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I listen to a lot of audiobooks, read a lot of library books and e-books, still somehow never have enough room on my bookshelves.

"Aeneas is not in any of the pictures, and nothing the poet told me about the siege and fall of his city, or his wanderings before he came to Latium, is recognisable on the shield. “Are these scenes of Troy?” I ask him, and he shakes his head.

“I do not know what they are,” he says. “They may be scenes of what is yet to come.”

“What is yet to come is mostly war, then,” I say, looking among them for some that aren’t battles, for an unhelmeted face. I see a mass rape, women screaming and fighting as they are dragged off by warriors. I see great, beautiful ships with banks of oars, but the ships are all at war, some are burning. Fire and smoke rise up over the water."
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Page 22.

DNF at 30% mark.

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

I think I should have just read a biography of either or both of these women, because they led extremely interesting lives which the book managed to make fairly dull. I wanted way more about actually making movies, and less angsting about boys, and a lot of the writing felt overwrought and melodramatic. It kept skipping over actually making the movies and what that was like into other issues.


The author backed herself into this weird smarm corner of saying the main character was completely fine with gay people, and then immediately insisting that she didn't get lesbians at all because who doesn't like cock, amirite? By the way, the character really likes cock, and isn't gay at all. Look, I don't mind stories about two women having a friendship rather than a romance, but the notgaynotgaynotgay(but not homophobic!) dance got old a long time ago. I felt like I'd fallen into Xena gen fic from the '90s. At the same time, the author had the same characters not blinking at the racism in the industry in general and Birth of a Nation in particular. So I'm not sure why period-typical racism was okay, but period-typical homophobia was not?


I did like some of the discussion about being a woman in a male-dominated field, which mostly managed to stick to period language and not sounding like it was cut from modern day. But so much of it was telling not showing, as we very rarely see the dynamics on set, or the sets at all, just hear about them after the fact. I looked at some reviews to see if it picked up, but apparently the middle is even more draggy and about boys, so I bailed.

Reading progress update: I've read 120 out of 448 pages.

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

Long section about how much both characters love and admire D.W. Griffith's Klansmen, or Birth of a Nation, which is mostly about its technical breakthroughs, and it's true, but I just got a lot about how awesome frigging Birth of a Nation is without mentioning you know, the whole thing. Which I guess is fair, because I'm pretty sure my main characters wouldn't have cared that it was really, really immensely racist due to being white women in 1915. And yet, I'm still not over it being Birth of a Nation!


Also way too much worrying about guys. I want to hear about making movies!

"Out beyond that, on the dim sea I saw ships—a line of great, black ships, coming up from the south and wheeling and heading in to the river mouth. On each side of each ship a long rank of oars lifted and beat like the beat of wings in the twilight."
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Pg 6.

Absolutely tore through this.

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen

It's pretty rare for me to chew through non-fiction this fast, but I couldn't put this one down.


The storyline follows the lives of the author's grandmothers, both Jewish one from Moscow, one from Poland, from their birth through to the present day, with a focus on how they survived WWII and Stalinist Russia. The book illuminates their careers, their loves, their children. It shows better than anything else I've read what living in Russia int eh '40s and '50s felt like, and at its heart it's about choices.


At the very centre of the book, in terms of page count, are a set of potentially conflicting accounts of the actions of Gessen's great grandfather, who was an elder in a Nazi-run ghetto in Poland. The information is unclear, possibly contradictory. Was he a hero or a collaborator? What choices did he make? What choices did he have? How did he die? Each option is explored, conclusions are implied.


The ghetto story a microscale of the rest of the book, in which his daughter and the woman who will eventually be her best friend, the mother of the girl his grandson will marry, make those choices their whole lives. What is folding to the state, compromising your ethics, protecting your family, staying alive? Do you turn away a job for the secret police if that job will keep your baby from starving? If you do, what then? If you don't, what then?


I'm making this sound unrelentingly grim, and certainly bad things happen in it and the central characters suffer, but both of these women lived and even thrived in a hostile state, built careers and families, and have children and grandchildren who did the same. Maybe at it's heart it's also about growing potatoes on Mars: survival against all odds.


The writing itself is gorgeous and compelling. I hadn't run into Gessen before, aside from an essay that pointed me to this book, but I will be reading them again.

But totally not one of those lesbians!

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

I have this on audiobook, so not bothering with the exact quote, but MC is at a party in 1914, and there's some dudes making out in the shadows, and she goes out of her way to say she's 100% A-OK with that, and with ladies making out, don't mind those lesbians, not at all, but she personally really misses her ex husband in her bed.


In a book about close bonds between women in the film industry, in a period notorious for its permissiveness, this feels like it's laying on the no homo a little thick.

