What I’ve been reading, July 2017 travel edition

I had planned to write extensive reviews of the various things I’ve been reading, but the fact is that I’m not great at writing extensive reviews. At least not on demand, and not while traveling, especially not while traveling for work. So instead, here’s what I’ve been reading with a few short thoughts.

Acquired at ALA:

  • Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork. This is a bit of a departure from Stork’s previous work, as it’s a thriller (though still written for the young adult market). At the same time all the elements that I love about his writing – a fundamental kindness towards humanity, the struggle with the “real world,” an underlying attention to issues of spirituality – are in it. I’m not objective about Stork’s work as (like Cashore) he’s one of my favorite authors, but I thought this was a fantastic read (and possibly one of my favorites of his). It’s due out in September 2017.
  • Leona: the Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby. Swedish thriller (the Swedish version was published a few years ago; the version I got is the English translation, the paperback of which is due out on August 1, 2017). This one wasn’t for me.
  • Murder in Saint-Germain by Cara Black. Mystery, part of a series about Parisian PI Aimée Leduc. Again, not for me.
  • White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. This is the story of a young Korean woman kidnapped and forced to work as a Japanese “comfort woman” during World War II. I read it while sitting at a cafe waiting for my short-term apartment to become available and cried myself into a pulp – and this despite some unbelievable elements. Maybe not the best choice for reading in public, but definitely moving! It’s due out in January 2018.
  • Minik: the New York Eskimo by Kenn Harper. This biography of Minik, one of six Polar Inuit brought to New York by Robert Peary, is another heartbreaker. Minik was seven when he arrived in New York, and four of his traveling companions (including his father) died within months of their arrival. The fifth returned to Greenland, but Minik remained in New York. While I’ve long known the story of the Inuit group in New York (it’s one of the more shameful chapters in American anthropological history), Mink’s story after that first year was new to me. The back cover copy reads “…Minik never surrendered the home of going ‘home,’ never stopped fighting for the dignity of his father’s memory, and never gave up his belief that people would come to his aid if only he could get them to understand” and this is a fair summary of the book, I think. The are passages from Minik’s own writings included in the biography, and these I found especially compelling. This revised and updated edition of Give Me My Father’s Body is due out in September 2017.

Other:

  • Want by Cindy Pon. This is another author about whom I’m not objective, and it’s also a departure from her previous work. Want is young adult science fiction, set in a near-future Taiwan, rather than fantasy. It has an interesting combination of political, heist, and romance elements, making for a fun and page-turning read. Others agree with me: Want has been recommended in the LA Times and the New York Times. Out now.
  • The Waking Land by Callie Bates. I have to admit I picked up this beautiful adult fantasy because I liked the cover so much…but I’m glad I did. The magic in this book is what really drew me in, but there are many other things to like: heroine fighting against the odds, interesting world, etc. Out now.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore. A re-read of an old favorite.

Reading EUROPE IN AUTUMN in the time of Brexit

I mentioned reading David Hutchinson’s book Europe in Autumn in a previous post. I’ve been re-reading it, more slowly this time, to try to figure out my response to this book. I knew, from the first time I read it, that there were aspects of the plot and writing that didn’t work for me. But despite those things, the book sucked me in. It’s always interesting to me when there are obvious flaws and yet I enjoy a book anyway, and since I’ve been writing myself it’s become especially interesting.

The news about Brexit this morning clarified some of my thoughts on Europe in Autumn. This book is set in an alternate near-future Europe, one which has fragmented into numerous nations and polities. Hutchinson does a marvelous job of world-building; his vision of future Europe seems almost prescient, and even more so this morning.

It is the world of Europe in Autumn that drew me in. Like a good dystopian (and I wouldn’t call this book a dystopian, to be clear), its fictional world provides an opportunity for reflection on important themes in the world today. In this book it is questions on the nature of borders and nation-building which come to the fore. The Brexit vote suggests these questions – and by extension, Europe in Autumn – will remain relevant for some time.

The past two weeks in reading

 

Two weeks ago I plunged into my summer reading pile, and it’s been…satisfying. Incredibly, unusually, remarkably satisfying. While I’ve attempted a few books that I abandoned mid-read, or that I finished but had significant problems with, most of what I’ve picked up have been winners.

Here are a few that I’ve read and particularly enjoyed:

  • Flamecaster (Cinda Williams Chima) – I started with this one, and it was just what I wanted after the stressful spring drew to a close. It put me in mind of Alanna, not for any particular similarity of plot or world, but because I enjoyed it in the same way.
  • The Core of the Sun (Johanna Sinisalo) – an extremely weird and extremely funny *real* (by which I mean it contains some interesting commentary on the everyday world) dystopian novel.
  • An Inheritance of Ashes (Leah Bobet) – I can’t seem to come up with a short snappy summary of this one. So I will just say: I liked it.
  • Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) – It’s been a long, long time since I read any space opera and I was therefore leery of these, but I am so glad I got over it and read them anyway. All three were hands-down fantastic. The coolness of the gender concept (the language/culture of the protagonist does not distinguish between genders, and so everyone is termed “she”) was an added bonus.
  • Children of Earth and Sky (Guy Gavriel Kay) – I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, and as a result I was so eager to read this that I dashed through it too fast. I need to read it again.
  • Europe in Autumn (Dave Hutchinson) – This is a page-turner, a spy/SFF novel set in a near-future fractured Europe. This one I will also read again, to pick up whatever I missed the first time around.

Either a lot of good books are coming out these days, or I did an especially good job on my 2016 summer reading list. Or maybe it’s just luck of the draw?

Back to reading!

 

First pass summer reading list

Some of these are recommendations, some are things I’ve been wanting to read for a while, some are rereads. The list grows.

The list is in no particular order.

  • Children of Earth and Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
  • Europe in Autumn, Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson
  • The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Core of the Sun – Johanna Sinisalo
  • Roses and Rot – Kat Howard
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas
  • The Wrath and the Dawn – Renée Ahdieh
  • The Dark Days Club – Allison Goodman
  • Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
  • The Star-Touched Queen – Roshani Chokshi
  • Flamecaster – Cinda Williams Chima
  • An Inheritance of Ashes – Leah Bobet
  • Black Wolves – Kate Elliot
  • Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
  • Forbidden Wish – Jessica Khoury
  • The Moor’s Account – Laila Lalami
  • Heroine Complex – Sarah Kuhn (due out in July)
  • If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino (a reread)
  • La Sombra Del Viento – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (also a reread)

Most of these are sci-fi/fantasy…where my taste is trending these days. Most are NOT young adult, a deliberate decision (and something I’ll write a post about when I can get my thoughts in some kind of coherent order.)

Oh and, on the cookbook front, the 2016 James Beard Awards were just announced. I put some of the awardees/nominees on my list too:

  • Beetlebung Farm Cookbook – Chris Fischer with Catherine Young
  • Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More – Sarah Owens
  • This is Camino – Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain
  • NOPI: The Cookbook – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully