Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 2

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Bragan Reads Right on Through It in 2021, Pt. 2

1bragan
Redigerat: apr 2, 11:38pm

Hello again! Here I am, still reading on through whatever 2021 brings us.

I haven't finished my first book for this quarter yet, but I thought I'd actually get a jump on things and start my new thread now. And while I'm at it, I figured I'd do something I'm generally far too lazy to do, and list my reading thus far. So, here we are:

January
1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
2. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
3. Every Tool's a Hammer: Life is What You Make It by Adam Savage
4. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
5. The Book of Dzur by Steven Brust
6. Humans by Brandon Stanton
7. What the Hell Did I Just Read?: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong
8. Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
9. Of Muppets & Men: The Making of the Muppet Show by Christopher Finch
10. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
11. The Buying of Lot 37: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Vol. 3 by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

February
12. Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally) by John McWhorter
13. Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé
14. The Legends of River Song by Jenny T. Colgan, et al.
15. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby
16. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
17. Network Effect by Martha Wells
18. Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
19. A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard

March
20. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
21. Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe by Theodore Gray
22. Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time by Robert Silverberg
23. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
24. Geek Ink: The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals by the creators of Inkstinct
25. Bunnicula: 40th Anniversary Edition by Deborah and James Howe
26. How to Dispatch a Human: Stories and Suggestions by Stephanie Andrea Allen
27. Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose by Deirdre Barrett
28. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
29. The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler

Will I be remotely this organized the next time I start a thread? Who knows. Stay tuned!

2rocketjk
apr 2, 7:39pm

Looking forward to seeing where the your Q2 reading takes you. Cheers!

3bragan
apr 2, 11:08pm

>2 rocketjk: Thanks, I'm looking forward to it, too!

4bragan
apr 4, 3:08pm

All right, onward into the rest of the year!

30. Mysteries of the Mall and Other Essays by Witold Rybczynski



A collection of essays about architecture and related topics. Which, alas, I think I turned out to mostly not be the right reader for. I was most interested in the kinds of essays that appeared early in the book, touching on ways in which architecture, city planning, etc. affect our culture and ordinary people's experience of public spaces. These include the title essay, about mall food court design, some discussion of the failures of public housing, a brief look at the nature of suburban sprawl, and other such topics. But a lot of those essays felt rather slight, and many turned out to be very dated. (This collection was published in 2015, but the contents go back as far as the 1990s.)

The meatiest of the essays, I think, mostly involved the designs of particular buildings and the careers of particular architects, and these were of a lot less interest to me, to the point where I often found myself starting to skim without even quite meaning to. I admit that this seems a bit unfair to Rybczynski's writing, which is very clear and accessible, but there we are.

Well, there were at least some pieces that I definitely enjoyed. I was, for instance, very interested in the one about how cities have gone from being the places people wanted to get away from when traveling to being tourist destinations in their own right. And I was surprised by how effective I found the one that was basically an extended love letter to New York's Central Park; it made me feel very fond of the place even though I've never actually been there, and that's not something any other writer has quite succeeded at. I was also very amused by the carefully restrained snark he levels at things like the desire for every big new building to be special and gimmicky and "iconic."

Rating: This was enough of a mixed bag for me that I have to give it a 3.5/5 at most. I feel kind of bad about that, though. I would bet that people who have more of an interest than I do in the design of concert halls or the career of Frank Lloyd Wright are likely to get a lot more out of it than I did.

5bragan
Redigerat: apr 11, 12:49am

31. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North and Erica Henderson



The fourth graphic novel collection featuring the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the Marvel Universe's squirreliest and most unbeatable superhero. This one features a comic where you get to be Squirrel Girl in a choose-your-own-adventure-ish fashion. Also, Squirrel Girl enters the world of online dating, deals with a creepy mole man, and gets trapped in a nightmare where she defeats bad guys by teaching them about computer science. Lots of fun, as always! And I kind of love how these are comics you could be totally happy to put into the hands of any kid -- Squirrel Girl is actually an awesome role model -- but that are also thoroughly entertaining for adults.

Rating: 4/5

6bragan
apr 10, 5:48pm

32. Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian



Book 9 in Patrick O'Brian's series of sea stories featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and ship's doctor and part-time spy Stephen Maturin. In this one, they go after a potentially incredibly valuable prize and deal with some issues of compromised intelligence.

You know, it sometimes occurs to me to think that either O'Brian knows nothing about pacing or just does not care, and this volume is very much a case in point. Rambling conversations about nothing relevant go on for pages while dramatic moments where plot-critical things are happening are sometimes passed over very quickly. And yet somehow, at his best, he makes that work for him. And as far as I'm concerned, it definitely worked for him here. This was kind of slow, and not all that exciting, but doggone it, I found it just terribly pleasant, somehow, as I sat there reading it in my living room on a series of lovely spring days, imagining the desert breeze wafting in through my windows might at any moment start bringing me the scent of the ocean and feeling content with my life of not being shot at by the French.

Rating: 4/5

7baswood
Redigerat: apr 10, 6:42pm

Are there worse things than being shot at by the French? Nice review.

8bragan
apr 11, 12:47am

>7 baswood: Being shot not just at, but by the French, I suppose. :)

And thanks!

9Nickelini
Redigerat: apr 11, 3:33am

>6 bragan:, >7 baswood:, >8 bragan:
An excellent point. Personally, I tried the first of the series and couldn't get past page 10. Passed it to my husband and said "maybe you'll like this boy book." He tried and complained. We both tried the movie and I think he got through it but I wandered off to inspect the wallpaper or something better. I was so disappointed because so many intelligent people I respect raved about Patrick O'Brien.

Having just today finished a novel set in 1600s France, I say bring on them and their pistols.

10bragan
apr 11, 1:12pm

>9 Nickelini: For what it's worth, I found the first volume kind of hard to get through, too, and persisted with the series mainly because I thought the relationship between the two characters had interesting potential, not so much because I actually enjoyed the novel. But I ended up feeling glad that I did. I'm still not sure entirely why, though, as the writing does not, in general, seem like my sort of thing. But it does grow on you. Or it did on me, and I seem not to be alone in that.

11bragan
apr 16, 12:12am

33. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood



Patricia Lockwood's father is a Catholic priest. Which is less scandalous than it sounds: apparently there's a loophole that means under a very particular set of odd circumstances, it's permissible for a priest to be married. That's not the only way her dad is weird, though. He's chock-full of eccentricities that I kept wanting to find entertaining, but which are mostly just kind of awful. Her mother's a hoot, though.

Anyway, in this memoir Lockwood writes about her experiences of growing up in this household and this church, about returning to live with her parents again for a while as an adult, about her very complicated feelings about Catholicism, and about her own calling as a poet.

Her writing is weird, vivid, thoughtful, frequently hilarious, sometimes moving, sometimes profound and generally amazing in ways that don't necessarily seem like they should work, but really really do. I'm not sure quite what I expected from it going in, but what I got was nothing I could have anticipated, and it was kind of fascinating.

Rating: 4.5/5

12LolaWalser
apr 16, 12:32pm

Ugh, married priests... repulsive notion. Enforced celibacy may be intellectually stupid and morally abhorrent but economically it only makes sense. At least until the freakin church embraces contraception and the right to choose!

Book sounds good tho'.

13dianeham
apr 16, 6:15pm

>11 bragan: Was the loophole that he was an Episcopal priest who converted?

14bragan
apr 16, 7:58pm

>12 LolaWalser: I dunno, I personally think celibacy requirements are so stupid that probably nothing much justifies them, but I'm a heathen atheist, so what do I know.

>13 dianeham: Lutheran, actually, but I think you win the trivia point. :)

15RidgewayGirl
apr 16, 8:00pm

>11 bragan: Oh, what a fantastic book that is!

16bragan
apr 16, 9:59pm

>15 RidgewayGirl: I'd heard a lot of praise for it, but I was still not expecting it to be good in all the ways it was good.

17bragan
apr 21, 8:59pm

34. Circe by Madeline Miller



Madeline Miller's follow up to her fantastic The Song of Achilles focuses on the goddess Circe, featured in The Odyssey as the witch who turned Odysseus' men into pigs. As with Achilles, it's a novel that brings Greek mythology very much to life, making it feel grounded and real, while also being a very personal, human story. I think I didn't find it quite as compelling as the first novel (possibly just because it took my a bit by surprise how much I loved that one, despite all the praise it got), but it is very good, indeed. The ending, in particular, felt satisfying and moving and perfect.

Rating: 4.5/5

18lisapeet
apr 22, 11:26am

>17 bragan: I really need to read The Song of Achilles, since I loved Circe so much—I reread that last page and a half whenever I need to feel a bit better about life.

19bragan
apr 22, 5:42pm

>18 lisapeet: The Song of Achilles does have a slightly different feel to it, but it does do some of the same kinds of things equally well, and I very much recommend it.

20bragan
apr 23, 3:20am

35. Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by James Goss, Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, and Matthew Sweet



The conceit here is that some of Shakespeare's old notebooks have been unearthed, and the odd bits of writing in them prove that Shakespeare and the Doctor met a lot more often than the TV show ever indicated. None of which makes a whole lot of sense, but then it's clearly not really trying to, being mostly just an excuse for some Doctor Who fans/Shakespeare nerds to write little snippets of mashups between the two, including famous Shakespearean speeches and sonnets that have been rendered Doctor Who-themed, alternate versions of plays in which the Doctor (or his friends, or his enemies) meddle with events, bits of Doctor Who episodes rendered in iambic pentameter, and so on.

It does manage to be pretty funny in places, but, I don't know, the whole thing was really just a little bit too silly for me, even by Doctor Who standards. And I don't care how good a Doctor Who writer you are, putting your own prose side-by-side with Shakespeare's never does anybody any favors.

Rating: 3/5

21dchaikin
apr 23, 9:29am

Just stopping to say hi, and was wondering if the doctor figured out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I just had long catch up, and your reading is as eclectic as always. You like Circe more than me. And I’m surprisingly intrigued by Priestdaddy.

22bragan
apr 23, 9:28pm

>21 dchaikin: Shakespeare definitely did, although the Doctor inspired a few of his good lines, and a bit of Hamlet is in the Doctor's handwriting, because Shakespeare had sprained his wrist writing sonnets. (That's from the TV show, by the way, not from the book. ;))

23dchaikin
apr 23, 10:48pm

The Doctor helping with Hamlet is kind of brilliant

24bragan
Redigerat: apr 24, 1:56am

>23 dchaikin: I think it may be even more fun because it was a complete throwaway joke in an episode about something else entirely.

25bragan
apr 25, 10:32am

36. Chemistry for Breakfast: The Amazing Science of Everyday Life by Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim



This book isn't quite what I expected. I figured it was one of those popular science books that takes you through a typical day, explaining the science behind the various things that might happen to an ordinary person on such a day. Which it kinda-sorta is: it starts out with breakfast-cooking and tooth-brushing and ends with the author having a nice evening with friends drinking wine, all of which get scientific exploration. But it's a lot more rambling, chatty, and personal than I was expecting.

The author -- a chemist currently living and working in Germany, who also has a YouTube channel I might check out -- does cover a lot of scientific ground in any case, including straying over the extremely fuzzy boundaries between disciplines into physics, biology, and psychology. I do think some of her explanations are a little over-simplified; she shies away from getting into quantum mechanics when explaining atoms, which is sort of understandable but makes things feel rather incomplete. Still, I think she does a good job, overall, in conveying things in ways that should be understandable even to those with very little science knowledge, including coming up with some really nice analogies for some complicated things. And I very much appreciate the way that she doesn't just throw facts at the readers, but also explains and encourages scientific thinking, including some practical advice for things like how to approach scientific reporting in the media. Even her seemingly digressive depictions of her own life serve to illustrate what it's like to be a real working scientist (a job that's often grueling and not particularly glamorous, but full of fascination, anyway) and to demonstrate to readers that scientists are very much real people.

Rating: I'm a little torn on this one, because I'd say my own experience of reading it was maybe a 3.5/5, mostly just because I already knew so much of what she was covering that my mind sometimes wandered a bit, but I do really like her attitude and her approach, and I'm pretty sure I'd recommend this for interested scientific beginners. So I'm gonna bump it up to 4/5.

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

26LolaWalser
Redigerat: apr 25, 1:40pm

>25 bragan:

*instantly chemotactically navigating to title*

Sounds a little like some books I had as a kid, I might want to look at it to see how it compares.

My faves were a few translations from Russian--omg, I just went looking and Y. I. Perelman of the Physics for entertainment had died in the siege of Leningrad??, I had NO IDEA. So many thoughts... wow, he must've been one of the first-ever popularisers of science.

But I can't remember the chemistry book I kept next to this, darn it!

ETA: FOUND IT 107 Stories About Chemistry--I remember this as great fun, led to many household experiments--

27bragan
apr 25, 8:44pm

>26 LolaWalser: Oh, that one has kind of a fun cover!

28bragan
apr 25, 8:50pm

37. The Arrival by Shaun Tan



The story of a man who leaves his own troubled land behind to emigrate to a strange new place, slowly learning to make his way there while meeting immigrants from other places and hearing their stories, as well.

The surprising thing about it, though, is that it is told completely without words, in a series of pictures that combine the realistic and the utterly fanciful while doing an amazing job of conveying both narrative and emotion. It's really quite beautiful.

Rating: 4.5/5

29Nickelini
apr 25, 9:34pm

>28 bragan:
I just bought that, so I’ll be reading it soon too

30bragan
apr 26, 12:47am

>29 Nickelini: If "reading" is quite the right word for a book with no words! But it's lovely. I hope you like it as much as I did.

31Nickelini
Redigerat: apr 26, 1:33am

>30 bragan:
Right! I struggle with how to describe these books (I recently "read" The Wanderer by Peter Van den Ende, which is a wordless 92 page book of intricate story art). I don't think English has a better word than "read." It's not like looking at a book of photographs of Tahiti or something -- there's an actual narrative to each picture. If there's a better word, I'll use it instead.

32Julie_in_the_Library
apr 26, 9:23am

>31 Nickelini: In my experience, we (English speakers) use the words "read" and "reader" in discussions about TV shows and movies from a literary analysis and/or storytelling angle, so I don't see why it wouldn't also apply to a narrative work composed entirely of still images.

33bragan
apr 26, 9:52am

>31 Nickelini: There is, indeed, a real narrative to them! I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek, really, in questioning the use of "read." I certainly don't have a better word, myself!

(I'm also certainly not one of those folks who doesn't think you've "read" a book if you've listened to it in audio. Those people are just tedious. :))

34Nickelini
apr 26, 11:23am

>33 bragan:
(I'm also certainly not one of those folks who doesn't think you've "read" a book if you've listened to it in audio. Those people are just tedious. :))

Oh yes! I very much agree

35SandDune
apr 27, 5:14pm

36bragan
apr 27, 5:26pm

>35 SandDune: Shaun Tan is just really great, I think. The only other thing of his I've read is Tales from Outer Suburbia, but that was amazing, too.

37BLBera
apr 27, 7:51pm

I'm also a fan of The Arrival.

I loved Circe but have not yet read The Song of Achilles. I may be the only person on LT who hasn't done so.

38Julie_in_the_Library
apr 27, 7:54pm

>37 BLBera: You're not alone. I haven't read either yet, though they're both on my list. :-)

39bragan
Redigerat: apr 27, 8:07pm

>37 BLBera:, >38 Julie_in_the_Library: It seemed to take me forever to get around to The Song of Achilles, so it's nice to know I wasn't actually the last person to read it!

40avaland
apr 28, 5:47pm

Just caught up on your wonderfully diverse reading. Seems I don't really have much to say except I'd be tempted to read the everyday chemistry book, if I weren't married to one of those scientist-types....

41bragan
apr 28, 6:24pm

>40 avaland: Really, I think I'd recommend it mainly to those who are pretty science-ignorant, but curious to learn something.

42bragan
apr 29, 1:07am

38. Enchanted Pilgrimage by Clifford D. Simak



This fantasy novel (or maybe science-fantasy novel, depending on your definition) from 1975 starts out with a scholar who finds some long-lost secret writing. Based on what he reads in it, he sets out on a trek into a magical wasteland that people don't usually come back from, in search of... something. Honestly, his motivations are kind of vague. On the way, however, he's joined by a motley gang of companions with various other (mostly also not very convincing) reasons for coming along.

Clifford Simak wrote some fun and interesting stuff, including one or two works that might be legitimately considered as minor SF classics. This... was not one of them. It's not actively offputting, exactly (with the exception of some stilted dialog and one weirdly disturbing scene involving the fate of a bad guy). But it is incredibly slight, and features a series of utterly disjointed adventures that never feel like they add up to anything. Actually, it occurred to me about three quarters of the way through that what it really feels like is an account of someone's homebrew D&D adventure, one run by a DM who's put a lot of effort into creating a setting with plenty of weird stuff to encounter, but who's interested in plot only as far as it gives the characters some vague reason to go wandering around. And while those can sometimes be fun to play, they're generally not nearly as interesting to read about.

Rating: a slightly crotchety 2.5/5

43rhian_of_oz
apr 29, 10:33am

>39 bragan: Add me to the list that have The Song of Achilles on my TBR pile.

>42 bragan: Your description of this as "someone's homebrew D&D adventure" made me laugh.

44bragan
apr 29, 11:27am

>43 rhian_of_oz: I swear, bits of it almost gave me some gaming flashbacks. :)

45lisapeet
Redigerat: apr 30, 1:23pm

>37 BLBera: No, I haven't read The Song of Achilles either—and I have it, and adored Circe. That plus the Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey are up there in my year's reading goals.

Also a Shaun Tan fan.

46LolaWalser
apr 30, 3:08pm

I too love that book by Shaun Tan and I have an extra reason--it was sent to me as a gift by an LTer after I casually mentioned feeling strange and lonely in Canada (or something like that, can't remember exactly). In any case, it was done as subtly and heart-warmingly as is the work itself. (Sadly she didn't stay on LT long after.)

47BLBera
apr 30, 4:40pm

>45 lisapeet: Good to know I'm not the last one.

>42 bragan: That definitely looks like a 1970s cover!

48bragan
apr 30, 9:10pm

>46 LolaWalser: Oh, that's lovely! What an utterly, beautifuly perfect gift for someone in that situation.

>47 BLBera: There's nothing that looks quite like a 1970s SF cover. Except for a zillion other 1970s SF covers, of course. :)

49sallypursell
maj 1, 12:00am

>39 bragan: I own both of those, but I haven't read them either.

50bragan
maj 1, 5:01pm

39. The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper



Michele Harper is an emergency room doctor, and in this memoir she talks about her own life (including her abusive childhood and the problems of sexism and racism that she has faced), about treating her patients, about her views on medicine and spirituality, and about all the ways she's seen the US medical system and other institutions fail people, especially people of color.

I'm finding this a hard one to review, because, man, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. Or, really, to like it at all. Dr. Harper is someone who's endured a lot, who's accomplished a lot, and who is clearly a very caring and committed doctor, and one who isn't afraid to admit to her mistakes, all of which I respect. (Although, I have to say, I find it rather dismaying that she comes down as an advocate for the pseudoscience of "complementary medicine," which she thoroughly conflates with uncontroversial healthy lifestyle choices.) And I do applaud her for the way she so forthrightly says some things that I think very much need to be said and listened to when it comes to the ways in which the institutions that are supposed to help keep us all healthy, safe, and supported fail to do so in depressing and discriminatory ways.

Actually, the chapters where she explicitly does that calling-out of biased and inadequate systems are the best in the book, and I did find them worth reading. But for so much of the rest of it, I found her writing hard to get along with, as it's often stilted and sometimes vaguely purple, and features a lot of her giving compassionate but terribly didactic-for-the-reader lectures to patients. I'm sure a lot of my issues with it have to do with the fact that books that deliberately set out to be inspirational often backfire badly for me, and ones that go on about emotional and/or physical healing as a spiritual process tend to lose me very quickly. But I could tell that this book was just not really going to be for me early on when, in the course of talking about an incredibly sad incident in which Harper and her colleagues tried everything they could to resuscitate a tiny baby who was already beyond saving and then had to inform the family of what happened, she started going on about the spirits of sweet departed cherubs whispering their last words into their parents' ears and giving them butterfly kisses, and... I'm sorry. I can't. I just can't. I know Dr. Harper's heart is absolutely in the right place, and I can't even imagine what it's like to have experiences like that as part of your normal work day, but I read lines like that and I can't help seeing it as human tragedy turned into a sappy Hallmark card, and my brain just kind of shuts down.

Rating: a guilty and apologetic 2.5/5

51bragan
Redigerat: maj 7, 5:52pm

40. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero



In 1977, the Blyton Hills Summer Detective Club, consisting of four plucky kids and a dog, solved the Mystery of the Sleepy Lake Monster, unmasking the guy in the costume who was behind it all. Or did they? Something about the solution to that case never felt right. Now, thirteen years later, the surviving members of the club, along with a descendant of the original dog, are returning to the scene of the crime to find out the real truth, which involves actual monsters, necromancy, and an ancient, sleeping god.

I love the premise of this to pieces. The story's pretty good, too, with action, a lot of humor, and some actually decent character stuff. But I had a much harder time enjoying the writing style. It's full of weird, quirky turns of phrase, meta references to the structure of the novel itself, and bizarre choices of replacement for the word "said" (a massive peeve of mine) taken to such ridiculous lengths that it's obviously parodic. It also randomly lapses into script format for no reason in the middle of paragraphs. All of which is sometimes clever and funny, but an entire novel's worth of it is a bit much. More than a bit much. It's a massive over-egging of what would otherwise have been a fairly delicious pudding. Possibly I would have had less of a problem with it if I'd been in a more forgiving mood, but as it was, I can't help feeling more than a little annoyed at just how immersion-breaking it all was after a while.

Rating: a slightly grumpy 3.5/5

52Nickelini
maj 7, 7:41pm

>51 bragan: too bad it made you grouchy. Sounds like a good premise

53bragan
maj 7, 8:18pm

>52 Nickelini: It was a fantastic premise! And I think it made me grouchy because it was potentially so great, but didn't quite get there because the author was trying too hard.

54Nickelini
maj 8, 2:31am

>53 bragan: Your review convinced me!

55dchaikin
maj 8, 8:25am

Wish you a better next book.

56BLBera
maj 8, 9:53pm

>51 bragan: That sounds like one I would pick up. Too bad, the author didn't know when to stop.

57bragan
Redigerat: maj 8, 10:35pm

>54 Nickelini:, >56 BLBera: I can see how it might not bother everybody as much as it bothered me, or even how it might have bothered me less in a different mood, but none of that stops it from being a bit frustrating.

>55 dchaikin: The one I'm reading now is definitely better! After a few disappointments, I made a point of reading one I was almost certain I would enjoy.

58dchaikin
maj 8, 10:54pm

>57 bragan: good plan 🙂

59bragan
maj 9, 7:21pm

41. Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells



This latest installment in Martha Wells' Murderbot series returns to the usual novella format. It also jumps back in time a bit, which disappointed me a little, as I'm very eager to see some adventures set after the previous novel. Still, this was a fun and satisfying little murder mystery, in which Murderbot helps Preservation Station's Port Authority out with an investigation. It didn't really have any of those wonderful little moments that make me go, "Awww, Murderbot, sweetie!", and because it's a prequel there wasn't any new character development, but we did get a reasonably interesting look at Murderbot operating in a situation in which everybody knows exactly what it is and most of them aren't too sure how to feel about that.

So, maybe not the most ground-breaking or emotionally affecting installment of the series, but still an entertaining and welcome one. I'm still eagerly waiting for those post-Network Effect adventures, though!

Rating: 4/5

60raton-liseur
maj 13, 12:36pm

At last, catching up on your thread, enjoying your reviews and the diversity of books.

61bragan
maj 13, 1:28pm

62BLBera
maj 13, 1:49pm

I must take a look at this series. I don't read much SF, but I've heard this may appeal.

63bragan
Redigerat: maj 13, 6:43pm

>62 BLBera: It's entirely possible it might be one of those bits of SF that appeals even to people who don't usually read the genre. Definitely worth trying the first one at least, I'd say! It's very short, and it will definitely tell you if the series as a whole is for you or not.

64dianeham
maj 13, 5:55pm

>59 bragan: I need to start reading that series.

65bragan
maj 13, 6:42pm

>64 dianeham: Possibly everyone should start reading it!

66lisapeet
maj 14, 12:16pm

I'm not the biggest sf person in the world and love the series (granted, only two books in so far, but I have another on hold from the library).

67bragan
maj 14, 1:05pm

>66 lisapeet: There we go, a data point in favor of my hypothesis! :)

68bragan
Redigerat: maj 16, 11:13am

42. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith & Neil Morgan



A biography of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, aka a beloved icon of much of the world's collective childhood.

I'll admit, I wasn't too sure about this book early on, as I found myself thinking that it was fine and all, but Geisel's life simply wasn't anywhere near as interesting as his work. Despite a surprisingly dramatic development or two, that is very much true, but I found myself growing fond of the biography after a while, anyway. Possibly just because it is liberally peppered with quotes and jokes and comments from the man himself, and, gosh, he really was exactly as offbeat and witty and delightful as you would expect. And the account of his death, and the tributes paid to him afterward, actually choked me up a little bit. Also, it's interesting as a portrait of a life that spanned most of the 20th century; the earlier chapters do perhaps provide a lens through which to view some history that is already fading from living memory.

(By the way, I kind of don't want to, but I guess I really need to address this or it's something of an elephant -- sadly, not Horton -- in the room. So: no, the reason I read this now isn't as some sort of protest against the recent-ish decision of Seuss' publishers to stop printing a few of his works because they contain racially stereotyped images that I'm sure raised no eyebrows among white people at the time, but that the publishers obviously feel aren't something they want to put in front of 21st century children. The timing was purely coincidence. And while I can't say what Mr. Geisel would have thought about the whole thing, having read the bio I can be pretty sure that the people who are most vocally offended by that aren't the sort of folks he would approve of. And that's all I have to say about that.)

Rating: 4/5

69bragan
maj 16, 1:25am

43. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 5: Like I'm the Only Squirrel in the World by Ryan North, Will Murray, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi



This fifth collection of the delightful Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic features a three-part story that might be my favorite so far, in which Doreen (aka Squirrel Girl) fights a guy that can turn into lots of smaller guys, with some help from her mom, her best friend/roommate Nancy, and an entertainingly irritated Ant-Man. I really love the fact that the bad guy's ridiculous powers actually have to obey the laws of physics. And I love even more that we get to see a lot of Brain Drain, the nihilistic redeemed villain brain-in-a-jar with a robot body, who is hilarious and weirdly lovable.

It also features an odd little piece from the point of view of Nancy's cat, Mew, which includes some weird and wonderful feline dream sequences, followed by a brief look back at Doreen's childhood, in something along the lines of an origin story. The latter was written by Will Murray, the original creator of Squirrel Girl, not Ryan North, and I think it's much less interesting without North's marvelously nutty (sorry!) sense of humor, but it's nice to have a bit of backstory, anyway.

Rating: 4/5

70dchaikin
maj 16, 8:13am

>68 bragan: this makes me realize how little I know about the author behind Dr. Seuss. I’m curious now. (And I liked your parenthetical comment.)

71bragan
maj 16, 11:12am

>70 dchaikin: Yes, I was surprised, when I stopped to think about it, how little I knew about him, either. Now I know more, though!

72NanaCC
maj 16, 3:58pm

>68 bragan: I’m saying ditto to what Dan said. As much as the books were a big part of my children’s and grandchildren’s libraries, I knew nothing about the man.

73stretch
maj 16, 7:06pm

>68 bragan: Dr. Suess and Mr. Roger's and to some extent LeVar Burton are kind of in the rareified air in my mind. Bigger than life persons, that I can't really think of as real people with lives beyond what they did in public. Even after reading bios and watching documentaries about them I still find it odd to contect to their real authentic lives with their bigger personas.

74bragan
maj 16, 7:23pm

>72 NanaCC: That is probably actually partly due to the fact that, from what I read in the bio, he wasn't much for self-promotion, and also didn't make TV or other appearances all that often because he got terrible stage fright.

>73 stretch: I'll admit, even having read the entire biography, and understood it as the story of a real, flawed, human person who spent a lot of time at his desk writing all those books and agonizing over the exact right words or images to put in them, some part of my brain still seems to be weirdly convinced that Dr. Seuss books just magically sprang into existence because the universe needed them, or something. :)

75dianeham
maj 16, 11:35pm

Inever heard of Seuss when I was a kid even though I read all the time.

76bragan
maj 17, 11:49am

>75 dianeham: I'm sorry to hear it! I think I first encountered him when I was five or six, myself.

77bragan
maj 20, 12:58am

44. Brightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree, Jr.



The planet Damiem, home only to a small human outpost there to protect its native people, is about to experience a rare and beautiful phenomenon as the remnants of a nearby stellar explosion pass through its atmosphere. A few visitors have been permitted to come and watch... but some of them may not be who they say they are at all.

It's an interesting and hard-to-pin-down novel. On one level, it's a fairly straightforward SF thriller. There are nefarious plans, culminating in a hostage situation and gunfire and action and such. But it definitely feels like there's a lot more going on underneath the surface.

For one thing, although it's not always reflected in the tone of the writing, this is dark. Like, really, really dark. The history of what was done to the alien people on this planet is comprehensively, intimately, viscerally horrific. The story of what happened to the exploding star is incredibly sad when we first hear it, and then later takes on some additional tragic and sinister twists. And there's some stuff about child pornography that is treated so casually that it's easy to somehow forget to be appalled by it, which is its own kind of disturbing. None of this is graphic or gory or explicit, but I think that actually jut makes it worse. Tiptree is utterly masterful at knowing just exactly how much to show or tell us and how much to leave to our imaginations for maximum effect.

The combination of all of this doesn't feel like it should work all that well, really. Especially as the plot has a lot of implausibilities and contrivances, not to mention characters who are so cavalier about obvious signs of looming danger that you really want to smack some sense of caution into them. And I'm not remotely sure how I feel about any aspect of the ending.

And yet, somehow it all ends up being effective. I felt a real sense of building dread through the first half of the novel, the action-y stuff definitely held my interest, and some of the more disturbing moments had me finishing a scene, taking a deep breath, and deciding I needed to go and do something else for a little bit to let my brain settle before coming back to it, which is not something a story manages to do to me very often.

Rating: It's very hard to know how to rate this. I'm going to give it a 4/5, but some unsettled part of my brain that is still chewing over the way it deals with all those painful themes of exploitation and such is convinced that's selling it short.

78bragan
maj 24, 11:51pm

45. Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut by Nicholas Schmidle



Nicolas Schmidle, who spent time as an embedded reporter with Virgin Galactic, shares an account of Virgin's test flights, its accomplishments, and its disasters. He focuses primarily on the story, both personal and professional, of Mark Stucky, who worked first for Scaled Composites flying SpaceShipOne and then directly for Virgin flying SpaceShipTwo, and who became one of the first two Virgin pilots to make it all the way out of the atmosphere and into space.

It's a subject I was interested to read about. I've always found everything about space travel fascinating and inspirational, although I confess that I do have some very complicated mixed feelings about the current billionaire space race. I think I had some slightly mixed feelings about this book, too. It does cover its subject pretty well, and I certainly learned a lot of things I didn't know before. I also very much like that Schmidle, while he clearly appreciates the company's vision and the courage and skill of its pilots, refuses to overlook its flaws or become part of its (apparently rather formidable) corporate hype machine.

On the other hand, the writing style often bored me a bit. And it sometimes seemed as if any time Schmidle wanted to make a statement about anything, he couldn't trust himself to find a good way to say it but instead had to throw in a quote from somebody else, to the point where I eventually got a bit tired of seeing random quotation marks in the middle of sentences. Also, if I'm being completely honest, this is a story about people as much as about machines, but very few of the people in it, accomplished as they might be, seemed like anyone I would truly like to get to know.

One thing, though, pleasantly surprised me. The author turns out to have something of a personal connection to it all: his own father was also a test pilot, and two of the Virgin pilots, including Stucky, know (or once knew) him personally. This, combined with observations of Stucky's problems with his own children, leads Schmidle to some reflections about his own relationship with his father and his sons. The first time he brought this up, I braced myself to roll my eyes a bit. Like, "Oh, look, the author just has to insert himself into the story, when he ought to know it's really not him I'm here to read about." But he keeps these personal reflections short, and I honestly think they're some of the best parts of the book. It's like once he stops distancing himself by borrowing quotes from Norman Mailer and Herman Melville and instead talks about his own thoughts and perspectives in his own words, his writing suddenly feels much more intimate and interesting, and sometimes even rather moving.

Rating: I'm giving this a somewhat stingy 3.5/5, but I will say that for those who are particuarly interested at an inside look at Virgin Galactic's test program, it will probably be one that you want to read.

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

79dchaikin
maj 25, 3:35pm

>77 bragan: >78 bragan: just saying hi and that I enjoyed these. The name Virgin Galactic didn’t mean anything to me before your review...although I’m vaguely aware of these test pilots.

80bragan
maj 25, 6:02pm

>79 dchaikin: Hello!

Virgin Galactic is Richard Branson's company. They have a suborbital space vehicle that launches from an airplane, and their goal is to regularly take tourists up on flights.

81LibraryLover23
maj 26, 1:13pm

De-lurking to say your thread is dangerous for book bullets. I enjoy reading your reviews!

82bragan
maj 26, 4:38pm

>81 LibraryLover23: Hee, sorry about that! Only not really. :)

Thanks!

