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Muccamukk

Muccamukk

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.

Currently reading

The Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden
Sweet Disorder
Rose Lerner
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
Daniel Ellsberg

Trope soup, and not in an entertaining way.

Someone To Love (A Westcott Novel) - Mary Balogh

I finally hit my DNF point about 60% through when I realised that I was never going to reconcile myself to the fact that the hero, an English duke raised in England, was secretly a king fu master. My level of BUT WHY!? was too high for anything but the most riveting of adventures to keep me going, and nothing else in this book was that. (But why is: when he was studying at... Harrow or somewhere... he met a Chinese martial arts master by chance and he taught him the secrets of kung fu. The book answered none of the questions I had about that, most of which revolved around why it was a plot point at all).

 

The rest of the hero's (non kung fu related) persona revolved around being very rich, very fashionable and very bored. I feel like the author maybe watched the  Anthony Andrews version of The Scarlet Pimpernel one too many times (not that there's anything wrong with that!)

 

Meanwhile the heroine was raised in one of those Quaker Anarchist orphanages that don't teach you about the class system, so she hits finding out that she's the legitimate daughter of an Earl with zero knowledge of anything, and proceeds to insist on being simple and true to herself and as good as anyone and hiring all her friends as maids. ("A Quaker Anarchist is guided through London society by a Kung Fu master," quoth a friend, "that sounds pretty good, actually." YOU WOULD THINK SO! Alas, the author doesn't lean into it.)

 

One would think that the 1810s would be a perfect time to declare war on ruffles, given the neoclassical turn in women's fashion around then, but the author disagrees, and claims that All The Other Girls dressed in an overly fussy manner (I was pretty confused about the period generally. Queen Charlotte is on the throne, and they're at war in France, but it's all ruffled dresses and dancing the waltz. WHEN IS THIS SET!?).

 

I may be obsessing over details? It may be because I don't care about the plot? Since there's literally no conflict and next to no romantic tension between the main characters? This underlined by all scenes being told and retold two or three times. In any case, enough is enough.

 

WHY WAS HE A KUNG FU MASTER? WHY!?

More entertainment than science.

 Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science - James Mahaffey, Keith Sellon-Wright

That is, the author was more interested in telling amusing stories than explaining science, though he had a go at it ever so often, but didn't leave me feeling notably enlightened. Which is fine. I'm more interested in amusing stories than knowing what a proton does, and for the most part the stories were pretty good. He did some times get sidetracked into non-science stuff that was less interesting, and he was perhaps a little to flippant about serious matters that might kill us all.

 

The highlights of the book were the nuclear rocket experiments and other adventures that mostly weren't likely to kill us all, but hit the amusing mono-focus that science/engineering types can get into, and also explosions! The assassination part was less intrigue-laden and interesting than I thought it would be, and was mostly very sad. I'm never going to understand quantum entanglement. As far as I can tell, it's witchcraft. Liked the interstellar travel bit at the end, even if none of it works.

It took my five days to read a hundred and forty pages of this.

— feeling doubt
Swallowing Mercury - Wioletta Greg, Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Eliza Marciniak

Which is probably another case of "it's not you, litfic; it's me." I just... don't get it? Maybe it's more meaningful if you grew up or had family in eastern Europe? My investment was super low throughout, and I was left not really knowing what the book was either about or trying to say.

 

The format was a series of unconnected but chronologically ordered events in the life of a school girl in a very small Polish town from when she was about six through high school and the death of her father. Each event or image would take up two to six pages, and then we'd be off to the next thing. There was rarely if ever any follow up to what happened with the previous incidents

 

The descriptions were often pretty and insightful, and there was a fair bit of humour mostly found in communist bureaucracy v. reality incidents, but mostly I felt as though I were missing something.

More interesting for tone than content.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story - Martin Luther King Jr.

There are probably better books about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and that year in civil rights, there are certainly better books about Dr. King himself. This one is long on polemics, and short on logistical details an personalities involved.

 

However, what made this book absolutely fascinating to me was the way that Dr. King was positioning it and himself in the political dialogue at the time. The introduction indicates that some of that was to do with editorial guidance from the publisher, such as the frequent "I'm defiantly not a communist!" comments when he's talking about his political background. More of the book is Dr. King himself selling his movement and non-violence and the SCLC to the general public, and you can watch him choosing what incidents and comments to include, what to deal with frankly, what to elide. the last hour and a bit of the audiobook was suggestions for where to go after bus integration, and you can see him lining voting rights in his sights.

 

If he were writing today, I think it would be a very different book, because he would be arguing to a different popular opinion, though of course it would still be filled with the same integrity and pride as this book, and hopefully also with the same victory. It made me very interested in other accounts of the boycott, and in King's later books.

