My friend Matt has Web pages listing the books he has read since 2004. I wanted to keep better track of what I read, so at the beginning of 2007, I started keeping a list here. For one thing, changing jobs at the end of 2007 meant I had lots more reading time than I used to, because I now have what amounts to a public transit commute.

Books I read in 2019

  1. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, by Alyssa Cole. January 28, 2019

    Date completed is approximate, because I spent most of January either unable to read or struggling to finih one library book and one book we own without finishing either. One of the Reluctant Royals series, related to A Princess in Theory and very entertaining.

  2. The Witch Elm, by Tana French. February 10, 2019.

    A stand-alone novel, not one of the author's Dublin Murder Squad series. A densely-plotted book involving a very close family, a first-person narrator who is beaten nearly to death early on, and any number of spoiler-ih plot points I won't mention. I have mixed feeling about this; some of the plot points are....almost a improbably as those of The Likeness, one of the author' earlier books.

  3. In a House of Lies, by Ian Rankin. February 14, 2019.

    The latest John Rebus novel. A body turns up ten years after the person went missing; complications ensue. Up to the high general standard of these novels, but not all that memorable.

  4. A Duke by Default, by Alyssa Cole. February 16, 2019.

    Lightweight fun involving swords, Scotland, ADHD, and a title. I pre-ordered two more books in this entertaining romance series!

  5. The Labyrinth Index, by Charle Stross. February 20, 2019.

    The ninth in the Laundry Files series. Viewpoint character is Mhari Murphy, the PHANG, now Baroness Karnstein. The Lovecraftian Singularity i about to arrive and the President of the United States is missing - from Americans' memories.

  6. The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. March 4, 2019.

    Alternate history related to our time: a disastrous meteor strike destroys Washington, DC and surrounding areas, resulting in a familiar-sounding but nature-induced climate change. How to save humanity from impending environmental disaster? Space colonies. Told by the viewpoint character, Elma York, a brilliant mathematician who is a "computer" on the space project.

    I liked the book and I will read any sequels, but Elma, who is Jewish, didn't come across that way; the Jewishness felt more layered on than embodied. (Minor example: pretty sure she would not have had the first name she has and even more sure that if she did, her nickname would have been Selma rather than Elma.) I do like the Black characters and wonder whether Black readers felt about those characters the way I feel about Elma and her husband.

  7. Miniatures, by John Scalzi. Mid-March, 2019.

    The very short fiction, mostly quite amusing, of Scalzi. One was so funny I had to read it out loud to my girlfried.

  8. Alice Payne Rides, by Kate Heeartfield. March 22, 2019

    More of the time-traveling, biracial, lesbian, highwayman Alice Payne!

  9. It Takes Two to Tumble, by Cat Sebastian. March 23, 2019

    Gay romance novel. Fun, very unlikely, and by the way, non-Jewish Englishmen of the era when this book is set wouldn't be circumcised.

  10. Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee. April 2, 2019.

    A young-adultish, Korean-folk-tale influenced novel by the author of the brilliant Machineries of Empire series, it's the story of 13-year-old Min. She lives with her family on a backwater planet; her brother has joined the Thousand Worlds space force and is now accused of desertion. Min, a fox, goes in search of Jun and proves herself fabulously resourceful and brave. She encounters various spirits and animals. A really fine novel, gentle where Machineries is on the brutal side.

  11. Can't Escape Love, by Alyssa Cole. mid-April, 2019.

    Another in the Reluctant Royals series. Love among the nerds!

  12. [Read Through of an Unpublished Book-Length Manuscript], by [anonymous friend]. Early April, 2019.

    That's all I'm telling you about it just now!

  13. Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou. April 20, 2019.

    The page-turning story of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing startup Theranos. She migt have believed in her creation and she certainly managed to fool an awful lot of people who might know better if she hadn't been beautiful and if she hadn't presented herself as the second coming of Steve Jobs. Great reporting by Carreyrou, who has won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting twice.

  14. Amnesty, by Lara Elena Donnelly. April 25, 2019.

    The third and concluding book in the Amberlough Dossier. I could imagine several ways that this thriller / spy series might have ended, and I'm satisfied with the author's choices. I liked this book a great deal and overall love the trilogy.

  15. Clockwork Boys, by T. Kingfisher. April 29, 2019.

    Hilarious and serious quest novel, starring a ninja accountant, an assassin, a Paladin, and a scholar. Odd company makes excellent book.

  16. The Wonder Engine, by T. Kingfisher. May 3, 2019.

    The sequel to Clockwork Boys. Continued adventures, this time more serious, of the ninja accountant, the Paladin, the scholar, and, of course, the gnole.

  17. A Prince on Paper, by Alyssa Cole. May 8, 2019.

    This very sweet novel presumably wraps up The Reluctant Royals series, since every possible couple among the characters in A Princess in Theory has now been dealt with. There IS a teeny open thread, opera-related, in the book, so I may have to contact the author about that....

  18. Full Dark House, by Christopher Fowler. May 19, 2019.

    The first of a long (17 books? 18?) series of mysteries starring Arthur Bryant and John May of the Pecular Crimes squad. Set in a theater and full of interesting history and terminology - very thoroughly researched. Not particularly sparkly or engrossing, but I plan to read one more of the books to see whether I want to read the whole series.

  19. Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. May 30, 2019.

    The plague comes to a small village in rural England, where a charismatic young rector persuades the villagers to voluntarily isolate themselves from the outside world. The viewpoint character is Anna, who is the housemaid for the rector and his wife, and a friend to the wife. Intense, moving, gorgeously written.

  20. Unmasked by the Marquess, by Cat Sebastian. June 8, 2019.

    It's the Regency, and something very odd is going on between Alistair, the haughty Marquess of Pembroke, and the young man Robert Selby.

  21. Jade City, by Fonda Lee. June 21, 2019.

    The World Fantasy Award-winning first novel in a trilogy about gangster families on the island of Kekon, the source of extremely rare, bioactive jade, the most valuable gem in the world. Exciting, fast pace, intense, clever; fantasy meets Hong Kong film meets noir. The second book will be published next month and I'll probably pre-order it.

  22. Bluff, by Jane Stanton Hitchock. June 22, 2019.

    Clever but shallow book that starts with a murder, then works its way backward to why.

  23. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam. July 2, 2019.

    Poignant character study of Edward Feathers, a Raj orphan - born in Malaysia to a British civil servant and his wife, but sent Home (to England) to be raised - who really is more or less orphaned, by the death of his mother two days after his birth and by being emotionally and physically abandoned by his father. The book is very much interior; Eddie is often bewildered by what's going on around him and seems emotionally distant as well. The plot unfolds slowly and allusively; often parts of the story have to be put together from incidents far apart in the book. Masterfully written.

  24. The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics, by Olivia Waite. July 4, 2019.

    Regency romance with lesbians and astronomy. Delightful and very well written!

  25. Tremontaine, Season 1, by various authors, including Ellen Kushner. July 14, 2019.

    The world of Riverside and the unnamed city of which it is a part, a generation or so before the events of Swordspoint. A chocolate trader named Kaab, a student named Rafe, a neuroatypical math genius name Micah, and the mighty Diane, Duchess Tremontaine.

  26. Hexarchate Stories, by Yoon Ha Lee. July 17, 2019.

    More from the world of the Hexarchate, fleshing out a number of areas of Shuos Jedao's life. Includes a fabulous long novella with Jedao and Cheris written for the collection.

  27. Heiress Without a Cause, by Sarah Ramsey. July 20, 2019

    Lady Madeleine, 28-year-old spinster, prefers acting, a forbidden pleasure indeed, to being a proper lady. Ferguson, inheriting a Duchy after years of absence, needs a chaperone for his much younger sisters. Somehow, they fall in love.

  28. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep. July 24, 2019.

    Rev. Willie Maxwell apparently killed several of his relatives for the insurance money; he was never convicted...and at the funeral of one of those relatives, he was gunned down himself. Harper Lee, famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird, observed the trial of his killer, intending to write about it. She never finished that book and never published another novel, unless you count the late-in-life publication of Go Tell A Watchman, which is likely the first draft of Mockingbird. This marvelous book tells the tale of Maxwell, his death, and Lee's struggle to write another book, going into a lot of detail about her life in Alabama and NYC and why she never wrote that next book. Highly recommended.

  29. Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells. August 6, 2019

    Second of the Murderbot Diaries novellas. The Murderbot solves a mystery and does good work on behalf of a client

  30. Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone. August 20, 2019.

    A long and involved novel, with interesting characters and an interesting set-up...but less than riveting, which is why it took me more than three weeks to finish. Good, not great. I can't tell whether it's too long for the material, too diffuse, or what.

  31. A Little Light Mischief, by Cat Sebastian. August 21, 2019

    Novella, lesbian romance, sweet!

  32. The Matrimonial Advertisement, by Mimi Matthews. August 26, 2019

    Light entertainment (love & romance in the age of men owning women) while reading the informative but grim Dark Money.

  33. Rogue Protocol: The Murderbot Diaries 3, by Martha Wells. August 30, 2019.

    The Murderbot obtains useful information, protects humans, loses a friend

  34. Proper English, by K.J. Charles. September 1, 2019.

    Lesbian romance plus, well, you'll see. The author is a very, very good writer. The woman on the cover doesn't look at all like any of the characters in the book.

  35. Forty Thieves, by Thomas Perry. September 1, 2019.

    Audiobook. I picked this up before driving to Santa Cruz for a concert a few weeks ago. The first thing I have to say is that the reader is terrible, ghastly. He has...a borderline Texas accent, which is inappropriate for a story set in Los Angeles. He mispronounces some names and place-names and just isn't such a good reader. I can just barely tell whether the story is any good; I find an awful lot of it implausible, from the company and board member that somehow care so much that they hire private detectives to re-open the death of a scientist employee from a year back to the police apparently never having talked to the murdered scientist's ex-wife to the scientist's radical change of personality to the fact that he wouldn't even try to get another academic job about a tenure denial to the extremely rambling plot to....well, there's a lot. I don't think I'll be reading another book by this writer.

  36. The Haunting of Tram Car 015M, by P. Djeli Clark. September 5, 2019.

    Charming, sometimes slightly overwritten, fantasy novella set in Cairo c. 1906 or so. The city is inhabited by humans from all over and also supernatural beings who apparently gave the world science and STUFF more advanced than one would have had otherwise. It's a detective story, sort of. Will have to check out the authors other books.

  37. This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. September 9, 2019.

    The story of Red and Blue, who are on opposite sides of a war fought across centuries and great distances between two mysterious and very different factions for unknown reasons. Epistolary novella, complicated and pretty great

  38. Think of England, by KJ Charles. September 9, 2019.

    A wounded war hero, seeking justice, encounters a Portuguese Jewish fop at a country house party. Also in attendence, Pat and Fen from Proper English, with lots of complications.

  39. Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor. September 13, 2019.

    The first in a LONG series called The Chronicles of St. Mary's. In this case, St. Mary's is a time-travel laboratory with historians and a great cast of characters. I was expecting the series to be funny but in fact it's a spy series and pretty serious. I liked this book enough to have promptly purchased the second in the series. The writing is good and the author is not afraid to be brutal with her plotting.

  40. A Symphony of Echoes, by Jodi Taylor. September 14, 2019.

    Why, yes, I did like the first book enough to immediate buy the second, which continues the ongoing characters and multiple story lines (personal, professional) that started in Book 1.

  41. The Man in the Wooden Hat, by Jane Gardam. September 21, 2019.

    The second in what I suppose I should call the Old Filth trilogy, but actually it's more about his wife, Elisabeht (Betty) Macintosh Feathers. I had a moment of thinking that this would not end well, when he makes an unreasonable demand of her and she agrees, but in fact...There's a lot about Betty, more about Filth, more about something hinted at in Old Filth (BUT I PICKED IT UP), more about Veneering and his son and the pearls. I loved this, and oh she is such a great writer.

  42. The Henchmen of Zenda, by K.J. Charles. September 22, 2019.

    Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, from the standpoint of Duke Michael's men; what really happened that eventful summer in Ruritania. With a very charming gay twist and very well written.

  43. A Second Chance, by Jodi Taylor. September 26, 2019.

    The third in the Chroncles of St. Mary's. Excellent, and the chapters that take place during the fall of Troy had a superb internal soundtrack. Second chances abound and there are some surprising plot twists here.

  44. A Trail Through Time, by Jodi Taylor. September 28, 2019.

    The fourth in the Chronicles of St. Mary's.

  45. Last Friends, by Jane Gardam. September 29, 2019.

    The third of the Old Filth books. Terry Veneering's book, and what a life that was, with significant mistakes. Also a good deal more of Dulcie and Fiscal-Smith. I rather wish there'd been more of Isobel throughout these; she remains quite a mystery. Must say that I am also not entirely sure what is real in the last chapter or so.

  46. A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, by Cat Sebastian. October 9, 2019

    Pretty good romance of trauma, homosexual love, and interracial love in Regency London.

  47. Any Old Diamonds, by KJ Charles. October 14, 2019.

    Jewel thieves, revenge, family secrets, gay love in the 1890s.

Books I read in 2018

  1. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. January 7, 2018

    Space opera that will take you a while to figure out. Calendrical heresy? Hexarchate? Kel? Shuos? Brilliantly plotted and written; fascinating characters. Can't wait to real the sequel.

  2. The Delirium Brief, by Charles Stross. January 12, 2018.

    The most recently published Laundry Files novel. Things are getting very, very serious, as in seriously bad, leading the Senior Auditor to actions that will surprise you. Bob, Mo, Persephone, Johnny, Mhairi, Alex, Cassie, and others to the rescue following the return of Rev. Schiller and his horrible minions.

  3. Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee. January 19, 2018.

    The middle book of the author's Machineries of Empire trilogy. Another wild ride; great characters, extremely good plotting with a lot of moving parts to juggle. Will have to wait until June when the last book of the trilogy comes out. I am fonder of General Jedao than I feel I should be, all things considered.

  4. Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone. January 28, 2018.

    The second book in the Craft sequence. A little confusing, but ultimately it all came together. Set elsewhere than the first book. Perhaps there are multiple story lines that will eventually merge?

  5. Dark State, by Charles Stross. March 7, 2018.

    The long break since the last completed book is because I was reading two other books that I have interrupted to read this, a library book. Dark State is the second in the current cycle of Merchant Princes books. Once again, he's leaving us about to go over multiple cliffs, with several plot strands hitting nasty-looking inflection points. Unfortunately, I will have to wait until next January or February to read the third book.

  6. Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone. March 11, 2018.

    Third book in the Craft Sequence. A pool, a dying idol, a young leader of urchins. Characters from the earlier-published books make their appearances and we get more tantalizing bits about the God Wars. Also there's a poet.

  7. Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey. March 22, 2018.

    The first in the gigantic Expanse series, now up to seven books and the basis of a popular TV series. Space opera; lots of politics and interesting human interactions. Two viewpoint characters alternate chapters, so you get parts of the story from very different viewpoints. One, a somewhat down-at-the-heels homicide detective on Ceres (which has been colonized), is straight out of Chandler. Only issue I have so far is the paucity of female characters, and this book is from 2011. I hope that improves. I'll continue to read them, though I am in the middle of multiple series at this point plus I have this pile of nongenre novels and nonfiction I want to read.

  8. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin. April 1, 2018.

    A masterpiece, one I'm finally mature enough to understand. The first two times I read it (in the 70s and 90s), I think that the political and personal aspects of the book went completely over my head. All I remembered, or even LIKED, was the trip across the ice. It is enthralling and brilliantly written, but the political and interpersonal relationships are the heart of the book.

  9. Six-Four, by Hideo Yokoyama, ? Mid-May, 2018

    I have sort of thrown in the towel about 320 pages into this 550-page behemoth. It is due back at the library and I've been trying to get through it since the beginning of April. I may try again, but for now I'm out of renewals.

  10. The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters. May 16, 2018

    Police procedural set in a small town in New Hampshire, with a twist: a huge asteroid is heading toward earth, and in some months, life on earth as we know it will end. This affects how people behave, and adds a couple of layers of complexity to what the policeman in question - a young mn who always wanted to be a cop - has to do

  11. The Thirst, by Jo Nesbo. May 18, 2018.

    The most recent Harry Hole novel, yet another bizarre serial killer story, still more dead women, still more of the tortured detective. Why do I go on reading this series? I do like the supporting cast, it's true.

  12. Head On, by John Scalzi. May 21, 2018.

    The follow-up to Lock In, set in a world where an infectious disease left millions of people with the equivalent of locked-in syndrome and a major research effort led to the use of new technology to provide the affected people with the ability to more or less inhabit robots (threeps) as physical extensions of their minds. Further adventures of Chris the FBI agent, of unknown gender and sex, this time following the suspicious death of a Haden-affected professional player of a particular sport. It gets...complicated. Fun, not deep.

