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under the radar

A Disappointing Beginning

A Curious Beginning - Deanna Raybourn

I felt Raybourn is repeating herself--Veronica and Stoker seem very much built on the templates of Lady Julia and Brisbane. I enjoyed the first couple of Lady J books but I'm not interested in a retread. Possibly it's also a reader-book mismatch as I'm less keen on this kind of light historical mystery than I used to be.


I really hated the beginning where the violet-eyed heroine was awesomer than all the dull ordinary women (why, in a book for a female audience, do that?) but that did get better with the introduction of Lady . . . Uh, I already forgot her name so not that much better . . . later on. Stoker's mysterious background was rather overdone.


Aside from a scene at the Jubilee at the end of the book, the historical setting was pretty vague and wallpapery, and I'm tired of that too. I guess I learned I don't want to go beyond the beggining of this series.

Farthest Field

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War - Raghu Karnad

Raghu Karnad's Farthest Field covers a lot of territory for a short history, but for the most part he manages to make his story gripping and intimate by focusing on the stories of three young men of his own family. Their stories, like the stories of the British Indian Army's role in World War II, have been largely forgotten--caught, as he shows, in "the overlap of colonial rule and world war." The British would prefer to forget their colonial defeats, the Indians their role in defending the Empire. This book is an effort to reclaim those memories, familial and national, and Karnad's persuaded me of the importance of doing so.

Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi

Fast, fun, and cotton-candy fluffy.

Nina Stibbe, Man at the Helm

Man at the Helm: A Novel - Nina Stibbe

Very funny about the everyday travails of a family thrown off kilter by divorce, and every time I started to think "this is pretty thin and the humor is starting to pall" there'd be a really astute observation.


I haven't read Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle recently enough to say if the comparisons are really justified (sort of, I think). What it reminds me of is Hilary McKay's children's/YA series about the Casson family, particularly the way the children mostly take for granted/accept/work around the failures of the parents. 


This was a lot of fun.

His Wicked Reputation - Madeline Hunter

Classic DNF: Got to chapter 9 but every time I put it down I had no interest in picking it back up. Partly mood. But I also had issues with the writing--I found it awkward and overly elaborate. I know we're not supposed to be prescriptivist about dangling modifiers but reading things like "Wrapped in burlap again, she carried the painting" trips me up every time.

The Reluctant Detective, by Martha Ockley

The Reluctant Detective - Martha Ockley

I enjoyed Faith and the tension between her role as priest and her detective instinct. Pretty flat, pedestrian style. Nothing groundbreaking but a quick, pleasant time-passer.

Hearing Secret Harmonies (A Dance to the Music of Time #12) - Anthony Powell

You so often read about the 60s from the perspective of people who were young then that seeing it through the eyes of someone in his 60s was an interesting experience. 


What will I do with my time now that I've finished this series?

Temporary Kings - Anthony Powell

Not entirely sure what to make of this one. I wasn't enamored of the cultural conference in Venice. I wondered if there was "of its time" satire that was going over my head, something I haven't really felt before with this series. Some of the psychologizing felt very dated, too. But like all the later volumes of the series, it shows the characters grappling with loss and change in interesting ways.

Deadly Virtues, Jo Bannister

Deadly Virtues - Jo Bannister

I liked the characters--newly minted, honorable constable Hazel Best and trauma survivor Gabriel Ash, plus Ash's dog Patience (maybe the best character). The slower early bits were my favorite, but given the Shakespeare allusion I should probably have expected the rather over the top ending. Will read more of this series.

Half a Crown - Jo Walton

I found myself getting just as frustrated with this book as I had been with the second in the series, so I looked for reviews. This nice spoilery one at Strange Horizons told me my feelings wouldn't change. Maybe one day when I have more patience, I'll go back to confirm that for sure, but right now I don't want another 5 hours of increasing exasperation.

Dead Romantic by Ruth Saberton

Dead Romantic - Ruth Saberton

Like all good chick lit, this is brisk and comic but still manages emotional realism, in this case about grief, loss, and coming to terms with past mistakes. Appropriate themes for a ghost story, and appropriate, too, that the heroine is an archeologist. 


Secondary characters are pretty cartoony (the work rival, the manic pixie sexy BFF), but Cleo, Alex the ghost, and Cleo's dad are all well done. I'd have rated this higher except that I found Cleo's relationship with ghostly Alex more developed than her romance with his living brother, which substituted a very stupid/cliched Big Misunderstanding for the real conflict one might imagine having with someone who's dealt with grief by drinking too much for years. Much of it managed to be fun, though, and some bits genuinely touching.

The Kindly Ones by Anthony Powell

The Kindly Ones - Anthony Powell

I feel like I'm rating these at random. I'm not sure any individual book rates 5 stars, but the series as a whole strikes me as an achievement that does. And since I'm listening to them in "movements" of three, it's hard for me to keep track of what happens in individual volumes. This one struck me as particularly thoughtful, though, with the run-up to the war.


What will I do until my next Audible credit comes in?

The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak Novels) - Ausma Zehanat Khan

There's some lovely desciptive writing here, particularly of the natural world. And the flashback scenes of the Bosnian war were vivid and painful and real. But the rest, both chararcters and plot, seemed implausible and so the book never took off for me. I think it's partly that the descriptions and observations were largely not convincing as coming from the POV of the character whose POV we were supposedly in. And the bits we were told about the characters never came together into a coherent picture of a person. And since this is largely a character-driven story, that was a problem.

Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 304 pages.

The Caretaker - A.X. Ahmad

I had to peek at the end to make sure a certain character came out OK so I could bear to keep reading. This is why sometimes I just want to read romance.

My New Project

A Question of Upbringing - Anthony Powell

I read the "first movement" (the Spring trilogy) of Powell's Dance to the Music of Time series years ago, but I forgot how great it was--or maybe I am only now old enough to appreciate its reflections on how people move in and out of our lives over time, in patterns that only become visible to us later.


  1. I loved this, and Simon Vance's narration is very good. Now I want to listen to the whole 12-book cycle (though not all at once, I think). It fits with my desire to read more mid-20th-century fiction, and my love for novels that depict "the way we live now," that try to capture a time period (although let's face it, this is restricted to "the way privileged British men and women lived at this time"). 

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander

File this one under "things you knew, but didn't really know before." Most of what's in this book didn't surprise me, but Alexander's thorough documentation of the mass incarceration of African American men, particularly, as a result of the drug war gave me a fuller appreciation of the dimensions of the problem. It makes a good sequel to Douglas Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name, which I read last year. 


Here's one thing that did surprise me: as recently as the 1970s, "the notion that our society would be much better off without prisons--and that the end of prisons was more or less inevitable--not only dominated mainstream academic discourse in the field of criminology but also inspired a national campaign by reformers demanding a moratorium on prison construction." We almost dodged this bullet.


Alexander's final chapter gives a sense of just how difficult this situation will be to change (prisons are big business now). I think she's right that a mass movement is necessary, because this change will have to be radical, not incremental; I hope we're seeing the beginning of that movement. But there sure is a long way to go.