I feel like rating this would be missing the point.

My Conversations with Canadians - Lee Maracle

This is meant to be a difficult book to read for its target audience (middle class white Canadians) and it was. It's not interested in coddling or pulling punches. It's frankly tired of this shit. (I wanted to go, "but not me!" a lot, but yes, me too, or she wouldn't be writing the book.)

 

The style is, as the title suggests, conversational, and I read straight through the baker's dozen chapters and two transcribed speeches in two sittings. I'm left with a lot to absorb. It's certainly impacted some of the ways I think and speak.

 

I'll have to think about it more.

What an odd book!

Jane, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore

I feel like the author was doing a lot more with the structure than I was picking up. Essentially it fallows the story of a young woman getting invited to a house party on an island. The first part of the book introduces all the characters and some of the mysteries, and then it has five different endings, depending on what choice the main character makes at a key moment. Cashore clearly had some kind of chart or possibly map with little people to move around, as each ending follows the same run of events, and as you get into each world, you realise that this Earth is not quite our Earth, and that there are infinite possibilities across the multiverse that may also be accessed. Each ending also gets increasingly strange and changes genre.

 

It's all very complicated, and I was interested, but none of it seemed to tie together that well between parts, and I wasn't very invested by the end. I think it was just a little too high concept for me, and though I appreciated the potentially bi protagonist, I could have used a little more romance. I was unsurprised to find in the author's notes that it started out as a choose your own adventure novel, and it may have worked better if it'd stayed that.

 

I was trying to keep an open mind as to it not being Bitterblue and giving it a chance on its own terms, but in the end, well, it's not Bitterblue.

The happiest man in space.

Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe - Mike Massimino

No, seriously. I've read Hadfield's book, and I thought HE was happy to be in space, but they really did send a big kid up there with Massimino. He's just jazzed to be on the show, man.

 

This made it one of the more relatable astronaut bios I've read, because it's sort of hard to picture being Hadfield, since he's sort of really good at everything and secretly studied to be an astronaut since he was seven and just... who does that? Massimino, age seven, spent a couple weeks dressed in an astronaut costume his mom made playing with Astronaut!Snoopy and then reverted to his baseball obsession, only coming back to wanting to go to space after college, then accidentally applied to the wrong grad school. That's just... a lot more like something I'd do. It made me feel like the whole space thing was a bit more achievable.

 

The writing itself is definitely aimed at the YA crowd, but not dumbed down. There are a lot of gentle lessons about not trying to go it on your own, and not listening to fighter pilots when they try to teach you how to cheat the NASA eye exam, and "No matter what goes wrong in space, you can always make it worse" (the old Chris Craft if you don't know what to do, don't do anything axiom). Plus Massimino just thought space was cool, being an astronaut was cool, all the other astronauts were cool, and it was just fun to read about someone enjoying themselves that much, even through the rough patches like Columbia. He reads the book himself, and is funny and relatable.

 

This book also underlined a pet peeve I have about Apollo era books, which tend to conclude with a scathing attack on NASA after Apollo, to the tune of "We were great then, and we suck now." I'm not a fan of everything NASA has done in the past forty years, but I feel like the theme of the great space age essentially ending when Gene Cernan left the moon is... a bit hard to take. Maybe we haven't been to Mars yet, but there's been a lot of amazing work done in space since the Shuttle launched, and is still being done now.

Second read through.

Persuasion - Jane Austen, Gillian Beer

Probably top-two for Austen novels. I love the slightly older and more care-worn main couple, and all the pining (so much pining). I like how reserved and miserable Anne is at the start and how much she goes as the story continues. Wentworth is a bit more of a puzzle, as he seems to be a dashing young officer, but we don't get much of that until the very end. I did like all the navy stuff, and the Crofts are some of my favourite background characters.

 

I felt the last third was a little weaker, since no one is ever going to care about Mr. Elliot, and he wasn't a convincing red herring OR plot device (other than to make Wentworth jealous), and we get more of the horrible family and less of the fun cousins and sailors.

Tropey lesbian secondary world fantasy!

The Tiger's Daughter - K. Arsenault Rivera

If that doesn't get your attention, let me add that it's the epic romance between two soul-bonded demon-killing princesses, one of whom is an empress and swordswoman and the other of whom is a deadshot horsewoman from the steps. There's intercultural romance! There's pining! There's epic family histories and grudges! There is poetry! There're flowers! Did I mention that they're soul bonded?

 

This is like a balm for my soul!

 

Okay, I should actually talk about the plot, which is largely written in first person in form of a letter from one of the lovers to the other, and recounts their lives up until present day, with a handful of contemporary flashbacks, and then has an epilogue about how all their parents met. I spent the first quarter wondering if they were going to be lesbians or warrior sisters, and then they started saying things like "I knew that I would never be permitted to touch you." I may have punched the air.

 

I loved the mix of the empress' wilful fuck the world arrogance and the horsewoman's practicality. Honestly, I can't think of a hell of a lot to say that's not <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

 

I would warn for a certain amount of gore and demons.

 

Can't wait for the next one.

Great start to a series!

The City of Brass - S.A. Chakraborty

The story picked up in the street markets of Napoleonic Cairo, which was such a fabulous setting that I was sad that all the characters packed off for the titular city (somewhere in the mountains of Iran) after only a few chapters, but then that was so interesting that I didn't mind too much (though I hope they get back to Cairo eventually).

 

Our story follows a (possibly) lost princess who grew up a street rat (with magic powers) and the prince of the Brass City of the Djinn, and the truly immense amount of factionalism and court politics that surround a lost princess of an opposing clan just showing up. There are something like 1,400 years of grudges on the go here, and some of the characters are about that old. By the end of the first book, all the intense plotting everyone is doing is shown to mostly be set up for even more intense plotting! I'm a fan, and looking forward to the next one.

 

Plotting aside, the Djinn city and culture and history were all really well drawn, even if the court got pretty gruesome at times. It's a good world to spend a nice long series in. It's a long book, and I just ripped through it because I had to know what happened next.

 

I will say that this wasn't five stars because the romance plot wasn't really my thing (I'd have preferred a platonic friendship between the immortal warrior protector and the princess), and there weren't a whole lot of major female characters besides the princess. However, the next book looks like it'll add a couple more women as major players. Two of the secondary characters were gay, and not dead by the end of the book.

 

(It's worth going to the authors site to check out the alternate epilogue she just posted. I know it made me clap like a seal in appreciation of the layer it added. MORE PLOTTING!)

First fiction by Baldwin.

Go Tell It On the Mountain - James Baldwin

First he wrote, and first I've read, though I did read The Fire Next Time and Notes of a Native Son previously.

 

As with his non-fiction, the man's ability to put together a perfect sentence, and then string those sentences together into a heart-stoppingly beautiful paragraph, and then do it again is never not going to amaze me. Same with his insight and how he can pin characters like insects and examine their make up to the minutest level. Everything he says about people feels true to people I've known, even though I've known exactly zero black evangelicals in the 1900s. Someone could probably say something keen about how universal the specifics are, and that someone would probably be Baldwin, it isn't me.

 

The structure felt a little unbalanced, and I would have liked the last act to be a little longer. We start out following the life of a boy living in New York, then after getting to know him flashback to his parents' generation for most of the rest of the book. What we learn informs how everyone was acting in the first part, but then it never really comes back around and the conclusion is left open (which may be the point). However, each section was very strong on its own merits. I'd like to read at least the first section again to see how it all fit together.

 

Did anyone else think that the main character had a major crush on the male youth minister? Or was that just me reading in that it was semi-autobiographical?

 

I'd like to read more of Baldwin's fiction, but am less interested in Sad Gays than I probably should be. Anyone have recs?

Dead via lack of momentum.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope - Claire North

Another one where I just... didn't finish it. I left the main character about to die in a fire, and a week later I didn't feel any compelling desire to go back to it.

 

The premise was interesting: a young woman who no one ever remembers, who's taken up a life of crime to support herself/stay interested in the world. But like much LitFic with an SF/F twist, there wasn't much to support the whys, and the story itself (her attempt to steal jewels from the Saudi royal family, with a background plot about an evil self-improvement app) clearly wasn't riveting.

 

I'm not sure why I have trouble with non-genre fiction that doesn't explain the genre elements. Why no one remembers the MC or another character she meets is not explained, didn't look like it ever would be explained, and she doesn't ever seem to wonder about it or even think it's that remarkable. If this were an SF book, they'd have waved their hands and said "genetics!" and I'd have walked away happy, ditto with fantasy and magic. But here I was just going BUT WHY!?

 

I also found the writing style jarring and a little pretentious.

Buddy Reads?

Another newbie question!

 

How do you find buddy reads? They look like fun, and I'd maybe like to do one, but they seem to appear on my dash by magic, everyone already having somehow decided to do one. Telepathy? Does this site use telepathy?

Reading progress update: I've read 86 out of 176 pages.

