but this happen with comedy. It's also a little sad in places. It's also a quick read, which I didn't expect when I started it, as the font is small so it's got a lot of words for its size, and yet it took me less than two days to finish it. The voice is strong, and it gets into your head so you have to keep going back to read a couple more pages.

An odd little book, but a good read.

tsb
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Finished Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin, being book #4. I have decided the problem with the books is the endings don't wrap things up enough so you're left feeling unsatisfied. So you need to read the next one. This might be all right for weekly or even monthly serials, not for novels.

Anyway, not reading the next one until September.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Finished the The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin, which I wasn't going to read until I finished the urban fantasy but I looked at the first page to see if I was any good and...

Structurally it's better than the previous two and the descriptions etc are easier to follow, which overall makes it a better read. But MC is now with the police instead of working on the trains and along the way it's lost some of its quirkiness. Some. Possibly enough left still. Will have to read the next one to see.


(Library has one copy of this book, #3, in circulation, and three copies of #4 plus five large print copies of #4. Was there a special offer on #4 or something?)

(Also, this was my bookmark.
Union station
}
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Currently reading Fated, by Benedict Jacka. Don't know whether I'll finish it though. It's first person of the sort I don't like (the generic sort of voice) and is slow to get going (all the back story needs to put in somewhere, you know). But I'll give it to the 1/3 point.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
"The Blackpool Highflyer", by Andrew Martin, being the second of the Jim Stringer books. It's better written than the first (or maybe I've just become used to his style, but there were little things like small reminders of who someone is when they reappear later in the book which were lacking in the first one, and less thick jargon). Again, not much happens and the "mystery" part of the storyline is sort of floating along not always in the foreground. Curious to see how a book can be interesting and a quick read when there's not much action. Voice is important, and the atmosphere and setting. The little things matter :)


But the third one, the GR people would have me believe, isn't as good as the previous two.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
On one hand:

*the descriptions of the area & buildings are heavy on visual but they're hard to see
*everything else is heavy on jargon & railway terminology to the point of being incomprehensible
*most of the characters are shallow so it is hard to tell them apart or care about them
*the mystery isn't very compelling, because it is hard to know what is actually going on or care about anyone involved, and the MC doesn't have much of a reason for solving, indeed he'd probably be better off not getting involved, other than it's there
*the structure is weak e.g. when the story should be moving towards the climax, there is instead a chapter where the MC wanders about doing Christmas Evey things that don't affect the plot
*the trouble the MC gets into a result of solving the mystery is resolved by luck, twice
*overall it's a confusing story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast


On the other hand:

*all the dense jargon & heavy description along with the smells & sounds gives the feeling that this world is real and that the writer knows what he is writing about, the world depicted might or might not be historically accurate, but it exists and isn't just a fabrication patched together from various scraps the writer has come across.

This is an Important Thing so it outweighs the negatives, especially as the book was short and wanted to be read. With so many books these days it feels like an effort to pick them up. Also, those characters who are better developed (i.e. Hunt & the landlady) were interesting, enough that I hoped I was right about Hunt (I was) and enjoyed the (later bits) of the romantic sub-plot. So it seems worth picking up the second book to see if it's better written.

(And I do wonder if the author really wanted to write about trains in Edwardian London and added on the mystery bit to create a storyline for the setting.)
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I am reading The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin now that the library has finally decided I can have it. I put it on hold and it was "In Transit" for weeks (stuck on a train?). So I cancelled that hold and redid, and the next day both copies were "In Transit". Then I went in the day after that to pick up something else and the book was waiting for me.

So I'm reading it. There are some signals it might not be a book that'll interest me but it's an easy read and I'm already up to page 31 after one bus trip. So I expect to finish it.

ETA Seems it one of those books that whispers "Read me. Just a page or two" when you are trying to do other things.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
So I finished Longbourn by Jo Baker. I probably would have liked it more if I cared about the main character. She felt generic. Possibly because her name was Sarah, which is my generic female name. (On such little things that the author has no control over can enjoyment of a novel hang.) I find it curious that while I find the long backstory for James unnecessary and wanted to get back to the main storyline, the writing felt more natural in that section.

(In the back there's a list of "Suggested questions to stimulate debate in your reading groups". (How many readings groups do most people have anyway?) I looked at these early in the reading, and found things like "Jo Baker is a graceful, poised writer, but she is also a visceral one. What other adjectives would you use to describe her writing?" I wouldn't use graceful and poised to start with. Maybe that's how she types? And visceral? (That always makes me think of lots of blood.) Also I would have associated with the writing (with or without blood). And sensual? Humour? Elegant irony? I must have missed these, unless these were the odd details thrown in that made me think the author was trying to hard to be provocative. Maybe it was trying to hard to do humour. Anyway, probably much better book if you don't look at the reading groups questions, they make the book seem pretentious.)

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