  13. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. May 22, 2018.

    First of the Murderbot Diaries, the Murderbot being a robot-human hybrid, designed to provide security, who has hacked its own governing module and become a freelancer.

  14. Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome and The Tale of the Wicked, both by John Scalzi. May 22, 2018

    The first is background for Scalzi's novels Lock In and Head On, which feature people who survived Haden's Syndrome. The second is a story about a starship, and a very good one it is.

  15. The God Engine, by John Scalzi. May 24, 2018

    Interesting novella about a world where gods power spaceships and things are not what they seem.

  16. Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente. June 16, 2018.

    It's Bloomsday and I feel as though I should be reading Ulysses, but somehow that is not what I've been doing. The long delay in finish this book is largely because I've been spending so much time reading articles when I'm on the bus, instead of reading novels. Also, this week I was out at the opera Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This book is very charming, about a universe that decides which species are sentient and admissible to the galaxy-wide civilization based on their performance in a Eurovision-like contest. It is funny and warm and, like Valente's other books, full of words and sometimes a little overwhelmingly dense.

  17. Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee. June 24, 2018

    OMG OMG OMG a tremendous roundup to the trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit. General Jedao is an extremely complicated person and so are most of the people around him. I can't recommet this trilogy more highly, if you like military s.f.

  18. Countdown City, by Ben Winters. July 8, 2018.

    Second book in the Last Policeman trilogy. The story continues; crime and a young man who only wants to be a small-town cop in New England in the last days of Earth.

  19. Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz, July 20, 2018.

    It's 2144; Big Pharma is about what you might think, and pirates reverse engineer their drugs for a black market. There's a strong free patent movement. Also, nearly everyone is indentured to some company or organization until they work off or buy out their indenture and buy a franchise - including robots. The nature of autonomy is one theme of this excellent novel

  20. World of Trouble, by Ben Winters, July 22, 2018.

    Indeed it is. The last of the Last Policeman trilogy; intense and sad and moving. The end of the world is nigh; Henry Palace is looking for his sister Nico. Superb.

  21. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, July 28, 2018.

    An exceptionally charming novel about a circus that springs up as if from nowhere, is only open from dusk to dawn, and has mysterious origins and rather unusual acts. I am not at all sure whether to call it fantasy or magic realism; I am sure that lots of people would find it too twee. I think the author came up with an unnecessarily complicated (though very dramatic) resolution of the central problem when she had set up her situation and characters for a straightforward resolution; still, I'd be happy to go live in the Le Cirque de Reves, at least for a little while.

  22. Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang, July 30, 2018.

    Long novella, the first in the Tensorate Series, about the family in power, the ways that science works, and siblings. Superb.

  23. The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang, August 2, 2018.

    Another long novella. While the advertising says you can read this and Black Tides in any order, I don't recommend it. Read Black Tides first! A continuation, wrenching in many ways, of Black Tides

    .
  24. The Descent of Monsters, by JY Yang. August 4, 2018.

    Third in the series - presumably there will be more - adding layers and complexity. First-rate. I especially appreciate the presence of children in this series and the gender/relationship flexibility.

  25. Waiting on a Bright Moon, by JY Yang. Date?

    Not sure when I completed this; s.f., not set in the world of the Tensorate, I think.

  26. World of Wakanda, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay. Date unknown.

    I gather this is the backstory of the Wakanda series, on which the film Black Panther is based. Excellent storytelling, lesbians, and Wakanda!

  27. Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly. September 3, 2018.

    First in a gay, alternate-history, spy thriller. Extremely intense; the author does not pull back a bit from the bad things that can happen to you when the fascists come to town. (It only looks as though I read nothing in August; I am part way through three books, one of which I am probably abandoning and two of which I will finish.)

  28. Armistice, by Lara Elena Donnelly. Mid-early September, 2018

    The second book in The Amberlough Dossier. Intense, suspenseful, full of culture class and bravery. Introduces a number of new characters, continues the stories of several from Amberlough. I can't wait for the third, Amnesty, which won't be published until next year.

  29. I Will Be Complete, by Glen David Gold. Early October, 2018.

    Gold's memoir of growing up with a mother who becomes increasingly disturbed over time and a father who is at least somewhat neglectful, as a smart but socially inept child and aspiring writer. Superbly written; ignore the Times reviewer who thinks there is too much detail in it. That is one of the book's glories. I'm wondering whether there will bea second volume of memoirs.

  30. Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty. Mid-October, 2018.

    A Hugo nominee; a mystery set on a generation ship of sorts, where you get the murders more or less on the first page, then the back stories are filled in. I like it a lot, but I think this book has a number of minor flaws that should have been caught at the editorial stage and one ENORMOUS problem, unless the electronic copy I read it from is defective. ENORMOUS is that you never get the back-story of one of the characters - REALLY??? A couple of the minor issues: the claim that because there is no forensic lab, they can't collect fingerprints. C'mon, it's 2200-something; use any goddamn powder and a digital camera. Also, it's 2200-something, and a character whacks another over the head with a piece of a WOODEN PALLET. C'mon, by then, for a ship on a centuries-long trip, there will be much, much better ways to pack up supplies. These really jumped out at me as implausible and I'm shocked that nobody pointed them out to the author in time to fix them.

  31. Last First Snow, by Max Gladstone. Oct. 20, 2018.

    The first in chronological order of the five published Craft Sequence books. Where Temoc, especially, came from; more about the King in Red and Elayne and Caleb. Possibly I should have read it first.

  32. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. October 26, 2018.

    Wow, I re-read this for the first time since childhood. I see why I found it so magical back then, and today...mostly it annoyed the hell out of me. Yes, it's a coming of age story for Meg, who learns to appreciate herself, and learns that in her faults are her greatest strengths, but OMG little genius-I-am-so-different! Charles Wallace is such a fucking annoying mansplaining five-year-old! I wanted to smack him about every five minutes! I also disliked the religious aspects, which aren't to the fore, but they're there enough to bug me.

    I will say that having found the book so annoying, I am more inclined to see the movie, which will not damage my past experience of the book and might improve how I feel about the story!

  33. Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. October 31, 2018.

    The third in Chambers' Wayfarer series. Superb. Well-written, convincingly plotted, characters I liked a whole lot, and with some very moving moments. It is somewhat anthropological, deliberately, and I liked that a lot too.

  34. The Ravenmaster, by Christopher Skaife. November 4, 2018.

    A thoroughly charming book about the life and times of the Ravenmaster, Chris Skaife, and his life with the ravens of the Tower of London.

  35. The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi. November 6, 2018.

    The entertaining continuation of The Collapsing Empire. I liked it a lot, I really did, but it is so facile that I feel like it misses an awful lot of potential depth. Well, perhaps it's supposed to be this breezy and smooth.

  36. When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson. November 18, 2018.

    The third of four novels concerning the former detective Jackson Brodie. Also includes Louise Monroe, who was a character in the previous book (and who is wonderful in her own way). New: a 16-year-old named Reggie Chase is one of the viewpoint characters, and how I hope she will be back. She is smart, VERY smart, perceptive, and imaginative. Central to the story is Joanna Mason, who, in the first chapter, witnesses her mother and two siblings killed by a completely stranger. Everyone in this book seems tangled up with everyone else; it is very intricately plotted.

  37. Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield. November 25, 2018.Historical fiction meets time travel meets lesbians! A fun novella, looking forward to the novel that is coming at some point

  38. Unthinkable, by Helen Thomson. December 3, 2018.

    A book looking at a number of unusual brain conditions, with an attempt to situate them both in the human condition and in neuro science. Fun but not exactly deep. Subtitled "An Extraordinary Journey Through the Brain", it's not quite as extraordinary as the author thinks.

  39. A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole. December 14, 2018.

    A romance between an epidemiology student and a man she knows as Jamal, but who is actually an African prince and her betrothed from childhood takes interesting turns. This was fun and the first of a series. It was GREAT to have all characters be black people.

  40. Killing Floor, by Lee Child. December 26, 2018.

    The first Jack Reacher novel and the last I'll be reading. Didn't his US agent tell Lee Child that a certain school in Boston is universally referred to as BU, not Boston U.? Not very interesting, although it's a page turner of its type.

Books I read in 2017

A pretty good year. I finished around 33 books. Not listed below are the two John Adams-related books I read part of: Halleluja Junction, his memoir, half-read, and The John Adams Reader, essays, which I read a few of. I didn't finish SPQR (quit 3/4 of the way through) and there were a couple of novels I started but didn't get too far in, including The Girl on the Train, which was a big seller a couple of years ago.

  1. The Last Colony, by John Scalzi. Jan. 5, 2017?

    Third book in the Old Man's War series. The return of John Perry, complete with second wife and adopted child, this time as head of a new colony??....where things do not go as expected.

  2. Detective Inspector Huss, by Helene Tursten. Jan. 20, 2017

    First in Swedish mystery series feturing Irene Huss. Probably the last I will lead. Maybe the translation stinks, maybe the author isn't very good, but oy. Confused plotting, irrational behavior all around, terrible translation, or maybe everyone does use the phrase "get hold of" on every page.

  3. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. January, 2017.

    Entertaining and often charming story of a "tunneling" spaceship with a multispecies crew and an AI with quite a persoanality. First of a series, of which the second is already out. Looking forward to the rest.

  4. SPQR, by Mary Beard. January? February? 2017.

    Well, sometime in January, I gave up on this book, which I'd gotten 3/4 of the way through. I liked it a lot; Beard ia a terrific historian and a great writer. It just hit the point where it seemed to be past the most interesting material she had to work with, about the founding myths, social structure, and history of the Roman empire. Damned interesting stuff!

  5. The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. March, 2017

    Space opera with only female characters. Intense, not much fun to read. I was way more creeped out than I would have expected by the intersection of the organic and mechanical, and the way the worlds seemed to be controlling the women who lived on them.

  6. Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi. March, 2017

    Scalzi's alternate take, from a different viewpoint, on the same story as The Last Colony. Well done, vivid, but is everybody really such a wise ass in the OMW universe?

  7. About Alice, by Calvin Trillin. March, 2017

    The expanded version of Calvin Trillin's loving hommage to his beloved wife, who died younger than she ought to have of damage to her heart caused by intense radiation treatment for lung cancer (she was a never-smoker).

  8. The Human Division, by John Scalzi. March/April 2017.

    Fifth book in the Old Man's War series. A novel published as a series; very well done, more of the people we hve come to like a whole lot. That business with the dog, though: first, you could see some kind of problem coming a mile away, especially when caves were mentioned.

  9. The End of All Things, by John Scalzi. April, 2017

    Sixth and last book in the Old Man's War series. Lots of fun, and things mostly work out reasonably well. I would have liked more of the terrifying Consu, I must say.

  10. Cockroaches, by Jo Nesbo. April, 2017.

    The second Harry Hole novel and the last one I hadn't read, because nos. 1 and 2 were the last two to be translated from the Norwegian. Typically convoluted and unlikely plotting.

  11. A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. April, 2017.

    Not exactly a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but yeah, sort of! Contains some of the same characters, but set elsewhere and with a very different, less funny, plot. Continuing themes include AIs in an organic world and interspecies replationships.

  12. Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire. April 27, 2017

    The first October Daye series, it's a cross between urban fantasy and the hard-boiled detective genre. Half-human, half-fae, October Daye has gotten herself into, and clear will continue to get herself into, a lot of trouble, much of it unnecessarily. She is hard-boiled and hard-headed, not necessarily in a good way, as she seems to have no common sense at all. She's surrounded by an entertaining cast of humans, half-humans, and full-fae. I enjoyed this but was also driven slightly mad by it. I mean, after living parallel to humans for so long, wouldn't the fae have figured out how to have their own health-care system??

  13. Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages. Novella, May 2, 2017.

    Lesbian history, San Francisco History, fantasy, and various other themes meet in a delightful novella that must have been a ton of fun to research.

  14. Binti:Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (novell).

    Sequel to Binti. Superb Africa-centric s.f.

  15. Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. June some time.

    The first in a series of detective novels. Well written, interesting, tangled. I'm not entirely convinced by some of the events at the end of the novel, but I liked it overall and will read the rest of the series.

  16. A Hero of France, by Alan Furst. June 24, 2017.

    Spy novel, the latest of Furst's. Decent but seemed perfunctory. I'm told his earlier books are better.

  17. Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott. July 2, 2017.

    First in a fantasy trilogy, set in a world where the Western Hemisphere wasn't invaded and colonized by Europeans; Africans are integrated into Europe, the Roman Empire lasted to 800 AD or so; there's no Christianity; Carthage was a power for a long long time. Oh, and there's magic. Excellent, will finish trilogy.

  18. Cold Fire, by Kate Elliott. July 10, 2017.

    Second the Spiritwalker Trilogy (I don't love that trilogy name, but whatever). Continues the story started in Cold Magic, but mostly outside of what's called Europa. Many mysteries!

  19. Cold Steel, by Kate Elliott. August 11, 2017.

    I can't believe it took me a month to finish this book. What? The conclusion of the trilogy, with lots of incident and a few battles.

  20. Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire. August 31, 2017

    A book about what happens when sentient and non-sentient spieces live among humans, there's an ancient organization dedicated to stamping them out, and one family opposing that organization. Entertaining and sometimes funny, first in a series. Maybe my library has it?

  21. The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi. September 3, 2017

    Space opera, positing a means of interstellar travel and an interstellar empire, but the means of travel is....changing, and very few people know it. What happens next? Very enjoyable, a fast read, and my feeling is that Scalzi's affection for snark and making a joke keeps him from being an even better writer. Or maybe this is his thing and he won't write anything really deep.

  22. Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh. September 6, 2017.

    Tales of neurosurgery, English-style. A memoir by a prominent (I think) neurosurgeon, nearing retirement and looking back at his successes and failure. He writes with a wry tone and you get a real sense of both the skills and emotions behind what he does and how it affects him, especially his genuine misery over errors of judgment, when he shouldn't have even attempted a particular surgery, and errors of technique. He is now 67 and one thing that amazed me is that he was able to get into medical school despite having had NO science courses as an undergraduate. At the time, there was one med school in Great Britain that would accept such students; they would get a couple of years of science classes, then medical training. It's true that the US has programs that prepare humanities majors for med school (many years ago I briefly considered going to Columbia's), but then you're competing with the science nerds with straight As.

    In any event, a good book from an evidently humane surgeon.

  23. Empire Games, by Charles Stross. September 11, 2017.

    Stross picks up on the Merchant Prices series, some years after the last incident in the last published book in the series. Major spoilage if I say much more than WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK?

  24. Rather Be the Devil, by Ian Rankin. September 18, 2017.

    The latest (2016) Rebus novel. Big Ger, still out there; Darryl Christie, still out there; Rebus, still alive and unable to let go.

  25. No Man's Nightingale, by Ruth Rendell. October 1, 2017.

    One of the last, and probably worst, Inspector Wexford novels. The plot is poorly worked out, the pacing is draggy. I got this from a Little Free Library and I'm sending it right back there.

  26. The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi. October 21, 2017.

    Novella with quite an interesting premise and room for sequels. It didn't take me three weeks to read; I've been trying to read about John Adams.

  27. Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi. October 25, 2017.

    Scalzi's riff on H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, which I read decades ago and only half remember. Very entertaining and I'll have to re-read the Piper.

  28. Fleshmarket Alley, by Ian Rankin. November 7, 2017.

    An older Rebus novel, which I'd started and bounced off long ago. It is about the worst of the last dozen of these, something of a slog and weirdly unfocussed.

  29. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.

    Beautifully written, hopeful, and profoundly sad memoir by a brilliant young neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at 36.

  30. One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson. November 24, 2017.

    The second Jackson Brodie, set in an Edinburgh that is somewhat familiar to me from the Rebus novels. VERY complex plotting, many intertwined stories.

  31. The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, December 2, 2017

    Well, around December 2, anyway. Not actually sure. Charming fantasy/detective novel hybrid built around the existence of a time-spanning, world-spanning Library and its Librarians. Firs of a series and I think a first novel. Not perfect but I'd probably read the second in the series.

  32. Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone. December 19, 2017.

    A friend of mine read one or more of Gladstone's books and wrote that they reminded her of P.C. Hodgell, a favorite author of mine, so it was inevitable that I'd eventually read one or more of his books. I see exactly what reminded her of Hodgell: the relationship between gods and their followers. (His writing style is very different from Hodgell's.) Throw in vampires, gargoyles, Deathless Kings, Justice personified, and the enforcement of contracts through magic, and you've got quite the world. I especially love how much he fills in about the world, the fact that it's done subtly and naturally, and how much he leaves you wanting more. I picked up two more books in the series before I was done with this one.

  33. Provenance, by Ann Leckie. December 26, 2017.

    Set in the same universe as the author's Ancillary series, but on a different planet and with different characters....it's a novel of politics and ephemera and justice.

Books I read in 2016

I more or less read 25 books this year, a dismal count. I got stalled out for a couple of months by feeling like I should read all 2500 pages of Dream of the Red Chamber aka Story of the Stone, then got stalled out for weeks after I started making some progress in the first volume of the book.

It's more or less because one of the listed books is three short stories/novellas, one is a novella, and one I threw against the wall and didn't finish. I read one and a half nonfiction books (I'm in the middle of Mary Beard's SPQR) and the rest is mostly science fiction and mysteries.

  1. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. January something, 2016.

    Dr. Gawande looks at how doctors, hospitals, and other institutions work with the dying and the very old, learning a lot along the way and applying some of it somewhat successfully within his own family. Not much that was new to me, except perhaps how assisted living came into being and why it's nothing like what its originator intended.

  2. Chimera, by Mira Grant. Thrown against wall half-read sometime in January, 2016.

    The first two books were pretty good, but obviously she couldn't figure out a good way to wrap things up cleanly. I got bored at the pacing and repetitiveness and lost all interest in the characters, and stopped reading half-way through.

  3. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. February 3, 2016

    Hard-to-describe fantasy novel of power struggles among mortals and among the gods. Well worth reading, first of a trilogy.

  4. Farthing, by Jo Walton. February 22, 2016.

    Mashup of a Josephine Tey or Agatha Christie novel and an alternate history in which Great Britain makes peace with Hitler in 1941 but eventually things start going wrong politically. Surprising number of odd errors; the first Dior lipstick was in 1955, so you wouldn't have found it in 1949; there's a paragraph where names are, I think, mixed up, because I'm sure that a particular married couple are not siblings, etc.

  5. .
  6. The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. February 29, 2016.

    Excellent sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, better-written and equally persuasive. What happens after two of the head gods exile the third to mortal life.

  7. Ha'penny, by Jo Walton. March 7, 2016.

    Second in the alternate history series. Features Inspector Carmichael, Himmler, Hitler, and Normanby; a cross-dressed Hamlet, and a family bearing quite a resemblance to the Mitfords. You probably won't have any problems telling who is who.

  8. Half a Crown, by Jo Walton. March, 2016.

    Third in the alternate history series. Structured similarly to the first two books in the series, alternating chapters of Inspector Carmichael and a female character, in this case his young ward. I wound up feeling as though the entire series doesn't quite get into the characters' emotional reactions and inner life as much as it might. Enjoyed the series greatly anyway, as it could all so easily happen here.

  9. Pieces of Modesty, by Peter O'Donnell. April 9, 2016.

    Modesty Blaise short stories, mostly pretty good, but the last one is appallingly racist. I needed something to get me kick started and reading again after a somewhat difficult month.

  10. Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers. April 13, 2016.

    Second book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy. Some of the same problems of tone and ahistorical behavior as Grave Mercy. Took it out of the library rather than spend money on it. I might or might not finish the last book in the series.

  11. The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin. April 18, 2016.

    Third in Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy, and the most puzzling. Never mind that the biology of the gods is....odd...but I did not see how she got from the situation at the beginning of the book to the situation at the end of the book. The plotting seems muddled; it takes a peculiar turn most of the way through, and the very end is a bit of a cheat.

  12. The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman. April 23, 2016.

    Interconnected short stories telling the story of a town and its inhabitants, also its bears. Extremely charming and sometimes unexpected.

  13. The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. June 30, 2016

    Yes, two months between finishing books, because I got bogged down in the first volume of The Story of the Stone and in this book. I did not like it nearly as much as the others I know who've read it, and I cannot tell whether it was the translation, opacity in the plotting, difficulty in actually following the plot, or what. I think I had some difficulty in following the time frame - which shifts - of the novel. Not sure whether I will finish the series or not.

  14. The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod. July 4, 2016.

    Future Scotland, after the Faith Wars and a general social revolt against religion. Robots, religion, and a police procedural - what more could you want?

  15. Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin. July 11, 2016

    The latest John Rebus / Siobhan Clark / Matthew Fox novel. The return of Big Ger Cafferty, criminal orgs at war, a very old scandal, and a small dog.

  16. A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson. August 3, 2016.

    Not exactly a sequel to Life After Life, but, well, it is. More of the Todd family, especially Teddy. Another wonderful book.

  17. The Nightmare Stacks, by Charles Stross. August 13, 2016.

    The latest - no. 7 or 8 - of the Laundry Files novels. We have a new viewpoint character, Dr. Alex Schwartz, whom you might remember as a PHANG. He is completely adorable. Also, we've got an interesting invasion. Also, possible the best dinner scene ever. Perhaps we'll see more of Alex's family.

  18. Three Tales from the Laundry, by Charles Stross. August 22, 2016.

    What it sounds like. A novella and two short stories, all lots of fun.

  19. Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. October 20, 2016.

    Fantasy novel set in Arab/Muslim - ish world. Excellent writing and imagination; first of a trilogy.

  20. The Trespasser, by Tana French. October 28, 2016.

    The sixth Dublin Murder Squad mystery. The viewpoint character is the not-always-likeable detective Antoinette Conway. The mystery is...complex.

  21. The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. November 11, 2016.

    Extremely disturbing, yet excellent, dystopian novel, set it a world where an infection has turned the infected into a ravening hoard. The premise is not far off the Parasite series I read last year and this, in some ways, but this is a much better book. I note that I did not realize until 100 pages that M.R. Carey is male.

  22. Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett. November 21, 2016.

    The last Moist von Lipwig novel, sigh, about the coming of steam and locomotives to Discworld. Superb.

  23. Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth. November 24, 2016.

    A young nurse-midwife becomes a lay member of an order of nuns and goes to work in London's East End, c. mid-1950s. A memoir based on the author's experiences; fascinating and horrifying in various ways, between the extreme poverty of the postwar East End, the absence of ongoing medical care & birth control, and the author's clear but unexamined class issues.

  24. Binti, novella by Nnedi Okorafor. December 10, 2016

    Space opera / cultural anthropology, and excellent.

  25. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. December 11, 2016

    Space opera set in a world where humans on earth can enlist in an off-earth army that defends human space colonies. First in a series. Yeah, I'll probably read the rest; the premise is well executed, though I can see exactly how he structured the first 45 pages to provide the background information.

  26. The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi. End of December, 2016.

    The second novel in the Old Man's War series. Learn about the mysterious Special Forces.

Books I read in 2015

I finished 31 books in 2015 and left Graham Robb's wonderful The Discovery of France unfinished. Still trying to finish Sleepwalkers about the start of WWI.

Of the 31 books, one was nonfiction, Helen MacDonald's H is for Hawk. Eleven were by women, 21 by men. Several of the books by men had excellent female protagonists, including those by Pratchett, Stross, and O'Donnell, as retro as Modesty Blaise might be.

  1. The Martian, by Andy Weir. December 9, 2015.

    Uh, why has this book been such a huge hit? It is a page-turner, if you don't get so bored with the title character's unending calculations of air, water, food, energy, etc. that you roll your eyes and find something more interesting to read. That's all necessary for his survival (he is stranded on Mars after being separated from his crewmates during a sandstorm and accidentally, though understandably, left for dead), but OH MAN does it get old. It also leaves no room for character development beyond "this guy is very persistent and very nerdy." And also there is an elementary arithmetic error on page 12 that I thought might turn out to be a plot point....until the people at NASA repeated it many pages later. Why, oh, why, did I not throw this book against the wall immediately???

  2. Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds. November 30, 2015.

    First novel by Alastair Reynolds, a 575-page brick with a number of interwoven strands: a vanished race, a man obsessed with studying it, politics, the history of the universe. I like it but can't help feeling that it is too damn long for the story it is telling and takes an awfully long time to bring the story to a conclusion.

  3. Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. November 4, 2015.

    Third of Leckie's books about Breq, former ancillary, now a free-standing person, and the world she lives in. An excellent more or less wrap-up.

  4. The Shepherd's Crown, by Terry Pratchett. October 19, 2015.

    Oh, waily, waily, waily! The last Discworld novel and the last Tiffany Aching novel; the world is changing and it's easy enough to see that Sir Terry had plans for the future. I am just so sad to have finished this book and know that there will be no more.

  5. Blood Hunt, by Ian Rankin. October 10, 2015.

    The worst Rankin I have read. Not a Rebus mystery; a free-standing crime/adventure/mystery novel. It's as though he had two plots about the same character and mashed them up, badly. They kind of detract from one another and some of it is over the line of believability.

  6. Lock In, by John Scalzi. October 1, 2015.

    It's science fiction and mystery, two genres at once! A well-executed novel about a world where a mass illness has resulted in millions of people with locked-in syndrome, here called Haden's syndrome after a famous sufferer. A huge expenditure on researched led to a way to implant a neural network in the heads of the locked-in, enabling them to remotey control and effectively inhabit a robot-like device. A small class of people can also temporarily accept into their own bodies the minds of the locked-in. Yes, any number of interesting crimes can be committed. I would not be at all surprised if this is the start of a series.

  7. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie. September 19, 2015.

    An early and really pretty bad Christie, the very first Poirot. Written in 1916, published in 1920; shallow and very clockworkish.

  8. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette). September 16, 2015.

    An 18-year-old boy, youngest son of an Emperor father who has abandoned him, unexpectedly becomes Emperor after his father and more acceptable brothers die in an airship crash. A coming of age novel as well as a novel of court intrigue.

  9. Halting State, by Charles Stross. September 4, 2015.

    Policing, economics, and 21st c. nerds.

  10. The Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross. August, 2015.

    The most recently-published Laundry Files book: Mo gets the spotlight and mostly Stross gets the musical details right. He seems....a bit unclear about musical forms (unlikely you'd have a violin sonata inside an opera) and the Royal Albert Hall IS in fact unusually large for a classical music venue; otherwise very satisfying, especially Mo's developing professional friendships and relationships.

  11. Sabre Tooth, by Peter O'Donnell. August, 2015.

    The second Modesty Blaise novel.

  12. Modesty Blaise, by Peter O'Donnell. August, 2015.

    The first appearance in novel form of the reformed super-criminal turned super-spy, and her excellent sidekick Willie Garvin.

  13. The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross. August, 2015.

    More of Bob, Mo, and Angleton, plus VAMPIRES.

  14. The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross. August, 2015.

    Bob goes to Colorado with an outside asset code-named BASHFUL INCDENIARY, who wears her hair in a chignon, and has a great male sidekick.

  15. The Fuller Memorandum, by Charles Stross. August 8, 2015

    The third of the Laundry Files books, and really excellent.

  16. Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman. July 9, 2015.

    Strange and wonderful book about the magical Owens women.

  17. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. July 3, 2015.

    Indescribably fascinating novel of parallel worlds and deja vu, and maybe about whether you can rerun your life.

  18. Midnight Fugue, by Reginald Hill. June 21, 2015

    A missing cop, presumed dead; his bereaved wife; two killer in pursuit of someone who might know their secrets. Dalziel is back from near death and proves that he still has it.

  19. Among Others, by Jo Walton. May 30, 2015.

    A wonderful book writing in a distinctive voice, that of a young Welsh woman recovering from a terrible tragedy, adjusting to a new life and new family configuration, and about how books save lives. I loved the dailiness of the book. It is a diary, so you get the ordinary, about good and bad food, and how classes went, along with the extraordinary (were fairies seen that day?). Also, the young woman is remarkably sensible and grounded as well as having access to the extraordinary.

  20. Redshirts, by John Scalzi. May 28, 2015.

    A not-entirely-satiricle space opera; the main plot, then three follow-ups that round out the story quite well. Curious whether this is characteristic os Scalizi, whose blog I read, and a little shocked by some poorly-constructed sentences in the first chapter.

  21. The Middle Temple Murder, by J. S. Fletcher. May 26, 2015.

    Classic-era British murder mystery by a journalist/novelist who wrote 225+ books, including something approaching 100 novels. This was represented to me as being rather better than it turned out to be. Somewhat entertaining (but not enough for me to read anything more by this guy), poorly paced, shallow, and completely implausible.

  22. The Causal Angel, by Hannu Rajaniemi. May 22, 2015.

    The third in Ranajiemi's space opera trilogy, finally resolving the stories of Mieli, Jean le Flambeur, and Josephine. Well worth reading, but start from The Quantum Thief.

  23. The Voice from the Void, by William Le Queux. May 13, 2015

    Bad 1920s murder mystery, more or less

  24. H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. April 25, 2015.

    When Helen Macdonald's beloved photographer father dies suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack, she goes a bit mad. In her grief, she decides, on impulse, to purchase a goshawk, reputed to be a fearsome bird and difficult to train. (She was already an experienced falconer.) This is her memoir of training the goshawk, whom she names Mabel, and it's also an exploration of T. H. White and his books, which include The Goshawk, about his own attempt to train such a bird. Macdonald is a magnificent writer and this is a superb book.

  25. March Violets, by Philip Kerr. Sometime in April, 2015

    The first of the Bernie Gunther detective novels. Gunther is a former policeman, in Berlin, in...the 1930s. This book is set in 1936, with a slight backdrop of the Olympic games, held in Berlin that year. I started reading this MONTHS ago and it was very stop and start. I will probably finish the trilogy, but I did not love this book. It is hard-boiled but attempts to use, in English, the equivalents of presumably-contemporary German slang, and...that holds things up for me.

  26. Symbiont, by Mira Grant. March 28, 2015.

    Second of three novels (third is not yet published). Things only get worse for the gang from Parasite

  27. Parasite, by Mira Grant. March 18, 2015.

    Science fiction / horror / thriller novel involving a biotech company that has succeeded in selling the US and perhaps much of the world on a biological implant that treats autoimmune and other diseases from the inside. The implant is based on tapeworms. Things....eventually go wrong. First of three novels

  28. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker. March 14, 2015.

    This is a thoroughly charming book, the author's debut novel. A golem and a jinni meet in NYC, around 1890, and various complications ensue. Magical realism on the lower east side? Well, kind of, yes. I love both the title characters, too.

  29. The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages. January 24, 2015.

    YA novel about a nerdy young girl who winds up in Los Alamos starting in 1943 - a time when Los Alamos wasn't even on the map owing to a certain secret project. Moving, and an entirely excellent portrayal of what it's like to be a young nerd, how people makes friends, and how adults can really really be good to the children around them.

  30. The Moving Toy Shop, by Edmund Crispin. January 19, 2015.

    Another Gervase Fen mystery, this one set before the war, in Oxford. Ridiculous coincidences, especially that lorry driver who conveniently turns up twice, an overly convoluted plot, one where the murder is basically completely implausible. Do people REALLY write wills like that?? Only in pre-war British mysteries.

  31. Swan Song, by Edmund Crispin. January 13, 2015

    An extremely silly mystery about the murder of the baritone during rehearsals for a postwar performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg by a British cast, in Oxford. The silliness includes blatant mishandling of evidence and, of course, the involvement of an amateur sleuth. Not to mention, for a book set in 1947 or 48, everyone is remarkably well fed and there's no sign of RATIONING. Crispin gets the musical details right, except perhaps for the soprano's repertory, which includes Eva, Salome, and....Mimi? Not impossible, I suppose. But whoever named the book blundered: obviously the opera in question should have been Lohengin.

Books I read in 2014

In 2014, I finished 28 books. The list below includes two books I did not finish, the novel Rupert of Hentzau and the musicological study The Sound of Medieval Song. As I'm writing this at 6:27 p.m. on December 31, I suppose I could wrap up Rupert. I am in the middle of, and will be finishing, The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark's study of "how Europe went to war" in 1914. The count below includes one play, four graphic novels, six books I'd call mysteries, eleven fantasy and science fiction novels, three books that might be considered historical fiction, and some odd ends. Note that two of the fantasy novels were the fourth and fifth Song of Ice & Fire novels, which are worth two or three normal novels each. The best book of the year might be The Hare with Amber Eyes, which I am pressing into peoople's hands, but boy, did I love Hild and Code Name Verity a lot.

I read four novels by Charles Stross, two by Anne Leckie, two by Elizabeth Weidn, two by Hannu Rajaiemi, two by Jo Nesbo, and two by George R. R. Martin.

  1. The Trade of Queens, by Charles Stross. December 31, 2014.

    The sixth of the Merchant Princes books. His publishers announced a while back that three more of these books would be coming, with the first to be published in 2015, and a good thing it is. DEFINITELY feels like a middle book, because it is.

  2. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. December 28, 2014.

    The sequel to Leckie/s award-winning Ancillary Justice, the continued tale of Breq, now assigned Fleet Commander of Mercy of Kalr, and the continued story of the evens of Ancillary Justice. I'm betting that there is a book called Ancillary Mercy coming, because the story isn't over.

  3. The Revolution Business, by Charles Stross. November 19, 2014

    The sixth (fifth?) of the Merchant Princes books. Hoo boy, are this one and number 5 "middle books," but I am not picking up Trade of Queens just yet to see whether and how he has wrapped up the story.

  4. The Secret Place, by Tana French. November 7, 2014

    French's latest Dublin Murder Squad book; like the others, it is intricately plotted, with bits of detail revealed slowly over the course of the book. Her special trick here is that there are two timelines running parallel. One, in the present, takes place over the course of one day. The other takes places in the past over a period of months, closing in on the present. It's set, mostly, in an exclusive girls' high school, with lots of characters from the parallel boys' school nearbye. As always, very, very well done.

  5. The Merchants' War, by Charles Stross. Date?

    More of the Merchant Princes.

  6. Rule 34, by Charles Stross. October 20, 2014.

    A shady character dies in dramatic and highly suspicious circumstances, and a pile of other events makes it look like it's not an isolated incident. Artificial intelligence, central Asian politics, CDOs, 21st century policing, alternative sexuality, all rolled into one highly entertaining ball.

  7. Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin. September 30, 2014.

    Billed as a Matthew Fox novel, but it's both a Fox and John Rebus novel. A car accident, a suspicious death, an old, old case involving Rebus and his fellow police from his first assignment. Unusually has some third-party viewpoint sections.

  8. Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie. September 28, 2014.

    Multiple-award-winning space opera/political thriller/gender bending mystery. It won all those awards for a reason; highly recommended. You will eventually stop being confused, too.

  9. The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. September 10, 2014.

    I flirted with this when it was newly published, but somehow never bought a copy. A friend gave me her extra and now I have read it. A book that I am going to force on everyone I know who hasn't read it already. A wonderful and almost indescribable family history/memoir revolving around a collection of netsuke assembled in the 19th century by one of the author's relatives. Although he is an Englishman with a Dutch name, he comes from a once-fabulously-wealthy and prominent Jewish banking family, and, well, thereby hangs an involved, fascinating, and sometimes heartbreaking tale.

  10. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. September 4, 2014.

    If you like Tana French, you will like this very complex suspense/murder mystery.

  11. Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer. August 26, 2014.

    I started this about six or so weeks back, right after reading Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, but had to take a break. The two books cover very much the same territory: the slow decline of two old couples, told as graphic novels.. Where they differ is that Chast's book is hilarious as well as poignant and sad, while Farmer's book is straightforward, sad, and doom-haunted. You can see the catastrophes coming, you know they will be bad, you know the book will be merciless and that you won't have anything to laugh about. That said, the parents in Special Exits seem much less neurotic and self-centered than Chast's parents, and certainly much more endearing that Chast's really awful mother. (The awfulness is reserved for their Siamese cat, Ching, who bites and scratches all the time, gets underfoot, and hates most people.) There's no sense that the daughter in the book is anything but loving; she has none of the ambivalence that Chast has about helping her parents out. It is harrowing in some ways, but mostly because you want Lars and Rachel to accept more help, and you want them to get help, especially medically, much sooner than they do. The drawing is beautifully expressive, the story poignant.

  12. His Fair Assassin Book 1: Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers. August 25, 2014.

    Interesting historical fantasy about a convent of nuns trained as assassins, working for St. Mortain, an old god now viewed as a saint because the world is Christianized. Also, it is the late 15th c. It is not exactly historically accurate; there is some clumsiness in the plotting (wait, you're telling me they send one of their assassins out without making sure she has actually studied relevant background materials? They train the assassins in poisons but not the antidotes? Really??) and in the writing (uh...I see that "quirk" is a verb, but I don't have to like it...also, why weren't those shifts of tone to modern idiom not edited out?), but entertaining YA anyway. I won't buy the next two books - I got this one used - but I'll take them out of the library.

  13. The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene. July 28, 2014.

    My girlfriend got this from the library because we are seeing Jake Heggie's opera of the same name in a couple of weeks. Man, Greene sure could write, but oh my god. The principal narrator, Maurice Bendrix, is an odious human. The book is mercifully short, so I didn't have to spend that much time inside his head. A little tough to disentangle the religious material from the slightly sordid base story, also.

  14. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast. July 25, 2014.

    The wonderful cartoonist's funny and poignant graphic novel about her parents' decline, old age, and deaths. Highly recommended.

  15. The Sound of Medieval Song, by Timothy J. McGee. Not finished yet

    I spent about six weeks reading 100 pages of this 180-page book, and here's a quotation that will tell you why.

    To be a longa the first note of the phrase (case 1) must be the pitch of the modal final. The second note of a multi-note syllable (case 2) is only a long if it is not preceded or followed by another one of the five exceptions. A single plicated note (case 3) is a longa when the note plicated is itself written as a longa. If it is separately written it has the value of an imperfect longa, but if it is ligated it could be a perfect longa or even a four-unit longa. (The actual value would depend on neume shape and notational context.) Also, a pair of plicated, ligated notes with the written value of two breves could have the value of breve-longa if they are followed or preceded by a longa.

    It's about interpreting medieval music notation according to medieval theorists. Let me put it this way: that very pure line and sound that you hear on chant recordings is nothing like how the stuff soudned way back when. But don't ask me to explicate the above paragraph. I'd have to read a couple of hours' worth of material to be able to explain it to you. I only half understand it myself

  16. Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope. Not finished yet.

    The sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda. Even more complications.

  17. The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope. June 11, 2014.

    A grand adventure story that spawned a genre, the Ruritanian romance: the younger brother of a British lord goes on holiday to Ruritania just in time to stand in for the King at his own coronation, which the King can't attend because he has been drugged and imprisoned by his evil younger (illegitimate) brother. Add in the villain Rupert of Hentzau and the beautiful Princess Flavia, and complications ensue. The basis of many films and parodies, and a ripping good yard of its type.

  18. The Fractal Prince, by Hannu Rajaniemi. May 29? 30?, 2014.

    Sequel to The Quantum Thief. I am not entirely sure I understand the plots of these two novels, but I did enjoy reading them. The story is not yet done, too.

  19. The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi. May 22?, 2014.

    Complex science fiction story concerning a possibly resurrected thief, a woman on a mission, the secret masters who really control things, and a couple of different civilizations? societies? more or less co-existing in our solar system.

  20. Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein. April 27, 2014.

    I've been reading this one for a couple of weeks, but put it down a couple of times. Quite a bit weaker than the fabulous Code Name Verity, with pacing and tone problems and perhaps too much story packed into a comparatively short book. Also, less believability on some level or another.

  21. Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare, April 23, 2014.

    Shakespeare's bloodiest play, a swift and brutal revenge tragedy.

  22. A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin. April 3, 2014.

    Well, he could have reduced the Dany story line by 80% with no harm, eliminated another story line completely, and shrunken almost everything else by simply omitting his description of every step everyone takes and every meal they eat. Doesn't this guy have an editor??

  23. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin. March 14, 2014.

    GOD what a slog. SO much worse than the first three books. Also, what a damn stupid decision, to split up the original monster into two books in which the action is simultaneous/parallel rather than consecutive/serial. Of course, I bought A Dance with Dragons the second I finished it.

  24. Death Comes for the Fat Man, by Reginald Hill. March 9, 2014.

    A few pages into the book, an explosion near kills Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe, leaving Dalziel comatose and Pascoe trying to figure out what happened and why. A fine, fine mystery, with some oddities, and perhaps an open question or two at the end.

  25. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, February 24, 2014

    Utterly gripping, engrossing puzzle of a novel, about two young women who are best friends during WWII. That doesn't begin to get at the story, really, but a great read, wonderful book

  26. Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, February 8, 2014

    Hilarious memoir-in-drawings by a woman with a long-suffering boyfriend, two dysfunctional dogs, and chronic depression. You might know her drawing style: Clean all the things!

  27. Police, by Jo Nesbo, January 21, 2014.

    I am completely caught up on the Harry Hole series, excepting no. 2, which will finally be published in English this spring some time. This is perhaps the most twisted and terrifying of the novels yet.

  28. Phantom, by Jo Nesbo. January something 2014

    Harry is back from Hong Kong, for an unfortunate reason. Can he do what he needs to do? And what happens next with...

  29. Get Jiro!, by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, Langdon Foss, and Jose Villarubia. January 11, 2014.

    Fantastic and very funny graphic novel about an ongoing war between corporate food/cooking and crunchy organic food/cooking, with possibily recognizable real people making appearances in leading roles on the organic side. (One of them is EASILY recognizable; the other will take most people a little work.) Helps if you've read something by Bourdain and seen the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

  30. Hild, by Nicola Griffith. January 3, 2014.

    Really wondering whether I omitted a book, because I started this one on December 9, buying it from Kobo in Honolulu Airport two minutes after reading a friend's comments about it. (Oh, wait; I read 90 pages of The Dante Club, in hard copy.) Anyway, this is a superbly written and researched historical novel about Hild, following her in the early 7th century from childhood to young adulthood as King Edwin of Northumbria's niece and seer. I do not want to say much more than that, but it is wonderful and I cannot wait for the NEXT novel to come out, whenever that is, considering that this took ten years of research.

Books I read in 2013

Maybe I'll finish two excellent nonfiction books I started last year.

Well, I didn't finish those two nonfiction books, and apparently I did not complete ANY nonfiction books in 2013, although I have two in process. I hang my head in shame.

What I did read was approximately 27 books, nearly all of them genre novels, either mysteries (mostly police procedurals) or s.f. The best book of the year was Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset's great historical novel of medieval Norway, in the wonderful new(ish) Tiina Nunnely translation. Highly, highly recommended. Other favorites include Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?, Neil Gaiman's American Gods (a superb dark fantasy novel), and Christopher Priest's The Prestige..

  1. Neptune's Brood, by Charles Stross. December 4, 2013.

    That's an arbitrary finish date because I can't remember when I finished it. Interstellar banking and economics made fun; also family conflict, fraud, interplanetary travel, and pirates. Great fun, though I thought it would be longer, somehow

  2. The Leopardby Jo Nesbo. November 23, 2013

    These books are getting enormously convoluted in plot (and I figured out part of it in advance of harry), but I am definitely enjoying his personal development, such as it is.

  3. The Snowman, by Jo Nesbo. November, 2013.

    I am starting to beat Harry to the solution! Not the full story, but I figured out the Bad Guy before he did. Terrifying ending here.

  4. The Redeemer, by Jo Nesbo. November 16, 2013

    A Croatian contract killer meets the Salvation Army, Oslo. Bad things happen.

  5. The Devil's Star, by Jo Nesbo, November 15, 2013

    While I wait for Harry Hole No. 2 to be published (February, 2014) and as long as I am home sick, catching forward on the series, as it were. Yet another serial killer on the loose in Oslo; Harry's alcohol problems, etc.

  6. Standing in Another Man's Grave, by Ian Rankin. November 13, 2011.

    The return of John Rebus - as I said a while back, Rankin left his future somewhat unsettled at the end of Exit Music. Here he is on the cold case squad, investigating (and eventually solving) some old missing persons cases - and also butting heads with Matthew Fox of the Complaints

  7. The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. October 25, 2013.

    This novel was the basis of a pretty good film by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. I've wanted to read the book ever since, and what do you know? It is a more complex and subtle story, beautifully told and really rather spooky, than the story told in the movie. Highly recommended.

  8. The Bat, by Jo Nesbo. September ?, 2013

    The first of the Harry Hole books, and fairly weak by comparison to 3 & 4.

  9. The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks. September 23, 2013

    The last Culture novel from the late Iain M. Banks, who died earlier this year of cancer, and sadly not quite as good as most of the earlier Culture novels. I had some ideas about the eponymous sonata; they turned out to be wrong, but it might have been more satisfying if I'd been right.

  10. Nemesis, by Jo Nexbo. Early September, 2013.

    Fourth (second published in English) in the Harry Hole (pronounced HOO-ley) detective series. Grim and complex.

  11. Ask the Parrot, by Richard Stark. September 2, 2013.

    One of the later Parker books. The parrot is not actually an important plot point.

  12. Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King. August 31, 2013.

    In preparation for Tobias Picker's opera, natch. King can't QUITE keep from writing a horror novel, no matter how hard he tries. It'll be interesting to see what the librettist and composer do with ths plot.

  13. The Impossible Dead, by Ian Rankin. August 27, 2013.

    The second Malcolm Fox (& co.) Complaints novel, the Complaints being the police unit that investigates allegations of wrongdoing and other complaints against the police.

  14. Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel. August 11, 2013.

    Bechdel's graphical memoir, which is not exactly about her mother, but much more about Bechdel's internal process and therapeutic process of dealing with her mother. Gorgeously drawn and fascinating, because Bechdel writes about her mother and her mother's life, her own life, her therapists, the writings and life of Virginia Woolfe, and the writings and life of analyst Donald Winnicot, who was clearly a brilliant and sensitive man. LOVED, although this book has not been loved by people I know to the extent that Bechdel's first memoir, Fun Home, was.

  15. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. August 8, 2013

    Superb fantasy novel by Gaiman, not readily describable.

  16. A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin.

    I've read somewhat more than half but I need a BREAK from these people. I'll finish it in the fall some time.

  17. A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin. Early July, 2013?

    Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire; further adventures of the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, and all of their friends, enemies, and rivals.

  18. The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels.

    I have only read half but plan to finish it before returning it to a friend. Background for Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

  19. The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbo, May 24, 2013.

    The first available Harry Hole novel in English (the first in the series will be available later this year, finally). Well-written, complexly plotted, interesting and strongly drawn characters. I am surprised by only one or two loose ends, though one of them leaves open further encounters in future books. I will read more of them.

  20. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross, May 15 (?), 2013

    The second Laundry files book. Not quite as funny as the first but very entertaining nonetheless.

  21. The Clan Corporate, by Charles Stross, May, 2013.

    The third Merchant Princes book. Things get more complicated, yes, they do.

  22. Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, May, 2013.

    Finished the second and third books of Undset's giant historical novel, in the newish (and really great) translation. What a book! It's a deeply detailed, very readable, complex novel set in 14th c. Norway, featuring Kristin, her reckless and feckless husband Erland Nikulausson, their children, and their extended families. Densely plotted, memorable characters, a lot of fun, with some intense and touching scenes and plot points.

  23. The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross, April 28, 2013.

    The first of Charlie Stross's James Bond meets Cthulu meets Office space series, the Laundry Files, about a branch of the British civil service that fights occult manifestations among us. Smart and very, very funny, but it helps if you are um a bit of a geek.

  24. Railsea, by China Mieville, April 21, 2013.

    A really weird novel, possibly a juvenile?, riffing on Moby-Dick, and not only weird but wonderful

  25. [nameless book written by a friend, sometime in March
  26. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. March 1, 2013

    The children's classic about a couple of neglected, yet spoiled, upper-class children who meet and, with the help of a "magic poor boy" and his kindly sister & mother, renovate a neglected garden and turn into decent humans. Well, that's what you think it's about. It's actually Christian Science propaganda: Medicine bad! Nature good!

  27. The Wreath, by Sigrid Undset. January 31, 2013.

    Somewhat of a cheat here: I have finished the first of the three volumes making up the saga-like historical novel Kristin Lavransdatter, by Norwegian Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset, but since each volume is around 350 pages...A fabulous book, fairly slow-starting but with plenty of human drama to come. Set in the 14th century, it's the story of a young woman's coming of age. You learn a lot about her family (nobels, but they farm for a living), religious life, social mores, in a world not far from pagan society but now Christian. If you're going to read this, don't even think of getting the older (1920s? 30s?) English translation, which badly misrepresents Undset's forthright prose by burying it in thee and thou. Make sure you read the newer translation by Tiina Nunnely, published by Penguin. (Tiina is not a typo.).

  28. The Hidden Family, by Charles Stross. January 20?, 2013.

    Second of the Merchant Family series. I liked this one better than the first, will probably proceed with the series.

  29. Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness. January 14, 2013.

    The last book of the Chaos Walking trilogy. Brrrr. Still brutal, though in this book, the Spackle have a voice and...some good things do happen. Still, almost unrelieved misery and awfulness, and all too realistic in that way.

  30. Strip Jack, by Ian Rankin. January 12, 2013.

    One of Rankin's John Rebus books, and a very good one indeed. Less drunkness, more of the great cop. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I read this one eight or ten years ago.

  31. Preview of A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

    Look, it's 167 pages long, it deserves to be listed here. I'll buy the complete book....in a while.

Books I read in 2012

As always, the goal was to read more non-fiction. I didn't succeed, in part because I started, but did not finish, two important nonfiction books, Tony Judt's Postwar and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert. Perhaps in 2013?

Meanwhile, I read a total of 29 books. I'd feel worse about that low total if the two George R.R. Martin books and the two Trollopes weren't each the length of two or three typical novels. I also started, but have not finished, The Hobbit and Bleak House. I did not list a book I read in manuscript, so I guess I can reasonably say I read 30 books in 2012.

  1. A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin. December 30, 2012.

    The second book in Martin's long-running, perhaps never-to-be-finished, A Song of Ice and Fire. This is roughly parallel to season 2 of the HBO series. Reading it fills in a bunch of background and clarifies a few inexplicable bits in the series; it also provides an object lesson in what you have to do in adopting a long book for another medium. I am still bothered by his difficulty with maintaining a consistent tone, and occasionally I wanted to take a red pencil to the book.

  2. Broken Harbour, by Tana French. November 25, 2012.

    The author's latest, with all the strengths (gripping plotting, tangled relationships) and weaknesses (he WHAT?) of her previous novels.

  3. Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull. November 15, 2012.

    A marvelously lyrical and beautiful book, with the force and power of a fairy tale and exceptionally strongly drawn and believable characters

  4. Ninety Percent of the Game is Half Mental, by Emma Span. October 25, 2012

    Funny and charming book about baseball, being a baseball fan, being a Yankees fan, and being a sportswriter.

  5. A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, October 24, 2012.

    The first of several doorstop-sized novels in Martin's will-he-ever-finish series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Well done, gripping, lots of plot and lots of character.

  6. Playing for the Ashes, by Elizabeth George, September 19, 2012?.

    Actually, I got bored and threw it against the wall.

  7. Nightshade, by Jonelle Patrick. August 17, 2012

    First novel by a friend of mine, a mystery set in modern Tokyo in several different worlds: it's a police procedural, a novel about the clsh between the modern and the traditional, and a look at some of the odder subcultures of Japan. I learned a few things, too! Did you know that in Japan, an email address can be tied to a phone, not to an email provider?? Lots of fun, recommended.

  8. Sidetracked, by Henning Mankell. July 28, 2012

    The third Kurt Wallender.

  9. Seeker's Mask, by P.C. Hodgell. July 13, 2012.

    The continuing adventures of Jame, the Kencyr; her brother Tori; those around them. Curioser and curioser!

  10. Death's Jest-Book, by Reginald Hill. June 13, 2012.

    I made a big mistake: this book is a direct follow-on to Dialogs of the Dead, its immediate predecessor, and it would have read very, very different if I had known that and read Dialogs first. Don't make my mistake.

  11. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. May 26, 2012.

    The second of Mantel's Thomas Cromwell historical novels; as good as Wolf Hall, the first.

  12. Every Patient Tells a Story, by Lisa Sanders, MD. May 16, 2012.

    Finally! Non-fiction! Dr. Sanders writes a NY Times column about diagnosis and, more recently, a You Be the Doctor column. This book is about the art of diagnosis and, less obviously, the importance of the physical exam.

  13. The Complaints, by Ian Rankin. May 10, 2012.

    Still home sick, so in the last 24 hours, I read my second Ian Rankin of the week. This one seems to be the first in a new series (The Impossible Dead appears to be the second) about the cops who clean up after corrupt or misbehaving cops. Well-written, well-executed, absorbing, with a fine central character, Malcolm Fox.

  14. The Man From Beijing, by Henning Mankell. May 9, 2012

    Two mysteries in two days = home sick. This is a stand-alone novel, not one of the Wallander novels. The first half is better and more interesting than the second, because the base premise is so unfuckingbelievable. Also, as seems typical of him, major unanswered questions that he doesn't seem to realize are unanswered.

  15. Doors Open, by Ian Rankin. May 8, 2012.

    Ian Rankin is best known as the author of the John Rebus detective novels. This is a one-off caper novel, set in Edinburgh and making one brief passing reference only to Rebus (an in-joke that you wouldn't even get unless you've read the Rebus books). The plot is preposterous in many many ways - SO MANY - but the book is reasonably entertaining.

  16. Dark of the Moon, by P. C. Hodgell. May 5, 2012.

    I remembered a lot less of this than of God Stalk. It is very, very good, continuing the story of Jame and continuing the terrible copy-editing.

  17. The Secret Telephone, by William Le Queux. May 2, 2012

    Bad 1920s thriller. Why? I LEFT MY REAL BOOK AT WORK and read this in 24 hours, mostly on the shuttle.

  18. God Stalk, by P.C. Hodgell. April 20, 2012.

    Third or fourth time I've read this one, though the last time was more than 20 years ago. EXCELLENT book, still, though I quailed at "effect" for "affect" and "pallet" for "palate."

  19. Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, by Wesley Stace, April 10, 2012.

    Whoa. A wry and sometimes funny novel of music in England and the life of a young composer who....um, well, I think you should just read it. I do wish there had been better copy-editing; the character name spelled differently on two pages, the extra word here, the two different statements of the age of one of the characters.

  20. The Dogs of Riga, by Henning Mankell, early April, 2012.

    The second Wallender; jumps the shark pretty badly a couple of times.

  21. Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell, early April, 2012.

    The first of the Kurt Wallender police procedurals. Bleak, cold, bleak, cold. I think he misses one great plot opportunity; why don't the police immediately hire that young woman with the great memory?!

  22. The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope, late March, 2012.

    The third of the Palliser novels, another 750-page doorstop. You could read this one as a stand-alone; the Pallisers and their circle appear, but they are peripheral to the story of Lizzie Eustace and her diamonds. Well, perhaps I mean "her" diamonds. The ownership of the gems is in dispute from the first pages of the novel. Lizzie is quite something; young, beautiful, charming, clever (but not intelligent) and pathologically incapable of telling the truth. Whether she is deluded, scheming, unable to see the consequences of her actions, or some combination of the above, I do not know, but Trollope as ever paints a fascinating picture of society and women's lives. And the eternal question of who will marry who, and why, and of course there is a fox hunt.

  23. Over My Dead Body, by Rex Stout. Mid/late March, 2012.

    Archie & Nero, at it again, this time with help from Nero's daughter (or "daughter").

  24. On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill. February 23, 2012.

    I think this is no. 15 of 25 of the Dalziel & Pascoe books. It's intricately plotted and pretty intense. Probably helps to have some familiarity with Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.

  25. Phineas Finn, The Irish Member, by Anthony Trollope. February 22, 2012.

    The Irish member of Parliament, that is. A great coming of age novel; a young man finds his way in world, in Parliament and in government. The second of the Palliser (aka Parliamentary) novels. Trollope is also concerned with whom Phineas will marry and with the fate of a woman who marries the wrong man.

  26. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. February 3, 2012.

    I last read "Gatsby" in high school or junior high. I now must ask: Whatever is this book's enormous reputation based on? The writing is often clunky and graceless, the dialog wooden, the plot trite, and the people loathesome. Not much to like! So much a young man's book about other young and very immature people.

  27. World of Wonders, by Robertson Davies. January 18, 2012.

    The third book in the Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders is everyone's second fav book in the trilogy except mine. I have always like The Manticore better. But this time around, I liked World of Wonders more than in the past (I think). For one thing, I have a greater appreciation of Magnus's growth. For another, I was fascinated by both the Tresizes and the look you get at their style of acting and theater. For a third, I greatly enjoyed the third view of Dunstan Ramsey and Boy Staunton, and the different views of Magnus and the Tresizes that you got from Roly.

  28. The Manticore, by Robertson Davies. January 9, 2012.

    The second book in the Deptford Trilogy. Like Fifth Business, just as good the four time as the first. Maybe better, because I have more understanding of why I like it so much.

    I like the Manticore better than anyone I know. I have some insight into why I like it so much, from this reading. I believe it's because you get one narrative from Dunstan Ramsey in Fifth Business, then David Staunton goes over quite a bit of the same ground and suddenly some things look rather different. It's not that Ramsey is an unreliable narrator. It's just that he is not at all interested in Caroline or Netty or some of the complex relationships within the Staunton family. For that matter, he is not very interested in David. Some of what David explicitly discusses can be inferred from Ramsey's narrative, but more easily in retrospect, after reading The Manticore.

    Also, I really love how the analytical process is discussed.

  29. Three Men Out, by Rex Stout. January 2, 2012.

    Three novellas or long short stories or something. Nero & Archie. The usual.

Books I read in 2011

This year's goal: read more non-fiction.

It's January 1, 2012, and I did, more or less, manage to read more non-fiction. I did this by doing a little jamming on non-fiction at the end of the year.

I think I am starting 2012 with non-fiction - a new book and also by finishing a book I've been 95% done with for almost a year.

The 2012 count: 3 nonfiction books (four if you count the one I'm almost done with...), 27 fiction (including a couple of very short books and a couple of very long ones), 1 novel thrown against the wall partway through. I'm also still picking up Berlioz's memoirs from time to time and will finish the book eventually. Also about 180 pages into Phineas Finn on my phone and thinking I need hard copy.

  1. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, December 30, 2011.

    A popular history of both the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and the serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes, who killed at least 9, probably closer to 30, possibly as many as 200 people in the 1880s and 90s. Pretty good, definitely an overview, but with many exceptionally interesting architects and other people among the personages.

  2. Kraken, by China Mieville, December 19, 2011.

    When this novel opens, you're apparently in the London many of us know and love; within fifteen or twenty pages, things start to get odd and just keep getting weirder and weirder. About 300 pages in, I started wondering wondering how on earth he would keep the plot going for another 200 pages; somehow, he does, and it's quite a virtuoso performance. Great characters and plotting and two of the creepiest assassins for hire you will ever meet.

  3. The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Dec. 16, 2011

    Finally finished this one, which I've been reading off and on for quite some time. One of the NY Times's Best Books of the Year for 2010, both fascinating and frustrating. It needed somewhat heavier editing to give it a better story arc, not to mention heavier editing to avoid the several places where the author repeats himself two pages apart and, worse, the usually-breathless, journalistic prose. Also: integrating illustrations with the text would have been smart.

  4. Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. Dec. 16, 2011

    Just as good the fourth time through as the first three. I wish the jacket copy did not unreasonably focus on what is not really the central question of the book, though of course the desire to explain does drive Dunstan Ramsey's memoir.

  5. Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach. Dec. 15, 2011.

    I appreciate gravity ever so much more than I did even two weeks ago.

  6. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett. Nov. 25, 2011.

    A talking cat, some talking rats, and a stupid-looking kid: the Pratchett take on the Pied Piper. Hilarious.

  7. The Ask and the Answer, by Patrick Ness. November 12, 2011.

    The second book in the Chaos Walking series; equally brilliantly written, equally grim. Superb working out of the situation set up at the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go. Sure, the middle book of a trilogy but does not have that unfinished feel to it. Must run out and buy book 3.

  8. Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason. November 9, 2011.

    A mystery novel set in Iceland, featuring Inspector Erlendur; I take it to be one of a series. It is understated and took a while to gather momentum; the translation has some jarring Britishisms. A decent read; might take more of the series out of the library.

  9. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. November 5, 2011.

    Elegant, but I would not have given it the Man Booker Prize.

  10. The Adventures of the Gay Triangle, by William Le Queux. October something, 2011.

    Early 1920s British espionage novel; xenophobic but Francophile, also contains some random anti-Semitism. Fun otherwise, wish it had more cool gadgets. Not particularly well written.

  11. The Witch of Exmoor, by Margaret Drabble. Thrown against the wall around October 1, 2011.

    It took about 1/3 of the book for me to realize that I disliked the characters, the voice, the pacing, and the plot. She's no A.S. Byatt, is all I can say.

  12. The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt. September 16, 2011.

    I finally finished A. S. Byatt's "The Children's Book," which was absolutely wonderful, probably the best novel I have read in....I don't know how long. It was short-listed the year "Wolf Hall" won the Man Booker - now, I liked "Wolf Hall" a whole lot and am looking forward to the sequel that Hilary Mantel is evidently working on, but holy moley, WHAT were the judges thinking? "The Children's Book" is a magnificent accomplishment, even better than "Wolf Hall." Every sentence is so, so beautiful, and Byatt is a master of an intricate plot. I completely loved it, will be telling all my friends to read it.

    If you read any of the reviews that were published when "The Children's Book" came out and they discouraged you from reading it, ignore them. Some of the things I saw in the reviews - which I read after finishing the book - are just wrong. Yes, the book has a whole lot of historical background in it, and the history acts to enrich the lives of the characters, in fact, the history is essential to how Byatt captures the time in which the characters live (a couple of decades plus a few years, starting around 1894).

    The pacing of the book is one of its marvels, and I'm reasonably certain that reviewers, reading under the gun of a deadline, read it _too fast_. I read it at a leisurely pace, over the course of about two months. Partly, we have the hardcover and it was a pain to lug around - but mostly I wanted it to last as long as possible. I did NOT want to hurry through it. That's because every sentence is so, so beautiful.

    If you like Byatt and have not read it, you have a marvel waiting for you.

  13. Faithful Place, by Tana French. Sept. 9, 2011.

    The latest by the Irish mystery writer. A lost love, family secrets, three generations of a fairly messed-up family.

  14. Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Sept. 2, 2011.

    The most recent Culture book. A satisfying read!

  15. Room, by Emma Donoghue. July 29, 2011.

    A harrowing story, also a heartening one, written in a most unusual and sympathetic voice. I hesitate to say more, but highly recommend this.

  16. Flashfire, by "Richard Stark." July 24, 2011.

    One of the later Parker novels, fast-moving and strongly plotted.

  17. Transition, by Iain Banks, or maybe Iain M. Banks. July 20, 2011.

    Not a Culture book (apparently), though it's listed with the Culture books on the Also By page opposite the title page. Eh. The plot doesn't come together all that well and is presented in a fragmentary fashion. I hope Surface Detail is better.

  18. The Family Trade, by Charles Stross. July 8, 2011.

    The first of the Merchant Princes books. Okay, I'll probably finish the series, but not in a huge hurry.

  19. House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds. July 4, 2011.

    Space opera. Really, really good space opera.

  20. The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. June 24, 2011.

    The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. An even bleaker and more dystopian future than that of the Hunger Games trilogy.

  21. Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins. June 1, 2011.

    The first children's book by the author of the Hunger Games trilogy. It's....okay. The writing is a bit flat and there are tone problems; she's trying to make a contrast between the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy and the Underlanders, who live, yes, under the earth. It doesn't quite work. The story wasn't that enthralling; I think there are continuity issues; probably won't read (and definitely won't BUY) the balance of the series.

  22. Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope. May 29, 2011.

    The first of the Palliser novels, focussing on the parallel stories of Alice Vavasor (the titular her), who is torn between two potential husbands, one a scoundrel and one a near-saint; Lady Glencora Palliser, who is torn between the man she loved and didn't marry and the man she did marry; and Mrs. Greenow, torn, but not very hard, between two men who might become her second husband. A good deal more fun than the first time around some years ago.

  23. Flesh & Blood, by John Harvey. April 29, 2011.

    One of a series of mysteries about English cop (now retired) Frank Elder. Flat writing, mediocre pacing, not going to read any others.

  24. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. April 29, 2011.

    I started James's psychological ghost story last month, in advance of seeing Britten's opera of the same name, then put it down, picked it up, etc. It is a great tale in so many ways, from the dense yet slippery style to the vividly drawn characters to the murky atmosphere. Are there ghosts? Is the Governess imagining things? I have an opinion on that, but you should read it and draw your own conclusions.

  25. Comeback, by Richard Stark. March 11, 2011.

    "Richard Stark" was Donald Westlake's pseudonym for his Parker books, Parker being a cold, calculating, murderous heist guy. I've read several in the last year or so, and picked up a half-dozen in the free box at a party recently. I might have read enough of them.

  26. The City and the City, by China Mieville. March 2, 2011.

    A police procedural set within a pair of cities, Beszel and Ul Quoma, that are physically co-located, but which have separate governments, cultures, economies, and laws. The citizens must learn to "unsee" each other and cannot interact unless they have traveled to the other city - in which case they cannot interact with their co-citizens. They are harshly and immediately punished for breaches of the accepted behavioral protocols. Mieville handles this premise brilliantly and surprisingly persuasively; the story is told from the viewpoint of a policeman caught up in a bi-city investigation of the death of a young archeologist.

  27. I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. February 23, 2011.

    The fourth, and probably last, Tiffany Aching book, funny, touching, wise, as usually, and a satisfying wrap-up that nonetheless leaves the door open for more if he's willing (and able, sigh) to write more. Please give the set to all the girls you know.

  28. Native Tongue, by Carl Hiaasen. February 22, 2011.

    Blue-tongued mango voles, a felon-turned-wanna-be-Disney, a washed-up journalist, the requisite women with hearts of gold, and Skink. Hilarious as usual.

  29. Missing Joseph, by Elizabeth George. February 4, 2011.

    Ho-hum. I'm told that the Inspector Lynley novels are variable, and this one...well, I spotted something before the sleuths did, the setup is schematic, and the ostensibly adult characters don't seem to actualy learn much about how to talk to each other. Should I read more?

  30. The Man with the Getaway Face, by "Richard Stark" (Donald E. Westlake). January 16, 2011.

    One of the early - 1963! Parker books - the amoral caper/heist/killer guy.

  31. Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett. Finished 1/09/2011.

    Many charming characters and funny scenes, but a diffuse plot that doesn't quite hang together.

Books I read in 2010

I read 40 books in full and four more fractionally (from one-half finished to 3/4 finished) in 2010.

Huge reading break from late-Feb to early April as I IGNORED Luc Sante's Low Life, which I started in February while in NYC. Log jam now broken; I'll finish Low Life in a whilesomeday.

There were several books I read only half or three-quarters of the way through in 2010. They're listed among the books I finished, for some reason - probably so I could keep chronological track of what I read.

The books I read in 2010, most of them completed:

  1. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. December 24, 2010.

    The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Chew on the plot and character development. An extremely strong and tough-minded series, not sure, given the violence and political complications, whether they're really YA books.

  2. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. December 20 or 21, 2010.

    Book 2 of the the Hunger Games trilogy. What happens afterward.

  3. The Likeness, by Tana French. December 18, 2010.

    A follow-up of sorts to In the Woods, though with a completely different plot line and new characters. Again, not your usual police procedural. You will want to kick the protagonist occasionally.

  4. In the Woods, by Tana French. December 13, 2010

    A gripping double mystery, very complex and sometimes convoluted, about which i shall say nothing more.

  5. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. December 13, 2010.

    Beautifully written and almost indescribable, though I have to say that I found the connections among the different parts a little more tenuous than I'd been led to believe they were.

  6. Double Whammy, by Carl Hiaasen. December 9, 2010.

    I interrupted my reading of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas because when in Florida, read about Florida. Double Whammy is typical Hiaasen, populated by assorted rednecks, crazy people, cops, losers, criminals, and freaks. In this case, several of those are bass fishing pros, so the book also stars some fish. Hilarious, and, as usual, people die in various horrifying, yet funny, ways.

  7. Thud, by Terry Pratchett. Thanksgiving Day, 2010

    Sir Terry at his best. The Watch, the dwarfs, the trolls, a giant painting, Young Sam, Sibyl, and a lot of history.

  8. Ruled Britannia, by Harry Turtledove. Nov. 2010.

    Only read about 90 pages, got distracted by other things, had to return it to the library, could not take it in to renew because I was walking the dog. Will probably finish, though! Interesting alternate history novel of a world in which Elizabethan England is ruled by Spain.

  9. Good Morning Midnight, by Reginald Hill. Nov. something, 2010.

    An excellent, complex Dalziel & Pascoe novel, involving suicides, two of them, a decade apart, a stepmother, and deep secrets.

  10. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. October 24, 2010.

    A remarkable coming of age novel set in a horrifying dystopian future. I've seen some advertising copy or blurbs/endorsements calling it an 'adventure story,' but no. First of three books. I will need to get "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" from the library as they are hardcover only just now.

  11. The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. October 21, 2010.

    Chaim Potok's best-selling 1967 novel about two Jewish boys, one Orthodox and the son of a great scholar, the other Hasidic and the son of a rabbi, in line to inherit his father's rabbinate. I read this as a teenager and remembered some of the key plot points, such as how the boys meet. I had forgotten a great deal of detail, and I'm sure that I never noticed that women are essentially invisible in the novel. Reuven's mother: dead. Danny's mother: in poor health. Danny's sister: no name. And Reb Saunders's way of raising Danny still enraged me. Also I think the plot and characters are laid out rather schematically. I'm touched by the relationship between Reuven and his father and by Dany and Reuven's friendship.

  12. Watchman, by Ian Rankin. October 19, 2010.

    Rankin's second book ever, after the first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, and not nearly as good as the bulk of the Rebus novels. On the flat side for a complicated spy novel.

  13. Grave Goods, by Arianna Franklin. October 16, 2010.

    The third book in the series started with Mistress of the Art of the Death. Slightly better, but not enough to get me reading the second or any subsequent books.

  14. Arms and the Women, by Reginald Hill. October 9, 2010.

    An Ellie Pascoe mystery. Seriously, while Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are in the book, Ellie is the major focus. The embedded tale of ancient Greece is a really treat, too.

  15. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. September 25, 2010.

    Mantel's Mann-Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation. Fantastic book, beautifully written, strongly plotted, deeply reflecting how people thought and lived in the 16th c. That's one of the best things about it: you can see the ways that Cromwell is more modern than his contemporaries: he plans, he analyzes businesses, he knows accounting. (That was a BIG DEAL in 16th c. England.) It's about a tumultuous time in English history, given Henry VIII's thirst for an heir and the creation of the Church of England as a result, and it's fascinating to see from such a personal standpoint. Highly recommended.

  16. The Sorrows of Young Werther, by J.W. von Goethe.

    Threw in the towel half-way through because Werther is such an immature, self-centered, impulsive drip.

    No, wait! After seeing the opera, I finished the book. Okay, I skipped the long recitation from Ossian! But I had to see if it ended the same way the opera ends (i.e. Charlotte really IS attracted to him...)

  17. The Club of Queer Trades, by G.K. Chesterton, September 5, 2010.

    Entertaining but incoherent, and ended so abruptly I wondered if I'd managed to lose half the (electronic) book.

  18. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, August 28, 2010.

    Experiment: I read this very long book - 100 chapters - on my smartphone, using the free Aldiko reader. I was astonished at how successful this experiment was. I felt free to put down and pick up the book, which I read over the course of about a month or five weeks. I read a few other books between chapters of TWWLN. The advantages of ebook format for it included not having to lug a thousand-page novel around, being able to pull it out of my pocket any old time, and not knowing exactly how far I had to go. I strongly disliked the Kindle the one time I had my hands on it - I don't feel a strong need for a hard keyboard when I'm reading, for example - but like reading electronically on the phone just fine.

    One of the great books by my favorite 19th c. English writer, a superb novel of business life and social manners in the 1870s, with plenty to say about class and anti-Semitism. Many points of view and many fascinating characters, of which I must say the women are mostly more interesting than the men. Mrs. Hurtle is a magnificent creature and how I wish her the best. Georgiana Longestaff is a shallow and self-centered fool (though perhaps in the end she does well since she does the unexpected). There's one character we barely see about whom I'd like to know more, Mr. Brehgert, since he is the only man to speak with a woman as if she were an intelligent and independent being who can make her own life decisions.

    Also, Sir Damask Monogram is the best character name ever.

  19. Gone for Good, by Harlan Coben, August 22, 2010.

    A vanished brother, an unsolved murder, a psychopath, mistaken identity, and a lot of withheld information.

  20. Tell No One, by Harlan Coben, August 21, 2010.

    This novel was the basis of the 2006 French film Ne le dis a personne, which kept almost all of the plot and relocated the action to France. IMDB tells me there is an English-language film called Tell No One under development. You might as well get the French version, which includes Kristen Scott Thomas.

    In any event, it's a complex and reasonably well-put-together mystery/thriller, though I think there are plot holes you could drive through. This seems to be Coben's stock in trade, based on reading this and another novel of his in close proximity.

  21. Greenmantle, b John Buchan, August 21, 2010.

    The second Richard Hannay book. A mysterious message, a trek across Europe and into the Anatonlian peninsula, traveling companions of various sorts, amazing coincidences, a vengeful German, an elusive woman plotting to lead an Islamic revolt of sorts (!). And a lot of random racism, too. This is the sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps. I have not decided whether I need to read (or can bear to read) Mr. Standforth, the next Richard Hannay book

  22. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. August 16, 2010.

    You don't need me to explain this to you, do you?

    My first-ever reading of the great classic. It is extremely charming and while the famous movie musical doesn't follow it exactly, it's pretty close. I love the illustrations, too. I plan to read a couple more of the series.

  23. Bel Canto, by Ann Pratchett. Threw in the towel, August 14, 2010.

    After 110 pages, I didn't give a damn about any of the characters, AND I was annoyed by the operatic and Spanish errors. Putting it another way, I found the book so annoying I would have CHEERED if the terrorists had lined up all the other characters and shot then one by one, just to get the damn thing over and done with.

  24. The Whispering Statue, by "Carolyn Keene," August 7, 2010.

    Yes, indeed: it's a Nancy Drew book. When I helped my mother clean up her house in 2006, I packed and took to CA a fairly small number of books, and my childhood "series" books were among them.

    I have not read a Nancy Drew book since my childhood, though I have read a number of articles about them. Did you know that in the originals, which started to come out in the 1930s, Nancy was a more independent person than in those that were published in the 1950s and 60s?

    This particular book was published in 1937, and indeed, Nancy does what she wants, even when it shows poor judgment or puts her in danger. It's an entertaining read, and I can see why it made such an impression on me when I was 8, but oh dear. The writing is stilted and stiff; the plotting full of unlikely coincidences. A current adult mystery - or, for that matter, the best adult mysteries from the 1920s and 30s - would be better-constructed and written. (Yes, I know that most don't have the quality of the best of Sayers.) Still, it's easy to see why these books are so appealing and have lasted so long as a series.

    Among the other books I brought back from NJ were some that my father had read as a child in the 1920s, by Jeffrey Farnol. They are not the copies he read, which probably came from the public library; they're copies he bought in the 1960s and 70s at used bookstores and at garage sales. This puzzled me at the time, but now I understand the impulse to re-read beloved books from childhood; for the sheer pleasure and to see how they stand up to one's memory of them.

  25. The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett, August 7, 2010.

    Sam Vimes is appointed ambassador to Uberwald on the occasion of the coronation of a new Low King of the dwarfs. Various disasters and hilarity ensue; I'd consider this one of the best of the Discworld novels.

  26. Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde, July 29, 2010.

    The second Thursday Next book, continuing the adventures of the LiteraTech operative in a most unusual alternate universe, where there's a Shakespeare voting bloc, the Crimean War continued until 1985, time travel is real, and dodos (plock plock) have been genetically engineered back into existence. An excellent read, often funny, with a couple of marvelous virtuoso turns of writing.

  27. The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, by Sax Rohmer, July 6, 2010.

    I made it half-way through. I read a bunch of the Fu-Manchu books as a teenager; I'm almost certain I picked up this hardcover first American edition for more or less nothing in a thrift store in Waltham, MA when I was in college. It goes nicely with The Thirty-Nine Steps in terms of the threat-from-the-other. In the Buchan, it's Jews and Germans, in Rohmer's books, Asians. Yes, there's lots and lots about the Yellow Peril and the threat from the east, a truly appalling level of racism, with secret agent Nayland Smith explictly standing for the whole white race, especially the British white race.

    Fu-Manchu is both brilliant, the greatest living genius, and a monster. And also an opium addict. I couldn't take more than half of it, with the endless running around to no purpose, the beautiful young woman who instantly falls in love with Dr. Petrie, the murderous fiends, etc.

  28. The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, July 4, 2010.

    No, I did not read this in one day, though it is so short I almost could have. Read on a Google Nexus One using the Aldiko book reader.

    If you've seen the famous Hitchcock film, you'll barely recognize the book. Parts of it, yes, but Hitch's screenwriter invented whole swaths of the script and changed its time period. There's plenty of casual classism (okay, that nearly goes without saying) and casual anti-semitism as well. Scrambling over the highlands, yes; beautiful female sidekick, no.

  29. The Price of Admiralty, by John Keegan, July 3, 2010.

    Keegan's overview of four great naval battles: Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway, and Atlantic.

  30. Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett, June 1, 2010.

    The third and possibly the last of the Tiffany Aching books; a fine coming-of-age novel, as the whole trilogy is, and a great look at the education of a witch.

  31. Night of the Jaguar, by Michael A. Gruber, May 22, 2010.

    The third and possibly last Jimmy Paz novel, but the door is certainly open for more. Especially memorable for its attempts to represent how a person from an Amazonian culture would see the modern world and for the internal transformations of two of the other characters.

  32. The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda McIntyre, May 7, 2010.

    I've been reading this for a while - was about half-way through when the Stieg Larsson books landed in my household. A really superb historical fantasy novel set at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. One of Vonda's best, I would say.

  33. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson, May 2, 2010.

    Since he died shortly after turning in the mss. of the three Lisbeth Salander mystery/thrillers, no more. I caught the first big implausibility and likely consequences long before the consequences played out. There's a lot I don't believe for a second, but perhaps the biggest implausibility is the genius hackers using INTERNET EXPLORER, the most bug-ridden, slow, and overloaded of web browsers. For crying out loud, she's Swedish - she'd be using Opera.

  34. The Girl who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson, April 26, 2010.

    Utterly preposterous and again full of giant holes in the plot. Fun, though!

  35. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, April 20, 2010.

    Yes, I'm reading the Swedish mystery series, like everyone else I know. I can't tell if the clumsy writing is a result of a clumsy translation; the plot has holes you could drive a truck or three through. And yet, compelling!

  36. Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. April 3, 2010.

    Moist von Lipwig, in charge of a bank? Yes, indeed.

  37. The Private Patient, by P.D. James. February 10? 12?, 2010.

    At this point, I find Adam Dalgliesh's sidekicks at least as interesting as he is, and I still don't quite get the relationship between him and his 20-years-younger fiancee. This novel has a fairly convolunted plot, and you truly don't get enough information to figure out who done it until mighty late in the book. Even then, I'm not sure I could tell you why done all of it.

  38. Exit Music, by Ian Rankin. February 7, 2010.

    Rebus finally retires. A fairly complex plot, involving a dead Russian poet, various Russian businessmen, and, eventually, Big Ger Cafferty. I am not completely convinced that Rebus is gone, but we'll see. After 20-odd years of documenting his life, Ian Rankin might want a change.

  39. The Wind Blows Death, by Cyril Hare. February 3, 2010.

    Another elegantly-written and sometimes quite funny novel by Hare, this time set somewhere on the south coast of England. While it revolves around the murder of a fine violinist, it also involves the nuances of organizing and rehearsing an amateur orchestra by a conductor who is clearly better than they deserve. However, I have to say: the big break revolves around what I would consider a complete impossibility, given the several amateur orchestras and bands I've played it.

  40. Tenant for Death, by Cyril Hare. February 1, 2010.

    An elegantly written and reasonably well-plotted English mystery from the 1930s, set in the wake of the financial collapse of a group of related companies all owned and run by the same swindler.

  41. A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett. January 28, 2010.

    No, it did not take me nearly three weeks to read this book. I spent a week or so hauling around The Orphan's Tales without touching it, and another week hauling around and sometimes reading part of The Great Influenza. Now you know why I don't read nearly as many books as I'd like. I should go back to leaving my laptop at work during the week.

    That said, this is another Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle book, an excellent ongoing coming-of-age tale. Great stuff, but you knew I'd say that.

  42. My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. January 8, 2010.

    The great author, cook, and TV personality, an eccentric of the first water, tells her life story, sort of. It's less a memoir than a chronological series of charming anecdotes, as told to her nephew Alex. It's always entertaining, sometimes touching, and often hilarious. Running through the book is the ten-year tale of the writing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a suprising cliff-hanger. (I cried when they finally sold it!) The book also contains a great love story, that of the late-blooming Julia and her beloved Paul.

  43. The Wee Free Men,by Sir Terry Pratchett. January 5, 2010.

    The first Tiffany Aching novel. She's nine years old and has THE POWER, as well as having had a remarkable grandmother. Also contains a lot about and co-stars the Nac Mac Feegle, one of Sir Terry's great, great creations.

Books I read in 2009

I read 26 books in 2009, up from 23 in 2008, but still behind the 33 in 2007 and far under what i read before the internet took over my life. I spent too much shuttle time on line answering email or blogging, I think. I read a disproportionate number of books while home sick or on vacation (two-plus during a short stay in Santa Fe, for example). I still wish I were reading more nonfiction.

