Katherine's Book Babble

Most recently read stuff is listed first. Books that I'm rereading are in this color. You can generally tell from the blurb whether I liked the book or not, but an asterisk (*) means that I really, really liked the book in question. And books with two asterisks (**) are even better than that.

December, 2005:
Hunger's Brides Paul Anderson Fiction, a huge doorstopper of a book. A disgraced Calgary academic digs through the papers of his former student/lover, uncovering the tale of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a seventeenth-century Mexican nun, poet, writer, and early feminist, who abruptly signed a vow of silence and died helping plague victims. (The nun is real. The academic and his student, one devoutly hopes, are fictional.) Complex and engrossing, with neat postmodern footnotes. (Link)
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides Fiction, the tale of Calliope Stephanides, who was a girl until she became a man. Nostalgic look back at a family of Greek immigrants and the strange genetic history that eventually creates Cal. Great writing, good story. (Link)
*Possession A.S. Byatt Fiction, levels of romance between literary minds. Delightful: two modern academics discover letters exchanged between their research subjects; a modern romance blooms as a historical romance is discovered. Lots of beautiful poetry interspersed, and plenty of joyful wordplay. (Link)
The Caverns of Socrates Dennis L. McKiernan Scifi/High Fantasy: an AI creates a fantastic virtual reality that ensnares a group of gamers. To escape, they must play the game by its rules, while the scientists outside the game combat various related and unrelated problems. Very thrilling, plus lots of philosophical debate. (Link)

November, 2005:
Casino Royale Ian Fleming Spy thriller, the first James Bond novel. A bit tedious when it comes to explaining the rules of baccarat, but the pivotal card game itself is tensely and finely written. I find Bond himself to be a bit tiresome and strange (especially his ambivalence towards women) but he's definitely an interesting character - colder than the movies would have one believe. (Link)
Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism Bob Edwards Brief biography of an important man, with strong emphasis on how broadcast journalism was affected by Murrow. The segments of notable Murrow broadcasts are what really make the book; Edwards' tone is informative but distractingly chatty. I imagine that this book itself would be more suitable as listening material rather than reading material. (Link)
The Ionian Mission Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction: Aubrey joins the French blockade and Maturin continues covert operations. I continue to love the Aubrey-Maturin books. Wonderfully strong characters, great writing that does not remotely patronize the reader. Humorous and serious by turns. (Link)

October, 2005:
*Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Gregory Maguire The Wizard of Oz story, told from the point of the Witch. Fascinating and beautifully executed. Lots of great references to the original Oz books (Lurlinism!) but quite readable even if you haven't the background. Definitely recommended. (Link)

September, 2005:
*The Time Traveler's Wife Audrey Niffenegger Fiction, a compelling love story between a man who inadvertently travels through time and the woman who waits for him. Sweet, harsh, and poignant. (Link)
The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong Nonfiction, the Burger Court from 1969 to 1975. Fascinating look inside the internal politicking of the Court, and examines some of the more controversial decisions (abortion, the death penalty, Watergate) of the day. (Link)

August, 2005:
"Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character Richard P. Feynman Autobiographical miscellany from the life of a brilliant physicist. Entertaining, whimsical, and the slightest bit arrogant. Reads a bit like the author's got ADD. (Link)

July, 2005:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince J.K. Rowling YA Fiction, sixth in the series. Thank goodness the title character matured between the fifth and sixth books; I don't think I could have taken much more of him. Tightly controlled plot, with lovely Rowling humor despite the occasional dark elements of the story. (Link)
Jump and Other Stories Nadine Gordimer Short stories, more ideological than character-based. Lots of commentary on race relations in Africa and how naivete gets you in trouble. Very well written but the relentless repetition of the moral message dragged down the collection. (Link)
The Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett Historical fiction, first of the Lymond Chronicles, featuring some arrogant Scot in the sixteenth century who has a much larger vocabulary than I do. Fantastic writing, though the author's preference for her verbose character is a little too much at points. (Link)

June, 2005:
Desolation Island Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction, one of the Aubrey-Maturin series. Jack Aubrey tackles the command of a battered old ship and Maturin plays spy games with a prisoner. They limp along as the ship practically falls apart underneath them, dealing with plague, storms, and crew tensions as they go. Great writing, good tension, adorable characters. (Link)
Prince of Dogs Kate Elliott Fantasy, second in the Crown of Stars series. Riveting despite the author's tendency to harangue the reader with her deviations on Christianity. Raises more questions than it answers but Elliott seems to have all of her myriad plot threads under control. (Link)
Identity Milan Kundera Fiction, focusing on a pair of lovers. Nice treatment of who we see when we look at our lovers, versus who we think we ought to see. Gets a bit confusing as thought and action become hard to separate. (Link)
King's Dragon Kate Elliott Fantasy, first in the Crown of Stars series. Follows two strange orphans into a brewing civil war, with various political, magical, and religious undertones. Great complex society and good storytelling, but the pacing could use some work; it gets a little slow in parts. (Link)
The Joke Milan Kundera Fiction. A Czech named Ludvik plays a single joke which marks him as a political dissident and changes his life forever. Multiple narrators, interweaving ambitions and stories. The tone is sweet, pensive, and sometimes very cruel. (Link)
Into the Wild Jon Krakauer Nonfiction, the story behind a bright rich kid who forsook his wealth in favor of wandering, and eventually starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness. A sympathetic and speculative treatment. Great writing. (Link)

May, 2005:
*The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco Fiction, a Sherlock Holmes-esque murder mystery set in a medieval monastery. Sweet, strange, and sometimes rather creepy. Eco's love of books and learning shines through the mysticism. (Link)
An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro Fiction, the story of a traditional Japanese artist post-WWII. He struggles to find his place in the new, Westernized world and to adjust his relationships with his friends and daughters, without quite understanding why this adjustment is needed. Very formal and poignant. (Link)
*Immortality Milan Kundera Fiction. Wanders between a modern-day love triangle and the lives of historical figures. Lots of meditative pondering on what makes people immortal, what they want and what they aim for, and how they're remembered. Simply and beautifully written. (Link)
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde Fiction, clever and sometimes overly lush. Can't tell whether it's a treatise on Wilde's Aestheticism or a surprisingly moral story about Beauty and its lack of relation to Good. (Read)

April, 2005:
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail Hunter S. Thompson Political journalism, unreliable narrator, the '72 Nixon campaign. Incoherent and savagely bitter. Gorgeous writing but it's too confusing for me to handle. I feel bad putting it on the list as I never actually finished it, but I don't think I will ever bring myself to do so. Not my thing, clearly. (Link)
*Night Watch Terry Pratchett Fantasy, Discworld; humor and adventure. A practical cop just trying to catch a criminal finds himself doing much more in the line of duty than he ever bargained for, and teaches himself some valuable lessons in the meantime. (Link)

March, 2005:
Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf Fiction. A day (literally; you can follow time in the chiming of the bells) in the life of Mrs Dalloway and everyone else she comes into contact with, however tangentially. Gorgeous prose. Very little in the way of actual "story". (Link)
Delta of Venus Anaïs Nin Fiction, erotica. Written in the 1940's for $1/page to titillate an unnamed "collector" of such things. Features Nin's lush prose and trademark psychoanalytical approach to relationships and love. (Link)

February, 2005:
Brothers in Arms Lois McMaster Bujold SF, next Miles Vorkosigan. Excellent as always, lovely weaving of plot threads, red herrings, and character intentions, all set inside classic space politics. (Link)
The Gun Seller Hugh Laurie Fiction, a James Bond pastiche. Poor Thomas Lang, a former soldier, finds himself turned reluctant international terrorist. Pretty girls, fights and weaponry, layered conspiracies, and wonderfully British humor. (Link)
Embers Sándor Márai Fiction. Two men meet after 41 years, to finish off some long-awaited business between them that has defined both their lives. It's less of a discussion than a backwards sort of confession, carefully traced. Beautiful insights into friendship and duty, and I like the glimpses into 1900's Hungarian society. (Link)
The Confusion Neal Stephenson Historical fiction, second in the Baroque cycle; interweaves two stories. Very intricate but very ponderous; Stephenson's genius of description is blunted by sheer volume and it takes quite a bit of effort to wade through it. Despite that I'm still somewhat looking forward to the third. (Link)
*Ethan of Athos and "Labyrinth" Lois McMaster Bujold SF, novel and short story, the next in the Miles Vorkosigan series. Masterfully written, plot details accounted for, great characters, the benefits and disadvantages of technology. (Link)

January, 2005:
Alice Sit-By-The-Fire J.M. Barrie A play with occasional narrative description. Half-grown children meet their parents for the first time. Shenanigans result. All ends sweetly. (Read)
Last Chance to See Douglas Adams Nonfiction. The noted comedy SF author goes on several trips with zoologists to see endangered animals, including Madascar lemurs, New Zealand kakapos, and the baiji dolphin. Insightful, funny, and bittersweet. (Link)
Wellspring of Chaos L.E. Modesitt Fantasy, one of the Recluce books. An innocent man falls victim to wrongdoing, and becomes a mage. Really, all of Modesitt's plots are the same. All of his narrators have the same voice, but I'm noticing that they can be differentiated by their interactions with the other characters. (Link)
Sir Apropos of Nothing Peter David Fantasy, adventure. Great puns, great humor, but I hated the main character too much to enjoy the story. He's a bit too realistic -- selfish, hateful, cowardly, dishonest -- and yet everything still works out for him. Offends my sense of justice. (Link)
Cetaganda Lois McMaster Bujold Science fiction, part of the Vorkosigan saga. More Miles shenanigans, as he digs himself deeper than he ought and gamely fights through politics and plots. (Link)
*Middlemarch George Eliot Victorian lit, leisurely and rich. The plot doesn't develop until the second half of the book but the journey is very enjoyable, full of insight and wry wisdom. (Read)
The Furies Mike Carey and John Bolton Comic book, a spinoff of Gaiman's Sandman series. Ties up a loose end, with beautiful artwork and delicate storytelling. (Link)

Booklist archives:  2004 list,  2003 list,  2002 and earlier.

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