83bragan
Redigerat: maj 26, 11:43pm

46. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout



This is a sequel of sorts to Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton, which I liked but didn't remember the details of all that well. I don't think that's necessary for this one, anyway, though. Suffice it to say that Lucy Barton is a woman who grew up in poverty in a small town in Illinois and eventually moved away to become a successful author. She reappears here, making her first, painful visit to her hometown in a very long time, but she is neither the focus nor the narrator. Nobody is, really. This is one of those works that can maybe be viewed as a novel, and maybe as a collection of linked short stories, with each chapter/story focusing on a different person who bears some connection to Lucy, or to the town, or to the other characters. Each person has their own story, but there are definitely some common themes. These are stories of secrets, of difficult and often abusive relationships between parents and children, of failing marriages, of PTSD, and, very occasionally, of quiet love and small moments of grace.

Strout's writing is interesting. It seems terribly sparse and simple, maybe too much so, and her portraits of all these various people feel well-observed, but not particularly satisfying. At first, anyway. But something about it all really creeps up on you, and suddenly you find yourself unexpectedly moved by some small moment or some perfectly apt way of saying things, and you realize that you're reading a writer who really knows what she's doing. At least, it had that effect on me here, and I'm kind of impressed by it.

Rating: 4/5

84bragan
maj 27, 10:04am

47. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot



You know, I thought I'd read this before, in my youth, but apparently I'd only read one or two of the poems somewhere, as I'm quite sure most of them were new to me. Well, I'm glad to have finally made their acquaintance! This is a fun little collection of delightful, interestingly rhymed nonsense, with perhaps a slightly extra appeal for us cat lovers, who can look with fond recognition on felines like Rum Tum Tugger, who is always on the wrong side of every door. I was smiling a lot through most of it, and (with, admittedly, the exception of a couple of unfortunate terms used for Chinese people -- er, cats) it holds up really well.

I have no idea, though, how or why anybody managed to make a musical out of this, never mind that waking nightmare of a movie I regret having watched the trailer for. But let us not speak of that again.

Rating: 4/5

85bragan
maj 28, 11:54pm

48. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone



This surreal time travel love story features two women we know only by the names Red and Blue, agents of two cruel warring factions vying to... Well, it's never spelled out with perfect clarity exactly what they're trying to do, now that I think of it. To be the one true, ultimate future of every timeline, perhaps, although to put it in those terms makes this sound like a very different kind of story than it is. Its logic has more of the feel of a dream or fairytale, often, than anything else. That's true of the ways in which these two people move in and out of time, altering events with subtle nudges or violent destruction, and even more so of the bizarre ways in which they leave each other the messages through which they develop their growing bond. It's something that I suspect, in a longer work, might grow frustrating or wearying, but at a mere 200 pages, that never gets the chance to happen, and instead we get something that is... That is... Well, OK, honestly, I have no idea how to even start describing it, but it was weird and fascinating and kind of beautiful.

Rating: 4.5/5

86avaland
maj 29, 8:59am

Gosh, I was 40 messages behind! I am sorely tempted by the Squirrel Girl! And it was very nice to revisit the Tiptree through your review. Must tell Michael about some of your other reviews here, that he may be interested to read.

87bragan
maj 29, 1:07pm

>85 bragan: Squirrel Girl is loads of fun! And I say that as someone who's not even really much of a fan of superhero comics.

And, hey, I'm always glad to have more possible targets for the book bullets! ;)

88LolaWalser
maj 29, 1:44pm

Billionaires in space, ugh... It's not just disgusting, it truly breaks my heart makes me want to cry. All my childhood dreams of how space exploration would unite us, how we'd become just Earthlings facing the cosmos, dusted.

>85 bragan:

This is the first time I notice someone mentioning it's about two women! I'm there.

89bragan
maj 29, 5:40pm

>88 LolaWalser: I mean, on the one hand, there are far, far worse things they could be doing with their money, and I'm glad to see anybody doing cool things in space, but on the other hand it's all part and parcel of how utterly -- excuse the expression -- fucked-up capitalism is becoming in our society that these guys have this much power, and so much about that disturbs me.

90dukedom_enough
maj 30, 11:46am

>77 bragan: For me, Tiptree is one of the best 5 or 10 SF writers of the 20th century. But the two novels aren't her best work, at all - she was strongest at novella length. As you probably know, her stories are almost all quite dark, and it's best not to read more than one or two of them in a sitting.

>85 bragan: I liked Time War a lot, but not as much as the rest of SF fandom did. The book got All the awards.

91dukedom_enough
maj 30, 11:47am

>88 LolaWalser: >89 bragan: Earth-based astronomy ruined as a side effiect of Musk's moneymaking.

92bragan
maj 30, 1:43pm

>90 dukedom_enough: Yeah, some of her shorter stuff is just... unparalleled. I actually kind of suspect I liked Brightness Falls from the Air as much as I did because I see some echos of her other work in it, rather than because it was that solid on its own.

For much of the time while I was reading This Is How You Lose the Time War, I was thinking that this was really cool and interesting, but maybe not quite as all that as people seemed to think it was. But it definitely got to me by the end. I don't know if I would give it all the awards, myself, but I don't begrudge it any of them, either.

>91 dukedom_enough: As someone who works in radio astronomy, I am pleased to report that we have not quite been ruined. :) But it's an issue for sure, and it very much bothers me that consequences like that are an afterthought for these companies, at best.

93LolaWalser
maj 30, 1:54pm

It's best if I don't start... but my chest literally hurts. Not only won't I see an end to it, the only conclusion I can reasonably come to is that they will raze and burn Earth to the last green living thing, this is going to happen, because it is happening. Oh no, I started. stop!

94bragan
jun 3, 11:50am

49. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green



I'd already encountered most of the material in this book previously, if sometimes in slightly different form, on John Green's Anthropocene Reviewed podcast. But it was absolutely worth revisiting in book form, even if I did kind of miss Green's voice and the way he always sounds both deeply bemused and sort of dolefully amused by absolutely everything.

The conceit here is that Green reviews "facets of the human-centered planet" on a five-star scale, with full recognition of exactly how meaningless and absurd that it. The topics vary widely: plants and animals, works of art, diseases, inventions, natural phenomena... Everything from the Lascaux cave paintings to the World's Largest Ball of Paint. But each essay, in reality, is a surprisingly profound meditation on life, full of interesting tidbits of information and thoughtful reflections on both a personal and a global level. It's intimate and smart, fascinating and well-written, slyly funny and frequently moving.

I heartily recommend this either in book or in podcast form. Or, for that matter, both.

To borrow Green's rating format: I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.

95bragan
jun 6, 8:19pm

50. The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams



An anthology of stories on the subject of mad scientists, from a fairly impressive collection of authors. Various different kinds of mad science are represented, including superhero, horror, pulp adventure, and science fiction tropes, with plentiful appearances from the scientists' assistants, love interests, and minions.

It's pretty good, overall, as anthologies go. There are several stories I thought were very good to excellent (including the fantastic "Mofongo Knows" by Grady Hendrix, which I'd encountered before in podcast form and was delighted to rediscover here); a few more that were quite enjoyable, if perhaps not very memorable; a bunch that were slight but still mildly entertaining; and only a couple that I actively didn't like (mostly because, it turns out, I don't find reading about super-misogynistic mad scientists to be a good time, no matter what might happen to them in the end). There's also one story (Harry Turtledove's "Father of the Groom") that was a bit funny, but would have been a lot funnier if it weren't trying so hard to be funny, and one just-kind-of-okay story that was way, way too long, especially in comparison with the other stories in the volume. (Seriously, was there a word limit no one remembered to tell Diana Gabaldon about?)

That last one does kind of threaten to bog the whole thing down for a while, to be honest, but mercifully I think it doesn't quite succeed, and there were enough really good pieces after that to wash away my annoyance and leave me feeling generally happy with the whole thing.

Rating: 4/5

96bragan
jun 10, 4:11pm

51. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell



This is the second book in the Simon Snow series, which has a wonderfully strange origin story. Rainbow Rowell invented the world and the characters for her novel Fangirl, to serve as the Harry Potter-esque series the titular fangirl was obsessed with. But she was so taken with them that she then couldn't resist writing their story herself. Or part of it, anyway, as the first volume, Carry On was written as if it were the final book in a multi-volume series that doesn't actually exist. Or maybe a fanfictional version of an ending to a non-existent book series... The levels of meta can make your head hurt, and they amuse me endlessly.

Anyway. This one is set after the big happy ending, and a de-magicked Simon Snow has fallen into something of a depression now that he no longer has a purpose in life. So his friend Penelope and his maybe-boyfriend Baz take him on a road trip through America, hoping that will help to snap him out of it. Along the way, of course, they have some supernatural adventures, most of them involving vampires, and end up having to dash to the rescue of a friend they were just hoping to drop in on for a visit.

I loved the previous one so much I basically read it in one sitting. This one wasn't quite as compelling, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Almost more than it feels like I should have, somehow. I mean, there's maybe not huge amounts of substance here, despite a few clever world-building elements. But it's just such a delightfully fast, breezy, fun, oddly cheering read, one that, I think, actually does scratch much the same itch as certain types of well-written fanfiction do.

The ending feels very open for another sequel, by the way, and I'm very much crossing my fingers that we'll get one. I honestly do feel like I could happily read these forever.

Rating: 4/5

97karspeak
jun 10, 6:21pm

>96 bragan: Amazon says it’s part of the Simon Snow trilogy, and the third one is scheduled for release on 7/6/21. I enjoyed the first one and will have to try out Wayward Son.

98bragan
jun 10, 9:06pm

>97 karspeak: Excellent! Thank you for the info! It really did seem like it was leaving things in position for a third one, so I'm glad to have that confirmed.

99rhian_of_oz
jun 12, 8:04am

>85 bragan: Chiming in quite late to say I loved, LOVED this book. I remember standing in my kitchen (not sure why I was reading it in the kitchen!) sobbing during the scene when ... well anyone who's read it probably knows which scene I'm talking about.

100bragan
jun 12, 2:50pm

>99 rhian_of_oz: I can't say it made me sob, but it certainly did something affecting to me!

101bragan
jun 13, 5:03am

52. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner



This may perhaps be more accurately described not as a history of fairy tale, but as a history of the ways in which people have thought about and related to fairy tales: as facets of a national identity, for instance, or as universal guides to human experience, or through the lens of psychoanalysis or feminism. It definitely is short, though, at 180 pages. But it packs a lot into those 180 pages, giving the interestingly paradoxical sense of an author thinking very, very deeply about the subject even while barely having time to scratch the surface of it. It may, perhaps, be a little bit dense, but it's never dry, and it's full of sharp observations, interesting insights, and compelling food for thought about a genre of storytelling so familiar that it's easy to take it for granted, but that seems to contain infinite possibilities for adaptation, interpretation, and engagement.

Fascinating stuff, and the sort of book it seems like one could come back to repeatedly and find new substance in.

Rating: 4.5/5

102avaland
jun 15, 5:25am

>101 bragan: Thanks for your review of this, it's right up my alley (now, if only that alley wasn't so congested with other books....) Great review, btw.

103bragan
jun 15, 12:34pm

>102 avaland: Oh, god, I live in that congested alley. :)

104bragan
jun 16, 1:21pm

53. There There by Tommy Orange



This novel follows a large and varied cast of Native American characters as they all converge on a big powwow held in Oakland, California, each of them bringing their own complicated motivations, feelings, and life experiences with them. But violence is heading there as well...

Tommy Orange's writing is amazing. The prologue alone, which describes the literal and figurative dismemberment of America's Native people and the ways in which they have adapted to survive, is as powerful a piece of writing as I have encountered in recent memory. He has an excellent feel for character, too. Even the people we see only in very brief glimpses feel thoroughly complex and real. The only thing I'm not entirely sure about here is quite how I feel about the ending... I wasn't really expecting all these life stories to be tied up neatly, but there's even less of that that I was anticipating. It's a little disconcerting, but then I think this is the kind of novel that ought to disconcert the reader a little, and the more I think about it, the more I believe that any neater resolution would have done the book a disservice.

In any case, it's sharp, thoughtful, painful, truthful-feeling writing, and I'm more than a little in awe of it.

Rating: I think this one has to get the full 5/5.

105NanaCC
jun 16, 2:21pm

>104 bragan: You’ve just added this one to my wishlist. I’ve read a couple of books lately that didn’t have the neat little ending that I would have liked, but I still enjoyed the book. I think I felt much the same as you’ve said about this one.

106bragan
jun 16, 10:08pm

>105 NanaCC: This one is really not tidy, but it's really, really excellent.

107lisapeet
jun 17, 8:04am

>104 bragan: I thought it was terrifically written too. I liked the ragged quality of the ending, actually, though now I want to go back and reread that last part just to see what I think a couple of years down the line.

108bragan
jun 17, 12:40pm

>107 lisapeet: So far the more I let it sit in my mind, the better it works for me, too. "Ragged" is a good way of putting it, and that does feel appropriate.

109RidgewayGirl
jun 17, 12:58pm

>104 bragan: Yes, There, There is an extraordinary book.

110dchaikin
jun 17, 2:00pm

Glad you enjoyed There There. It’s always fun here to see someone enjoy a book I really liked. I’m with Lisa in that I felt the ending worked. (Also some things cannot be resolved. By this I’m thinking of some major Native Americans issues highlighted here, ones that I hadn’t really ever thought about, that were definitely not resolvable, no matter what happened to these characters.)

111bragan
jun 17, 2:07pm

>100 bragan: Yes, indeed, I think that is largely why the ending does ultimately work, for all that it's not satisfying in a traditional way. I agree that the lack of resolutions feels truthful precisely because nothing that he's addressing, especially on the large scale, is neatly resolvable.

112lisapeet
jun 17, 3:05pm

>110 dchaikin: >111 bragan: Yeah, I think I would have been pissed off if Orange had tied it all up in a bow. That does annoy me.

113sallypursell
jun 18, 7:20pm

>104 bragan: Oh, I have to comment. I'm coming by to catch up after an absence for a while, and while reading your thread I keep being caught adding to my wishlist, but this one was such a good, although short, review, that I have to tell you how much I appreciate your thread, your reading, and your reviews.

114bragan
jun 18, 7:43pm

>133 Aww, thank you! *blush*

115BLBera
jun 19, 12:38pm

I also loved There There. I can't wait to see what Orange does next! And I did like the ending.

116BLBera
jun 19, 12:39pm

I also loved There There. I can't wait to see what Orange does next! And I did like the ending.

And what Sally said. :)

117bragan
jun 19, 4:26pm

>116 BLBera: It's really hard to believe that was only his first novel!

118bragan
Redigerat: jun 24, 9:27pm

54. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir



A man wakes up, alone, on a spaceship. He's only very slowly beginning to remember how he even got there, but it quickly becomes apparent that he's on a mission with incredibly high stakes. In fact, the entire future of humanity depends on him remembering what he's there to do and coming up with some way to do it. And it is not going to be easy...

I almost feel like I shouldn't enjoy this one anywhere near as much as I did, because aspects of it are just incredibly, ridiculously implausible. Like absolutely everything about how this mission was put together and why this particular guy is part of it, not to mention the whole contrived amnesia gimmick. But, boy, did I enjoy it a lot, anyway. Like, a lot. It's a fun, fast read, one that's nerdy in all the best ways, with some real tension (especially towards the end), some surprisingly emotional moments, and some cool science-fictional ideas. And, doggone it, sometimes you just really, really want to watch super-smart (yet relatable) people coming up with clever ways of solving problems and overcoming obstacles. Basically, it's the sort of thing that will probably appeal to just about anybody who liked The Martian. Heck, part of me can't believe I'm actually saying this, given all the aforementioned ridiculousness, but I honestly think I enjoyed it more than The Martian.

Rating: a surprising 4.5/5

119stretch
jun 22, 12:01pm

>118 bragan: I've heard so many people like this better then the Martian. It's been hard to avoid reviews so as not to spoil it, I really want to go in blind on this one to see how it compares with the Martian for me and without too high of expectations.

120bragan
jun 22, 4:28pm

>119 stretch: I think going into this one blind is a good call! It is likely to be the most fun that way.

121bragan
Redigerat: jun 24, 9:25pm

55. Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson



Jenny Lawson's new book is very much like her previous one. There are lots of hilarious, wacky, often mildly ribald anecdotes from her life, usually featuring her own adorkable awkwardness, random encounters with Texas wildlife, and/or surreal arguments with her long-suffering husband. (Even the chapter titles for this stuff are likely to put a smile on your face: "And Then I Bought Condoms for My Dog", "That Time I Got Haunted by Lizards with Bike Horns," "And That's Why I Can Never Go Back to the Post Office Again"...) Other entries are more serious and poignant reflections on the various mental and physical illnesses that she struggles with, featuring words of wise and gentle, but never sappy encouragement to herself and others for getting through them.

I will say, I think I didn't love this quite as much as her previous two books, maybe because I was in less of the right mood for it, or maybe because she's already used up most of her very best stories. But that is a very high bar, anyway, and still leaves a great deal of room for me to like this one a lot. Which I did. And I suspect anyone else who enjoyed those, or who reads her blog, will like it too.

Rating: 4/5

122Yells
jun 25, 10:06am

>121 bragan: I loved her first two. I'm saving this one for when I'm having a really bad day and need a good laugh.

123bragan
jun 25, 10:37am

>122 Yells: It's probably a pretty good book to read on a bad day! Funny and encouraging.

124bragan
Redigerat: jun 30, 12:03am

56. Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer



In 1726, in a small town in England, a physician is called to the bedside of a woman who is giving birth... to a rabbit. A dead rabbit. A dead, grotesquely dismembered rabbit. What could possibly be going on here? Is it the greatest medical discovery of the ages? A miracle sent by God? Something the woman must have brought on herself, somehow, with her thoughts or her actions? Those are the only reasonable possibilities, right?

Bizarrely, this is actually based on a true story. Although "true story" may be something of a slippery concept, and that is in fact the main theme of the novel: the ways in which human beings convince ourselves to believe things that may not be true, the ways those beliefs can take on an independent reality of their own once they're at large in the world, and the ways in which people with the power to do so project and impose those beliefs onto the lives and the bodies of others.

One might possibly complain that the novel ends up getting a bit heavy-handed with those themes, or that it seems to promise to be a very different kind of story at the beginning than the philosophical meditation it basically turns into. But for me, it worked quite well, and the ideas it's examining feel at once like universals of human experience and as if they've very, very specifically relevant to the world we're living in right this moment.

Rating: 4/5

125bragan
jun 30, 1:12pm

57. Fox 8 by George Saunders



Like a lot of George Saunders' stuff, this small volume seems harder to describe than it feels like it should be. Let's say that it's a talking-animal fable for adults. It starts out cute and kind of funny; gets sad in complicated, unresolved ways that you don't see in ordinary fairy tales; then ends on a moral and a pointed question for human readers that are, on one hand, as simple as they can possibly be, and on the other, as complicated as human nature and human civilization.

Of course, George Saunders, being George Saunders, makes this work, in his own strange kind of way.

Rating: 4/4

126AlisonY
jun 30, 1:57pm

>124 bragan: Interesting - I've had this on my 'to buy' list for a while. I'm not sure I'm overly in the mood for too much philosophising just now, so I'll park it for a while.

127bragan
jun 30, 2:43pm

>126 AlisonY: It's pretty good, readable philosophizing, though, so I do recommended it for when you are in the mood.

128lisapeet
jun 30, 4:34pm

>125 bragan: I remember liking Fox 8—I'm a fan of Saunders's dark whimsy, but I definitely think mileage will vary.

>124 bragan: I've had the Mary Toft book on my virtual shelves for a while. It makes me think of Wisconsin Death Trip, if you've ever read that—I'm pretty sure there are an incident or two of women giving birth to rabbits in there, though I read it at a much too young and impressionable age so I might just be making a connection to something equally bizarre and traumatic to my ten-year-old self.

129bragan
jun 30, 9:19pm

>128 lisapeet: Saunders just does such interesting combinations of things in wonderfully unexpected ways.

I have not read Wisconsin Death Trip, or even heard of it, but it sounds interesting and disturbing.

130lisapeet
jul 3, 9:25am

>129 bragan: My dad got it for Christmas when it was first published, and since no books were off-limits to me I dug straight into it. But I didn't have enough adult knowledge of the world to put it in context, and I just thought it was horrifying (in a fascinating way... I'm pretty sure I at least skimmed all the way to the end).

131bragan
jul 3, 12:59pm

>130 lisapeet: Pretty sure I read a few books way too young like that, too.

132bragan
jul 3, 10:04pm

My new thread for the third quarter of 2021 can be found here.