Books I finished:

  1. Bones and Silence, by Reginald Hill. December 26, 2009.

    A fairly brutal but very good Dalziel & Pascoe novel, with many strongly drawn characters and a good subplot.

  2. The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin. December ?, 2009.

    Putting this here belated because I think I read it in 2009 - might have been the first few days of 2010, however. Apparently the next-to-last Rebus novel, involving finance and government and Siobhan's parents.

  3. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. December 4, 2009.

    I liked the movie, so I got the book, which typically turns out to be better fleshed out and more interesting, and you can easily see what got grated on for the movie. Tristran's father in the book is happily married, so there's no happy reunion with Lady Una. And the whole De-Niro-the-gay-pirate bit was invented for the movie. Anyway, charming and very beautifully written. I need to read more Gaiman.

  4. In the Year of Jubilee, by George Gissing, November 25, 2009.

    George Gissing, a British novelist and journalist of the late 19th c., is probably best know today for the novel New Grub Street. I picked up In the Year of Jubilee in a Dover edition several years ago and finally read it this year, inspired by two friends who'd read Gissing within the last 18 months. It is both fascinating and frustrating because it is so much of its time. Set in 1889, the year of Queen Victoria's jubilee, it tells the story of Nancy Lord, her ne're to do well brother Horace, their family tributions, and Nancy's disastrous involvement with the immature Lionel Tarrant, which nearly ruins her, though in the end it appears to more or less be working out reasonably well. But you can easily see the ways that women's lives were limited by circumstances and especially by the circumstance of their being women.

  5. The Forgery of Venus, by Michael A. Gruber, November 20, 2009.

    An art-historical thriller of sorts, one about which it's hard to say much without major spoilage, so I'll just say that it's lots of fun and will send you diving for the art history books.

  6. Mistress of the Art of Death, by Arianna Franklin. November something, 2009.

    This book is wild with anachronisms; the characters act much too much like modern people; I do not for a minute believe that a Spanish Jew of the 12th century spoke Yiddish (he would speak Ladino); for that same minute, I do not believe that the famed medical school at Salerno followed 19th and 20th c. practice to determine how bodies decayed after death; and I do not believe for a second that they trained women as doctors. (It has been brought to my attention that perhaps Salerno did train women as doctors. That would be interesting to read about.)

    Enjoyable, not in the least believable.

  7. An Advancement of Learning, by Reginald Hill. November 10, 2009.

    The second of Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe books. Compact, swift, and well done.

  8. End in Tears, by Ruth Rendell. November 8, 2009

    I'm home with a cold, that's why the three books finished in three days. Today's was one of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels. As usual, she is both great and maddening, for these reasons: 1. The felis-ex-machina without which.... 2. The young cop who is a pure caricature of a feminist - it's far from the first time Rendell has pulled this crap 3. The incredibly convoluted plot in which a lot of trouble could have been avoided if, say, some of the characters had bothered to speak honestly to each other 4. In a book with two English characters of African ancestry and one English character of Indian ancestry, she still manages to have a "magic Negro" (ask me if you're not familiar with the term) 5. The sheerly idiotic and immature behavior of yet another character from one of the subplots. Is that enough reasons?

  9. Backflash, by Richard Stark (a pen-name of the great comic novelist Donald E. Westlake), Nov. 7, 2009.

    The first Parker book I've read, a superb and tightly-plotted and -writen heist novel.

  10. Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett, November 6, 2009.

    A girl named Polly runs away to join the army and find her brother. She finds a lot more, and finds OUT a lot more. Typical Pterry.

  11. Rats, by Robert Sullivan. October 19, 2009.

    Rats was a surprise best seller a few years back. Considering the subject matter, it is surprisingly charming. Still, given that the author spends quite a lot of time in an alley observing the subject rodent, perhaps this is not for the squeamish.

  12. White Jazz, by James Ellroy. Octboer 3, 2009.

    One of Ellroy's L.A. Quartet books; if you've read L.A. Confidential, you'll know some of the characters. A good read of sorts, but the stench of corruption and horror is so great that I think I need to go shower now.

  13. Before Midnight, by Rex Stout. September something, 2009.

    Nero, Archie, a perfume-related contest. Pure comfort reading, and I'm absolutely certain I'd read it before.

  14. The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez, Sept. 16, 2009.

    Flat, flat, flat. Flat writing, poor plotting, has to invent a work by Aaron Copland, then claims there would be only one percussionist. I don't think so. Must be the only writer to set a book at Oxford and pay no attention to the town and university's age and beauty.

  15. Immoral Certainty, by Robert K. Tanenbaum, Sept. 13, 2009.

    The gap isn't as long as it seems; I read most of two books that I need to finish since The Moonstone. I picked up the Tanenbaum book because the excellent Michael A. Gruber ghosted this and several other of Tanenbaum's books. However, this one is not nearly as good as the books Gruber has been writing under his own name. The writing isn't as good and the characters and plotting....I can't begin to tell you how many times I wanted to kick one of the main characters

  16. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. August 3, 2009.

    A famous 19th century crime/detective novel, now more entertaining as a period piece and for the charming characters than for the plotting. You could say I don't buy a word of the explanation of who and how done it. Still, I'm glad to have read it, some thirty years after I first heard of The Moonstone.

  17. Valley of Bones, by Michael Gruber. July 26, 2009.

    The second in Gruber's stylish Jimmy Paz series. Terrific writing and plotting. If I'd been able to buy a copy of the third book today, I would have done so.

  18. For the Sake of Elena, by Elizabeth George. July 24, 2009.

    Horrible people doing horrible things to each other, often behaving stupidly in the process, the exceptions mostly being in Lynley's immediate circle. Please stop torturing Havers immediately, and if this series doesn't improve in the next book or two, I am done with it.

  19. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne Valente, June 18, 2009.

    If you're following along, you'll have noticed the weeks-long gap since my last-completed book. During that time, I started a Pratchett book, then lost it at work. I spent more time working on Remix, which is hugely annoying. I am also more than 100 pages into a Java textbook and have been spending one evening a week in class and more time doing homework.

    I started In the Night Garden months ago, and then got distracted, perhaps by my first run at Remix. In any event, I finally picked it up and dashed through the last 150 pages. All I can say is "Wow." It is an amazing, intricate, wonderfully-written fantasy. I can't wait to read the next book.

  20. Tropic of Night, by Michael A. Gruber, May 6, 2009.

    A superbly written thriller/police procedural/fantasy novel - really - that raises all sorts of questions related to the recent cultural appropriation and racism debates on LiveJournal. Judging by the photos, the author, with whom I have a slight online acquaintance, is European-American, but the central subjects include African American identity, Africa, santeria, anthropology, anthropology's role, and what, exactly, it is possible to learn by trying to become part of a culture not one's own. I am troubled by the way some of the character development goes, no, wait, by quite a lot of the character development. I also liked the book a whole lot and plan to read the next two Jimmy Paz novels.

  21. Blindsight, by Peter Watts. April 5, 2009.

    Recommended by someone on the Potlatch Good Reads panel. An odd cast of characters set off in a spaceshit to save the world. Well, not exactly, but sort of. The cast includes an autistic man who is a genius at synthesis, a military commander of notable nerve, the Gang of Four, and a vampire. A creepy and sometimes scary book, worth reading.

  22. Matter, by Iain M. Banks. March 26?, 2009.

    The latest Culture novel. It took a long, long time getting off the ground and ends, well, you know Banks.

  23. Remix, by Larry Lessig.

    A placeholder; I've been intermittently reading this since mid-February. So far, I'm somewhat disgruntled.

  24. Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett. February 14, 2009.

    Between finishing The Rest is Noise and starting Carpe Jugulum, I also read about 50 pages of Joseph Horowitz's controversial Understanding Toscanini, which I will get back to in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the usual assortment of wisdom, wit, and belly laughs from Sir Terry. As usual, do not mess with Granny Weatherwax.

  25. The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross. January 30, 2009.

    I started Noise last April at Wilbur Hot Springs, read another chunk in Santa Fe in July, then set it aside during the Great Reading Drought of 2008. Finally decided I had better finish it. So you could say I read 300-odd pages last year and 200-odd this year, making two decent-sized books. I liked what I read, am not happy at all about some important omissions and feel like a statement up front that this is an AMERICAN view of 20th c. music would have been a good idea. Maybe it's there and I have forgotten - I will check before I write my blog posting about the book. But if a Brit or German had written the book, there would be a lot less Copland and Bernstein, and Will Marion Cook wouldn't have gotten a mention. I have a lot to say in addition to that and won't try to put much of it here.

  26. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. January 21, 2009.

    Giant, fast-moving, often scary novel with a large debt, both plot and structural, to Stoker's Dracula. I liked it quite a bit, though I think it stumbles a bit toward the end, perhaps because it's simply difficult to close out such a big book. The multipart denoument seemed both too drawn out and too short; at the end I wanted a bit more. However, a damn good read.

  27. A Suitable Vengance, by Elizabeth George. January 8, 2009. CONTAINS SPOILERS.

    Well-written and reasonably entertaining, though a bit too convoluted in trying to set out a great deal about the mystery at hand, problems within Lynley's family, and telling us about Simon and Deborah's prehistory.

    Okay, if you've read the first three Lynley novels, details about how Simon and Deborah FINALLY get together aren't exactly spoilers. But MY GOD how stupidly these people behave. He doesn't communicate with her for THREE YEARS even though they are quite clearly the best of friends when she leaves England for three years. He BROODS and BROODS about how he can't possibly be acceptable to her because of his injury and limp. What? He's presented as sensitive, brilliant, kind, well-read, and good-looking, and a limp and a brace are supposed to be disqualifying?

    Other stupidity: EVEN I could figure out that the camera bag disappeared because of the film! And what is with the concealed evidence and the drive across London that takes an hour when Tommy and Simon know Sasha is dead or dying? Sheesh!

  28. Growing Up Weightless, by John M. Ford. January 2, 2009.

    This is the second time I've read Growing Up Weightless, a coming-of-age/YA novel by the late John M. Ford. I like the book's characters, details, and plot, but I feel like it has one serious problem: it doesn't have what I would call a real plot climax, and so it feels structurally weak. This might be because there are multiple plot threads, any of which could have been further worked out, or because the denoument happens very, very fast, in a small number of pages both absolutely and relative to amount of plot to be unwound. It is typical of Ford that he alludes to a lot without spelling it out, which is, in this book, a serious problem with respect to one of the ongoing plot threads. I truoly wish the book had been longer, both for better working out of the plots and for more depth of detail in some areas: how the theater works, the mechanical systems of Luna, what happens with all of the kids, etc. Okay, the latter probably isn't necessary.

    I'll also say that the musical economy of Luna is different from anything I am familiar with. There is no way the composer could finish his work and have it performed two weeks later in the current world musical economy. The implication of what happens in the book is that the composer lives in a world like Haydn's, where the music was performed by Esterhazys' private orchestra as soon as it was written, without a long rehearsal period. I am not convinced that a complex modern work, and that's what the symphony to be performed is, could be rehearsed and performed under those conditions.

Books I read in 2008

Well, I had a crappy book-reading year in 2008. I blame it on blogging a lot more than in previous years, reading other blogs too much, and the election. I also got badly bogged down, to the point of blockage, by The Rest is Noise. I read part of it in April, part of it in July, and remain stuck half-way through. Read the index to see why, she said cryptically; I still haven't figured out what to say about it on my blog.

My goal for 2009 is just to read a lot more, of whatever type of book.

  1. The Medical Science of House, M.D. December 30, 2008.

    A survey of how several facets of the popular TV show work in the real world.

  2. The Music of Elliott Carter, by David Schiff.

    Grazing only. I read the excellent introductory chapter and parts of the string quartet and piano music chapters. I have the second edition (Thanks, Patrick!), which was published ten years ago. In the decade since, Carter, still composing at the age of 100, has written another 20 or 30 works. Hold off a while on that third edition, Mr. Schiff.

  3. A Sea of Troubles, by Donna Leon. Mid-November, 2008.

    I read this because it was in the house and easy, even after having sworn off Donna Leon. I had been told the later books in the Guido Brunetti series were better the earlier - not true at all. Never again!

    The enormous gap since I last finished a book has two reasons: the election, which killed my concentration for reading anything but political news, and the length and complexity of a couple of other books I was reading in the late summer/early fall. I seem able to read again now that the election is, thank goodness, OVER.

  4. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fford. Sept. 11, 2008.

    A mystery/fantasy novel set in an England where it's 1985 - and the Crimean War is still going on. Where there are internal combustion engines, but no jets, and air travel is by propeller-powered airship. Where dodos are common pets. Where crimes against literature are quite common.

  5. Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett. August 20, 2008.

    How music got rocks in it; also, Death's sensible granddaughter saves the day - again.

  6. The Locked Room, by Paul Auster. August 5, 2008.

    The third of the New York Trilogy. This book appears more humane than the first two, or at least the protagonist seems less trapped in convention and more spontaneous than those of the first two. Still, there are many unanswered questions; the atmosphere of the book is disturbing and disquieting, as in the first two books. Not fun to read, not challenging; the books read more like intellectual experiments than anything else. Just how far can I stretch this genre before it breaks?

  7. Ghosts, by Paul Auster. August 2, 2008.

    Book Two of the New York Trilogy, just as creepy as the first. A man (called Blue) is hired by White to watch Black, and destroys his life by doing so.

  8. City of Glass, by Paul Auster. July 31, 2008.

    I read City of Glass in the 80s, but never got the rest of the New York Trilogy; gave away my copy of City of Glass, then picked up a copy of the trilogy that a friend was giving away. MY, what a creepy book. I suspect I both liked and understood it better this time than 20 years ago, and will be starting the second book in the trilogy later today.

  9. The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael A. Gruber. July 24 (?), 2008.

    A complicated and very entertaining literary thriller, with a great cast of characters.

  10. The Enchantress of Venice, by Salman Rushdie. July 9, 2008.

    Salman Rushdie came to Google for a talk a few weeks ago. I had never heard him speak before. He turned out to be smart, funny, and very charming. The talk was mobbed, and he got an enormous hand before and especially after. You can watch his talk on YouTube.The Enchantress of Venice is about a number of things: power, and fate, and magic, and love. It's a lovely book, and as he says in his talk, he didn't make up some of the seemingly wildest things he wrote.

  11. Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett. June, 2008.

    A female wizard? Are you kidding?

  12. The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. No date because I read a bunch of The Rest is Noise after Bloody Bones and can't recall when I read the Chabon.

    A strange and mostly wonderful book, about a world in which the Jews who survived WWII are given a limited-term home in Sitka, Alaska. I liked it a great deal, especially the wry and tortured Mayer Landesman, cop. I suspect it's funnier than I found it; dry wit often goes over my head in print.

  13. The Rasp, by Philip MacDonald. May? June? 2008.

    The first of MacDonald's Anthony Gethryn novels. I read several of these in the 1980s, and recently used MacDonald for the Well's Mystery Logout Quote game. My copy of The Rasp looked as if it had never been read, and I didn't remember a thing about it - strange, but possibly true. In any event, one of the worst mysteries I've ever read, with conclusions lept to and vast amounts of unmotivated and poorly-explained behavior. I'm now afraid to reread Warrant for X or The List of Adrian Messenger, which I remember as being pretty good.

  14. Bloody Bones, by Laurell Hamilton. April 12, 2008.

    Much better than the previous two Anita Blake novels, largely because it's heavy on the mystery, better on the human/monster relationship issues, and light on gratuitous violence

  15. Towel thrown in on Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novik, the fourth Temeraire book.

    No problem with the improbability of talking dragons and Nelson's survival past Trafalgar, but the insanity of the decision-making in this book and the lost-kingdom aspect in the center put me over the edge. I also looked ahead to the ending - WTF? I don't buy it and am done, done, done with the series

  16. Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. March 25, 2008.

    Hmm, two Pratchetts in a row and separated by weeks. That's largely because of the amount of time I have recently put into researching and writing a forthcoming article, the longest I've written as a music writer. In any event, Death's sensible granddaughter saves the world.

  17. Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett. March 8, 2008.

    Magrat Garlick, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, love, unicorns, and....those you don't mention.

  18. Alice, Let's Eat, by Calvin Trillin. March 3, 2008.

    One of the great New Yorker writer's collections of food essays. Hilarious, and you will drool straight through.

  19. The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendahl, translated by Richard Howard. February 20, 2008.

    I read a review in the Times a few years ago when this translation of the Stendahl classic was published. On a visit to my mother, probably in 2001 after she broke her wrist, a bookstore across the river in Hackensack was going out of business. I picked up a few books, Charterhouse among them.

    Now, I was not expecting to like Charterhouse. It's a long, early 19th century classic by a writer with a one-name pseudonym. I was expecting serious, heavy, unpleasant.