Go Tell It On the Mountain - James Baldwin

There's a long section where one of the characters has been invited to join a group of church elders for dinner, all men he doesn't know well. It's a huge honour, but he's uneasy at the dinner, and then one of them tells a rape joke about one of the serving women, who was gang raped as a girl (and everyone knows it).

 

Everyone at the table roared, but Gabriel felt his blood turn cold that God’s ministers should be guilty of such abominable levity, and that that woman sent by God to comfort him, and without whose support he might already have fallen by the wayside, should be held in such dishonour. They felt, he knew, that among themselves a little rude laughter could do no harm; they were too deeply rooted in the faith to be made to fall by such an insignificant tap from Satan’s hammer. But he stared at their boisterous, laughing faces, and felt that they would have much to answer for on the day of judgment, for they were stumbling-stones in the path of the true believer.

Now the sandy-haired man, struck by Gabriel’s bitter, astounded face, bit his laughter off, and said: ‘What’s the matter, son? I hope I ain’t said nothing to offend you?’

‘She read the Bible for you the night you preached, didn’t she?’ asked another of the elders, in a conciliatory tone.

‘That woman,’ said Gabriel, feeling a roaring in his head, ‘is my sister in the Lord.’

‘Well, Elder Peters here, he just didn’t know that,’ said someone else. ‘He sure didn’t mean no harm.’

‘Now, you ain’t going to get mad?’ asked Elder Peters, kindly—yet there remained, to Gabriel’s fixed attention, something mocking in his face and voice. ‘You ain’t going to spoil our little dinner?’

‘I don’t think it’s right,’ said Gabriel, ‘to talk evil about nobody. The Word tell me it ain’t right to hold nobody up to scorn.’

‘Now you just remember,’ Elder Peters said, as kindly as before, ‘you’s talking to your elders.’

‘Then it seem to me,’ he said, astonished at his boldness, ‘that if I got to look to you for a example, you ought to be a example.’

‘Now, you know,’ said someone else, jovially, ‘you ain’t fixing to make that woman your wife or nothing like that—so ain’t no need to get all worked up and spoil our little gathering. Elder Peters didn’t mean no harm. If you don’t never say nothing worse than that, you can count yourself already up there in the Kingdom with the chosen.’

And at this a small flurry of laughter swept over the table; they went back to their eating and drinking, as though the matter were finished.

 

Depressing how little the culture has changed.

Reading progress update: I've read 109 out of 432 pages.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope - Claire North

I'm enjoying the story and the characters, but the prose is starting to get on my gears. There are so many sentence fragments, and random capitalisation, and grammatical oddities that it's distracting.

 

I get what North is trying to do, I think: Convey forcibly self-contained heroine who spends too much time in her own head, and has no fixed exterior reference points because everyone else is literally incapable of remembering her. And sure, fine, but I hit some random collection of words meant to convey that, and I don't think "wow, I'm inside her head," I think, "wow, precious."

 

Authors have been playing the stream of consciousness game a long time, and it feels like there're better, if more difficult, ways to get all this across.

Not "finished" so much as "done with."

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel - George Saunders, David Sedaris, Nick Offerman

I got one and a half cds out of six listened to, took a break, and then spent a solid week avoiding going back to it. I listened to five or six episodes of The Lost Cat podcast, a couple of In Our Time, some Fresh Air, about an hour of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, and a couple shows on the CBC, and every time, I thought, "Oh, I should go back to that Saunders book," I shook my head and decided I needed to wash my hair.

 

This should be everything I want in a book: ghosts, Abraham Lincoln, Man Booker Prize winners, but in the end it just came off as unbearably pretentious.

 

There are entire chapters of one to two sentence primary source quotes describing the setting, one after the other, and okay, clearly it's a terribly clever stylistic choice, or something (I don't really get litfic a lot of the time), but it's hard to avoid the aura of "Hey, I did all this research let me show it to you!" without having done the work of actually integrating it.

 

The non-interminable quote chapters were... fine? I guess. It's mostly a bunch of ghost who for various reasons have refused to move on hanging out and watching Lincoln completely fail to deal with his dead kid. Apparently Lincoln's failure to deal is an epic amount of emotion never seen in a cemetery before. Which seems unlikely, but I guess Lincoln's just that much of a special snowflake! Even in mourning was he extraordinary.

 

There's not that much to say about the ghosts. One's an old dude who won't admit that he died because he was about to finally get laid. He keeps making poop jokes. One's an anachronistic Whitman joke who killed himself. One perpetually sexually assaults a female ghost. None of them had much of interest to add.

 

Maybe I quit too early, but I just feel like a graveyard full of ghosts haunting Abraham Lincoln should have a bit more going on. Anyway, life is too short.