I feel like a book about mass poisonings, satanism and an inquisition should have been more exciting.

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker

Maybe it just lacked focus? Maybe it was taking on a topic that in the end was too broad and too murky?


The basic storyline follows the investigations of a police chief into an escalating and expanding series of poisonings, plots, satanism, and possible human sacrifice (the last never completely confirmed). I think the problem comes from how unconnected a lot of the suspects were, and how the implications to high politics were always vague at best.


Thus we end up spending chapters on one noble woman methodically assassinating the majority of her family, whose plot is only to prime the later panic, but doesn't really have much else to do with the book. We also spend chapters and chapters on everyone Louis XIV was sleeping with, which was a lot of people, man, only two of whom were actually relevant to the whole poisoning/satanism issue.


I'm all for setting up background, but it seemed to be a lot of background to actual investigation ratio going on in this book. Which might of been a good thing, because the investigation involved very little gumshoe shenanigans and a heck of a lot of torturing the fuck out of people. Which was graphically described. So.


The writing itself was fairly good; a lot of the slice of life period detail was interesting, and I always like Kate Reading's narration. I dunno, Vive la révolution, I guess.

"Like any place that has been lost, Bialystock was heaven on Earth. Or the centre of the universe."
Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen

page 13.

When do you post reviews?

If i have strong feelings, I tend to write a review almost immediately on finishing a book. If I'm ambivalent on a book, I wait a couple hours so I've had time to think about it. If I don't really have a strong opinion, I may wait until next time I'm on booklikes anyway and just do a short note.


I'm curious what everyone else does.

Fine, I guess.

Place to Belong - Claire Boston

This is the last book in a series, and while I was entirely able to follow what was happening, it involved going to all of the weddings of the previous three series couples, which is a lot of weddings. (On years where I've had a wedding every other weekend, my response is usually OMG! Stop getting married, people!) I'm not sure if being attached to the characters before hand would have made wedding hell a little easier or not.


So this was the author's first m/m romance (the rest of the series, and all her other books are f/m) and it kind of shows. It's ALL about coming out angst, and while none of the notes hit are offensive, it's like the weddings: too much. Sean is the saddest panda in the glen, and apparently has spent his entire life previous to now closeted in gibbering terror in small town Ireland, until he meets his blood family and his sister's PA, the smoking hot American gay man. The rest off the book is absolutely everyone giving Sean hugs and telling him it's going to be okay (spoiler alert: it is). Which is fine, if you're into a very high fluff to plot ratio, but made me a little tired of Sean by the end.


We get very little of what Hayden wants, aside from an Irish hottie who can enjoy PDA. He spends most of the book helping out with weddings and trying to lure Sean out of the closet with vaguely described sexual favours. There was a liiiiitle too much pressure to come out, especially to come out at work in rural Ireland, but I've read worse on that.


I was looking for a fluffy romance to counteract the very unfluffy litfic I was reading, and this was that. It was fine. I don't really plan to read other books by this author.

Had a picture of Perron in a grade-school textbook. She earned it.

Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer - Sandra Perron

This is the story of an army brat who lived and breathed the Canadian Armed Forces, wanted to be a paratrooper who whole life, and then spent a twelve-year army career watching the institution she loved break her heart. (Also, I recently thanked Mom for not letting me join the navy when I was sixteen.)


The author does a really good job of laying out both how she was feeling as events occurred, and a retrospective of how she saw it as an older/wiser/less indoctrinated woman. It's not bashing the army as a whole, but she's clearly very angry at the grinding discrimination and harassment she faced over her whole career, how everyone knew it was happening but didn't care, and the loss of what she wanted give her whole life towards. I liked how honest she was about her own failings at the time, and how she spoke up less than she might have when faced with terrible double standards. (If she just took the harassment, it was licence for more; if she spoke up, she was thin-skinned and a whiner.)


(I read this not long after reading the war memoirs of Dick Winters, the WWII paratrooper, and was struck by how much solace he found in camaraderie, especially with fellow officers. With few exceptions, that was not something Perron got to enjoy, and it made all the difference to her military experience.)


She also covers what military training was like, a lot about how the army is organised and her role with two UN peacekeeping tours in Bosnia in the early '90s, all of which I found interesting. Her writing is clear, often funny, and has a good eye for the people around her and the heart in army life. How much she loved the work, even when it was difficult and heartbreaking shone through everything.


I would like to think that if Perron joined the infantry today, she'd have a much different experience, and there certainly have been decorated female soldiers since then. There have also been multiple dire reports on systemic gender discrimination in the armed forces as recently as last year.  I believe the men in the army can do better. They just need to man up and deal.

It's a story beautifully told, but that doesn't make me less tired of it.

Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese, Tom Stechschulte

(I have to acknowledge that this is pretty well in the "not for me" category, but setting that aside, here we go!)


The writing is gorgeous. It's set in the BC interior in about the 1970s, and it has a fantastic sense of place and time. There are multiple layers of community and place and history, and Wagamese really draws that out. The land is evoked vividly, and sometimes brutally, and it feels like what I've known of those places on a bone-deep level.


The story is about, on a deeper level, how utterly the concept of manhood can be messed up by a lack of positive male role models. Here that story is specifically about how the colonial system worked to strip first nations boys from ever having a chance at knowing their families, let alone their ancestors and traditions, and how adrift that set generation after generation of men. That too is vividly and brutally told.


On the surface level, it's about a man who has messed up and poisoned everything he has ever touched. A hearty dose of alcohol poisoning has led him to the end of his life, and now he has one last chance to reconnect with his teenage son (who had the good fortune of being raised by someone mostly more sensible). The son agrees to go on the Road Trip of Death, to learn about his heritage, and to bury his father in what as far as they can tell is a traditional fashion (though possibly not their own cultural tradition).


Honestly, I think all of these characters would have been better off if the father had just written the kid a long letter with all the info he coughs up on the three or four days of dying in this poor kid's arms. I don't especially care for the idea that a child is morally required to give doomsday chances to their abusive parents. In my opinion, spending your life alternately neglecting your kid and taking him on terrifying drinking binges does not entitle you to emotionally blackmail said kid into comforting you on your deathbed, and I'm tired of stories that imply that. (This one was somewhat saved by the kid continuing to be angry throughout, but nevertheless!)


(There was also a secondary character who knew almost all of the really important bits of this info, but decided it was the father's place to pass it on, not his, to which I call massive amounts of bullshit.)


All of the female characters were either saintly, dead or saintly and dead, with the exception of that one prostitute (the other prostitute was saintly). They are universally cogs in the men's stories, not characters with agency and dreams of their own. I'm also pretty tired of that story. I'm curious if that's a theme in this author's books, of if the story-specific if the fixation on fatherhood/manhood drew it out.


I feel like my dad might like this book? It is gorgeously written, just not for me.

So many things, all going on at once.

The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden

To give you an idea of how busy this plot was, the point of view characters were:

1. A teenager who gets superpowers via a new drug (also dealing with a complicated relationship with his boyfriend, and a bunch of family history issues).

2. A service robot on the verge of sentience (to robot uprising or not to robot uprising?)

3. An ancient demigod on the prowl for worshippers and power.

4. A city counsellor who is struggling with wildlife management, a potential major political run and gender identity issues (as well as a secret life as a lounge singer).

5. A child from the slum who turns out to be a demigod (and her family, and her father/mentor/god).

6. A pop superstar with super powers related to the teen, family secrets, and a show to put on.


If you guessed that all of these characters end up at the pop concert, you guessed correctly. If you guessed that six main characters, at least three intersecting sets of powers/tech/magic/gods/whatever going on at the same time is going to make the back third of the novel a tad busy, but you got that one right too.


I liked all of these complicated, difficult characters on their own, and a lot of the plot elements were original and interesting, but giving them each their due in the middle of an attempted apocalypse was a little more than a first-time novelist could quite pull off. By about fifty pages from the end, after pretty well everyone had died and resurrected multiple times, I just didn't have that much investment in how the big fight was going to work out.


(Also, without spoilers, there's a sub plot about motherhood, and another about a stalker that I found really off putting.)


Which is too bad, as there was a lot of potential there, and as mentioned I really dug most of the characters, who were flawed and allowed to screw up and redeem themselves (or not). The setting was great, and worked really well to inform the characters, and I liked the afro-futurist elements a lot. Looking forward to what Drayden does next.

Poorly written, interesting content.

Beyond Band of Brothers:The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters - Cole C. Kingseed, Dick Winters, Tom Weiner

I probably should have just read Band of Brothers, but this was the one that was on sale, so this was the one I read. Winters is a very poor writer on a technical level, often repeating himself, not very good at describing things, often failing to land a joke. It's basically ten hours of story time from that uncle that drones on. He had a helper writer, and one has to feel that person should have helped more.


However, the content was quite interesting, if you're into infantry tactics in WWII (which I am for fanfic purposes), and I liked the bits of relationship and personality that gleamed through. I haven't seen the mini series, and generally don't know a lot about the topic, so I enjoyed the story on that level.


I'd rec the book for people who are really interested in reading all the military histories, are into Easy Company stuff, or like me are doing fic research. Will admit to skipping the last section which was his Opinions on Leadership.

"Nixon departed the next week, making me about as lonesome as a lovesick sailor who married a wave on an eight-hour pass."
Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters - Dick Winters, Cole C. Kingseed

I have no heterosexual explanation for this sentence.