    Boy, was I surprised. The tone throughout is light, ironic, very modern; the action is paced swiftly; the book is full of charm. world. At its heart, it's a novel of politics and court intrigue. It tells the story of the young nobleman Fabrizio del Dongo, as foolish a dolt as has ever been found on the pages of a novel: you will often want to smack him. Possibly more importantly, it's about his aunt, the marvelous Duchess of Sanseverina, and her lover Count Mosca della Rovere, who try to get Fabrizio established in the world.

  20. Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks. January 20, 2008.

    Subtitled "Tales of Music and the Brain," that's exactly what this superb book by Dr. Sacks is about. Music, neurology, brain damage, unusual conditions, all fascinating.

  21. The Edge of Chaos, by Pamela McCorduck. January 17, 2008.

    The third novel by an author best known for her writing about artificial intelligence and other aspects of computer science. Set in Santa Fe, partly at the Santa Fe Institute, about love, death, and other aspects of life. A really good book, interestingly plotted (the characters' lives unfold very slowly) and vividly written. I wish the typeface were more readable - the book designer made a very bad choice.

  22. Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett. January 4, 2008.

    DEATH LEAVES HIS JOB FOR A WHILE.

Books I read in 2007

  1. Nurse Matilda Goes to Town, by Christianna Brand. December 26, 2007.

    The second of the Nurse Matilda books, with a plot that can be summarized in one sentence: The Brown children go to London, mayhem ensues, Nurse Matilda puts things right. Beyond that, really, it is rather annoying. Too much picking on both thin and far people and people with accents. I wish there were either a plot or some characterization beyond the very broad characterization of Aunt Adelaide, Evangeline, and Nurse Matilda.

  2. Well-Schooled in Murder, by Elizabeth George. December 25? 24?, 2007

    The third of the Inspector Lynley novels. The plot is about two layers of complexity past plausibility, plus, I thought one character's self-torture implausible based on my knowledge of one of the other characters. I was vastly relieved when....but completing many of these thoughts would require a big spoiler warning. I should note that since I've been sick for two days, this was fine sick-bed reading anyway.

  3. Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik. December 23, 2007

    Longer than the previous two novels and less effective than either, with an overly long plot with insufficient motivation for the primary activity and a couple of all-too-obvious long-range setups, plus not quite enough elucidation of an intruiging character. Perhaps he'll appear in the fourth book, perhaps not. Moreover, those dragons can be so annoying! Just imagine a talking cat the size of a first-rate man o' war who can fly and speak intelligently in multiple languages.

  4. Witches Abroad, by Terry Pratchett. December 7, 2007.

    Don't mess with Granny Weatherwax or Greebo.

  5. Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. November 29, 2007.

    I've wanted to read this book since it was first published in, get this, 1993. McCloud gave a captivating talk at Google a few months ago about his new book, Making Comics, and I decided I'd better start at the beginning.

    Why ever did I wait so long? Understanding Comics is sheer genius, as he wittily deconstructs and reconstructs comics through the ages. Not only that, the book is in the form of a comic. Brilliant; I'll be ordering his subsequent two books ASAP.

    For some reason, his talk isn't up on the Authors@Google web page. Hmmm.

  6. Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. November 27, 2007.

    You see the huge gap between finishing The Civil War and finishing His Majesty's Dragon? Blame Battle Cry of Freedom, a magnificent one-volume history of the American Civil War. It's about 900 pages long, and I have finally wrapped it.

    Battle Cry won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, and it's easy to see why. McPherson starts in the 1840s, and he's 250 pages in before the first shots are fired at Fort Sumter. He covers the causes of the Civil War, the social and political conditions of the period, the battles, the generals, the politicians, the enormous changes wrought by the war. He is deeply eloquent and deeply learned. A great accomplishment and worth every minute I spent reading it.

  7. Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novick. November 23, 2007.

    More of the Napoleonic wars plus dragons. There are two anachronisms: use of the words "mindset" and "sideburns." I wonder about the design of the dragon transport and may consult a naval architect of my acquaintance. Otherwise, lots of fun, and boy, those dragons are very high maintenance.

  8. Basket Case, by Carl Hiaasen. November 15, 2007.

    The usual mix of screwups, heavies, and entertaining improbabilities, all very, very funny.

  9. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novick. November 10, 2007.

    The Napoleonic Wars plus dragons, from the English viewpoint. What more could you want?

  10. The Civil War, by Bruce Catton. September 19, 2007.

    I'm reviewing San Francisco Opera's production of Philip Glass's new opera, Appomattox, in a couple of weeks. I have not studied American history since high school, and though I had better review the history of the American Civil War before the opera opens.

    The Civil War is a superb short history of the conflict. With about 300 pages of narrative and 100 pages of back matter, it's very much the 20,000 foot view. Still, it takes in the causes of the war, at least from the perspective of 1960, and its course. Catton vividly conveys the conditions of the war and the characters of the men who led it.

    Still, we've learned a lot since 1960. I have a more recent, longer history of the era on board; I may even finish it by October 5.

  11. Death in a Strange Country, by Donna Leone. September 13, 2007.

    I admit that I've been having some problems finishing a book since I finished Cryptonomicon. I started and have not finished Colors, by Victoria Finlay, and The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. I will finish both of them, but wanted to get through something, and a couple of weeks ago we were give a bagful of the Commissario Brunetti novels. So I read the second, even though I was annoyed by the first and had decided not to read any more.

    The second is also annoying! There are a couple of implausible plot points that I won't discuss, as they are spoilers; she tips her hand badly on a couple of plot points; the pacing is not so good; there's a huge tangle set up and not undone by the end. I think she is setting up future plots, most likely; giving Guido a nemesis of some kind. I thought of John Rebus and his nemesis Cafferty -- if you want atmosphere and great writing, try the Rebus novels rather than these, unless they get a lot better. Also, perhaps she took that Chekovian dictum a little too seriously.

  12. Crytonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. August 22, 2007.

    It took more than a month for me to finish this 900-page brick, although it would come in a bit under that if I hadn't left the book at work twice during that period, once for a whole weekend. However, let me say that it is thoroughly engrossing; long, complicated, fabulously written; full of engaging characters; brilliantly plotted. I loved every minute and every word and, really, I was sorry when it was over.

    Given that it's Stephenson, you might expect fantasy or science fiction, but Cryptonomicon is a generation-spanning historical thriller. You don't need to know about the history of cryptography, or to have read an Alan Turning biography, but after you're done, you may want to.


  13. Death at La Fenice, by Donna Leone. August 6, 2007.

    You'd think a book combining Italy and music - opera, no less - would be especially appealing, but music and opera are more background than anything else. The writing is dryish and the characters and plotting only intermittently interesting, alas. I figured out who done it, as well.

  14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. July 24, 2007.

    NO SPOILERS HERE. The seventh and last tale in the saga of Harry Potter, Boy Wizard. A decent read, with major caveats. It is overly long, rambly, and confusing, and shows up some substantial flaws in Rowling's decisions about how to write the series. She apparently decided early on that Harry's viewpoint would be the series viewpoint 90% of the time, which severely limits her ability to provide background information to the reader, and keeps us stuck mostly inside Harry's not-so-interesgting head for the eight thousand or so pages of the saga. I hate her use of ellipses, and you'd think she could afford the services of an editor with all the money she has hauled in from these books.

  15. Payment in Blood, by Elizabeth George. July 16 or 17, 2007.

    The second Inspector Linley novel, perfect vacation reading.

  16. Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett. July 11, 2007.

    Samuel Vimes, seeekrit plots, a dragon or two, the magnificent Lady Ramkin, and Carrot. Definitely one of the funniest I've read in this generally very funny series.

  17. United States of Arugula, by David Kamp. July 9, 2007.

    An entertaining, gossipy, decidedly non-scholarly look at food and eating in the United States since the 1930s, and at various chefs and authors who helped change things for the better, from James Beard, Julia Child, and Craig Claiborne to the present day.

  18. Uncle Tungsten, by Olivers Sacks. June, 2007.

    The remarkable and charming memoir of Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author. It's subtitled "Memories of a Chemical Boyhood" for good reasons: his inventor uncles introduced him early to the wonders of chemisty, and over the course of the book, you follow young Oliver as he reads the original works of great chemists and physicists from the 17th to 20th centuries, recreating their experiments - and explosions - along the way. You also meet Sacks's fascinating extended family and learn a lot about middle-class British Jews between the wars, not to mention the periodic table of the elements. Trust me: by the end of the book, you'll want to visit a chemical supply store so you can conduct your own experiments.

  19. Sourcery, by Terry Pratchett. 5/24/07.

    I know it looks as though I'm only reading Pratchett, but between Mort and Sourcery, I started reading a (lovely) memoir, then got very sick and couldn't read anything for a few days. When I could read again, I wanted something light to read. Anyway, typical Pratchett; good, with some great moments, but not the best. I would have wanted MORE of the Luggage.

  20. Mort, by Terry Pratchett. 5/11/07.

    DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. MERRIMENT ENSUES.

  21. Performing Music in the Age of Recording, by Robert Philip. 5/4/07.

    I heard Robert Philip speak at the British Library in 2004, right around when this book was published. It is a brilliant and important book, discussing what we hear in old recordings, how performing style has changed through a century of recorded sound, and, most importantly, what authority means and where it lies, and whether those things can be determined from recordings. A fascinating and erudite book, required reading.

  22. Better, by Atul Gawande. 5/2/07.

    Dr. Gawande gave a talk at Google yesterday, and I scored a copy of the book there, which he was kind enough to inscribe to me and my partner, who had heard him speak the day before at UCSF. I've been a fan of his New Yorker articles for years; he is a graceful writer with an individual voice, and extremely thoughtful. Some or all of the essays in this book are reprints of New Yorker articles, with connective tissue and updates added for publication as a book. Some I had not not read, and one (the cystic fibrosis article) I have thought of often and re-read on line at least once. I enjoyed the book very much, and I also plan to write him a letter. I didn't get to ask him the question I'd finally settled on, plus, I think he never quite articulates a theme that is quite obvious to me. A good read, interesting, eye-opening, although I have to confess that I think his concluding chapter is a little lame compared to the strength of each individual essay. Highly recommended.

  23. Maskerade, by Terry Practchett. 4/29/07.

    Pratchett does opera, hilariously. Read it!

  24. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain. 4/17/07.

    A big seller in 2000, the year it was published, a tell-all about life in a restaurant kitchen by the often-profane, often-stoned/drunk chef. Sometimes fun, sometimes tiresome, full of colorful characters.

  25. The Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George. 4/09/07.

    The first Inspector Lynley novel. A terrific read, excellent characterizations and atmosphere, entertaining cast of characters.

  26. Abandoned, probably temporarily, Salt, by Mark Kurlansky, because it feels like it has devolved into a list of wars in which salt has played a part. Perhaps I just need to skip a chapter or two.


  27. Abandoned, perhaps only temporarily, A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, because I've read 85 pages and I'm not sure if I can stand to spend another 300 in his company.


  28. Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand. 3/05/07.

    The book on which the Emma Thompson film Nanny McPhee is based. I found it charming and slight. I have no idea why the title was changed for the film. [December, 2007. Probably because American children would misunderstand "nurse" in this context.] The character, played by Thompson, is very much the same in the film and the book, and so is the rich aunt. The children, who seem to number 18 or 20 in the book, are less sharply drawn than the 8 or 9 who appear in the film, unsurprisingly. They are more of a pack or litter than they are individuals. Also unsurprisingly, in the book Mrs. Brown is alive and well. She's presumably eliminated in the film to create a romantic plot and something resembling dramatic tension, of which there is almost none in the book.

  29. "The Illusionist," by Steven Mullhauser. 3/4/07.

    The short story on which the Edward Norton/Paul Giamatti film is based. I've wanted to read Millhauser since the late 1980s some time - I remember a pink index card with a bunch of names on it, including his. I never did get around to him, or so I thought. A couple of weeks ago, I found that a horror and fantasy collection I purchased and read years ago contained a reprint of "The Illusionist," so I must have read it at the time. As it happens, the story has very little to do with the film. It is strictly about Eisenheim and his career and illusions. No conspiracies, no noble lover, etc. It's a very good story, though, so it could be said that I still want to read Millhauser.

  30. The Lunatic Cafe, by Laurell Hamilton. 3/3/07.

    The fourth in a series of books about Anita Blake, vampire slayer. Well, she also raises the dead. This series is sort of like popcorn. I keep reading, even though the character is pretty annoying at times. She seems both much younger and much older than 24, the age she has reached in this book. "I've lived alone for a long time" - what?? At 24 I'd been out of college for 2 years and it would be a bunch more years before my first period of living alone. A friend commented that she'd stopped reading the series because the rules about the various nonhuman sentient beings in the books keep changing. That isn't exactly how I read them: I think Blake is in the process of discovering what the rules are. At this point, I guess I am curious about how she is going to work out her increasingly complicated and entertaining love life.

  31. Stars in My Pocket, Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany. 2/22/07.

    My third or, more likely, fourth time through one of the best science fiction novels of the 1980s. It is dense and sometimes a bit incomprehensible, but well worth it.

  32. The Red Box, by Rex Stout. 2/15/07.

    The fourth Nero Wolfe mystery, published in 1937. Fun, and an interesting look at the times (there is no sign of the Great Depression). Otherwise, about what you'd expect.

  33. Fifty-Two McGs. 2/10/07.

    A memorial collection of the best obituaries by the late, great NY Times writer Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., master of the form.

  34. The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner. 1/23/07.

    The book that falls chronologically between Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings, the two previous novels set in the world of the nameless riverside city. It fills in quite a lot of information, introduces Katherine Talbert, and brings back some of the characters from Swordspoint.

    I found Katherine enormously annoying for the first hundred pages or so; if you do too, stick with the book anyway. She changes a lot during the course of the story and the plot eventually gets underway in interesting ways. There is, I think, a big plot point left hanging at the conclusion, so perhaps we'll get more set in the same world.

    If you're new to the series, read Swordspoint first, then this book, and finish with The Fall of the Kings. Yes, you should try to find the two Alec & Richard short stories too.

  35. The Dragon Waiting, by John M. Ford. 1/15/07.

    I first tried to read The Dragon Waiting a few years ago; about 40 pages in, for some reason, I stopped. Maybe I found it too obscure or too confusing - I can't remember.

    This time it took, though, and I zipped right through, wishing at the end that there were more (and in more than one way). It's an alternate history, set in a 15th century where Byzantium is a power nearly across Europe, numerous gods are worshipped (among them Jesus Christ - but Christianity is a minor cult, not the dominant religion), magic works, and, oh yes, there are vampires. Highly recommended, for its elegance and the vivid characters especially.


  36. Heat, by Bill Buford. 1/8/07.

    Overly ambitious home cook has midlife crisis (I assume), joins the Babbo kitchen, goes to Italy, and finds...philosophy. That short description doesn't really do this funny and perceptive book justice, though. If you read it, you'll understand why any sensible amateur cook stays the hell out of cooking school and professional kitchens. Bufford gets burned by every hot liquid in the kitchen, cut by many implements, and learns how do a lot of very cool things. I'd like to be able to butcher a cow leg like that too.

    Adding to the fun, one of the sous chefs at Google used to work at Babbo; he found me reading Heat one day and signed my copy on the page where he's mentioned. On the down side, whoever edited Heat needs remedial lessons in how to ensure that the verb and subject match in number.


  37. Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett.

    Well, I think I read this in 2007. I was sick from Christmas to New Year's, so it's hard to remember what, exactly, I read when. It's one of the earlier Discworld novels, featuring the three witches, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Magrat Garlick. It's extremely funny in that sometimes dry, sometimes belly-laugh, always-clever Pratchett way.

Books I've been in the middle of since 2009 and might finish some day:

  1. Gimme Shelter, by Mary Elizabeth Williams
  2. Arlette, by Nicholas Freeling, if I can find it.
  3. The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice, by Catherynne M. Valente.
  4. The Great Influenza
  5. Hard Rain, by Janwillem van der Wettering, if I can find it. I cannot remember if I finished this or not, largely because I first read it in the 1980s.
  6. Understanding Toscanini, by Joseph Horowitz. Can't remember how this fell by the wayside. A controversial, now 20-year-old, book.

Books I started in 2010 or 2011 and am in the middle of right now:

  1. Memoirs, by Hector Berlioz
  2. Chopin's Polish Ballade, by Jonathan Bellman
  3. The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Books I started and will not be finishing:

  1. Remix, by Lawrence Lessig, even though it's driving me crazy.
  2. Low Life, by Luc Sante. Too much, enough, though very interesting. Thanks, Patrick, for taking it off my hands.
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