Well, that was interesting...

Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle

This wasn't so much a comic as six different comics with the same title, and often more or less the same character, or at least a character with the same name. The Nelvana comics were published in the 'forties as a serial in the Triumph Comics anthology (64 pages for ten cents!). Each story line pretty well took a different approach to the character, her powers, and the genre they were set in, and I'd approach it more as a linked collection than anything else.

They were, however, all by the same guy, and have consistently good art and layouts, even if the narration boxes feel more than a little old-fashioned. Comics hadn't consistently hit on the marriage of visual storytelling and prose, and at times it's a bit more like an illustrated radioplay script than a graphic novel, though this too changes as the series goes forward.

Story 1: We lead in with seven issues of Nelvana defending the Territories from Nazis, who are for unknown reasons called Kablunets not Germans or Nazis, which confuses me since Canada was well and truly at war and had been for some time, Anyway, the Inuit summon Nelvana, who is supposedly one of their goddesses, and she and her brother foil various Nazis plots. It's pretty standard war adventure stuff, with ridiculous Panto Nazis who speak English with a phonetic accent that resembles no existing accent ever, and are for reasons unknown are obsessed with sneaking into Canada via Baffin Island. On a scale of one to ten for offensive portrayals of the Inuit (not being Inuit myself, of course), I'd give this about Four: Could Be Worse. For an Inuit demi-goddess, Nelvana looks suspiciously like a Hollywood starlet in a miniskirt. She's also pretty ruthless, and outright kills quite a bit, which I found surprising, but I don't know '40s comics well. She has various electromagnetic ice powers that make me throw my hands in the air and yell, "BUT SCIENCE!"

Story 2: Next there are seven issues of Nelvana (sans brother, who never shows up again) travels to a fantasy kingdom under the north pole. This kingdom gets frozen in time for thousands of years, and is just thawing out again for the first time in five thousand years (cue picture of woolly mammoth fighting a dinosaur. BUT SCIENCE!) Nelvana gets involved in a dynastic struggle, flirts with the king's son, uses her electromagnetic ice powers to turn invisible and save the kingdom by killing a bunch more dudes. OKAY! I GUESS! (For those considering this for a Retro Hugo, I think this story plus the last three issues of Story 1 are the plots that ran in 1942. I'm nominating it, anyway.)

Story 3: Story two ended with the ice kingdom being hit by a Japanese missile. This story starts with a solid dose of racism, and Nelvana going to find out what the hell. Then it goes into FOUR ISSUES of no Nelvana at all. Instead we get a heart-stoppingly racist plot about the Japanese bribing the Inuit to help them invade Canada, and, it's worth saying again, doesn't have Nelvana at all. Our heroine is replaced by two white dudes (fighter pilots?) doing something or other. I'll be honest: I skipped ahead until Nelvana showed up riding a polar bear and saved the white dudes. I really do not have any words to describe how offensive this plot is, and heartily rec skipping all of it. (Except Nelvana on the polar bear. That was pretty great.)

Story 4: Nelvana moves to Ontario and becomes a secret agent. She still has electromagnetic ice powers, but spends much more time sleuthing. She rescues a scientist and foils a Japanese plot (fortunately very few Japanese appear, and then I think the war ends, and we're all saved for any more of this shit.)

Story 5: RCMP Corporal Keene (I'm not kidding) goes to Ottawa to enlist Nelvana's help in defending the Earth against radio-waved based Ether People who are sick of all our broadcasting and are going to wipe out humanity. Nelvana and Keene spent a bunch off issues (one in colour!) bopping around different dimensions trying to foil the Ether People. They have banter. It's a bit painful, but I did appreciate that Nelvana is still her competent cool cookie self. She's laid off on the killing people a bit, possibly because the war is over.

Story 6: Nelvana fights various gangsters. I skimmed a lot. It did end with her fighting an impersonator of herself who was using her rep to rip off the Inuit.

As you can probably tell from the verbiage expended, I was much more interested in the first storyline, followed by the second, and then five was non-terrible. In the early books, she's much more clearly allied with the Inuit and their territories, and not with Canada. I liked her brother, and fighting Panto Nazis was a lot better than really, really racist depictions of the Japanese, and the more secret agent-style stories later were a little dull (though I appreciated that her letterhead read: ALANA NORTH: SECRET AGENT.)

This reprint had several good essays in introduction (notably by Benjamin Woo who talked about the portrayal of the Inuit, and how the story telling changed), and an end note by editor Hope Nicholson about tracking down the historical basis for Nelvana (who turns out to have her name ripped off from an actual Inuit elder). There's also some wonderful full-colour fan art. I do wish it had included more information about the publication dates of each issue.