The science-fiction/fantasy genre has never been more exciting — or more inclusive. Suzanne examines the new directions of an old favorite and highlights the genre’s new must-reads.
Suzanne's best fiction reads of last year include more than one addictive series, plus haunted houses, Sherlock homages, classic Hollywood in space, and more.
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that due to our Tuesday publication date, this “week” was actually closer to 10 days—because we pride ourselves on ACCURACY here at Library Chicken HQ.
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars by Catherine Clinton
Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Fanny Kemble
Fanny Kemble was a celebrated British actress—part of the famed Kemble/Siddons theater family—who came to America on tour and fell in love with a wealthy American, Pierce Butler. What she didn’t know when she married Butler was that his family’s wealth came from large plantation holdings on and around St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. (For my Hamilton fans out there: the Butlers were friends of Aaron Burr and it was to their plantation that he fled to hide out after The Duel, when New York charged him with murder.) As Fanny was an ardent abolitionist, this caused a problem or two. Her husband, an absentee landlord most of the time, really didn’t want her anywhere near his plantation or his slaves, but he did allow her to spend one year down there, during which she wrote her Journal. The marriage eventually fell apart in dramatic fashion (detailed in Clinton’s biography) and Fanny, who had become known as a memoirist, eventually published the Journal. It’s a fascinating if grim read about life on an isolated plantation in the Deep South, where the authority usually rests in the hands of a hired overseer, often the only white man present, whose only concern is to provide a good-looking balance sheet for the absentee owner. Fanny was especially interested in the lives of enslaved women, recording details of their lives that other (male) witnesses may never have seen or heard about. I read these as part of ongoing prep for the Georgia history class (and let me tell you, Fanny was not a fan of the Peach State).
(LC Score: +2)
SPACE OPERA. Leckie, as you may have heard me say, is my new hero. A stay-at-home-mom, she was in her mid-40s when she published her first novel, Ancillary Justice, which then went on to win just about every award in the science fiction genre. I made Amy read it with me for the podcast and we’re due to talk about it next time around (as soon as the stars and our schedules align). SPOILER: I thought it was pretty darn good. Leckie explores gender and personhood in wonderful and original ways, plus people get to shoot at each other with ray guns! So of course I had to pick up books two and three in the trilogy and finish them off. If you’re already a SF fan: c’mon, read Ancillary Justice already. I know you’ve heard of it. What are you waiting for? If you’re most emphatically NOT a SF fan: well, this is definitely very science-fiction-y science fiction, so maybe give it a miss as it’s probably chock-full of all the things that annoy you about the genre. If you don’t know if you’re a SF fan or not: this series is a great example of some of the exciting things that are happening in modern SF right now—pick up the first book and give it a try!
(LC Score: +2)
I am on record as not loving the sort of Southern fiction where everyone is always hot, sweaty, and barefoot, and every attic room houses an insane cousin/brother/uncle (looking at you, Faulkner), but I do love Bailey White and her stories of Southern small towns (primarily in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida), where eccentric elders spend their time fussing over the younger generation and vice versa. As part of my quest to immerse myself in everything Georgian, I’ve been treating myself to a reread of her work.
(LC Score: +2)
The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken
Joan Aiken’s YA/children’s novels are a bit hit or miss for me. I find them to be an unpredictable mixture of entertainingly gothic and unpleasantly grim. I’ve had this one on my shelves forever (for Atlantans: it had an Oxford Too stamp inside, so you know I bought it a while ago) but I was excited to pick it up and find a promising beginning, with a young boy sent to Oxford, England to live with his aunt in a house not entirely ghost-free (reminiscent of the Green Knowe series). Ultimately, however, it came down on the grim side for me.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)
Mr. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat
My dad insisted that I stop everything and read this book, a mostly forgotten classic set during the Napoleonic Wars and written by a friend of Charles Dickens. The title character is raised by an philosopher father, whose eccentric beliefs include the idea that everyone is equal. Friends of the family conspire to get the son into the navy, in the hopes that he will rid himself of these patently ridiculous ideas passed down from his father, but it takes a while, as young Easy has been trained to argue every point and will happily do so all day. My dad <ahem> may have said that the character reminded him just a teensy bit of my younger son.
(LC Score: +1)
Observatory Mansion by Edward Carey
GUYS, I LOVE Edward Carey. Have I told you how much I love Edward Carey? Have I told y’all to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy his Iremonger trilogy (beginning with Heap House) for your favorite middle/high schooler, though of course you should really read it first before passing it along? The trilogy that Carey wrote after moving to Austin, Texas from England because, as he says, he missed feeling cold and gloomy? Have I told you how delightfully bizarre and weirdly Dickensian his books are? My only complaint about Carey is that he doesn’t write fast enough. Aside from the Iremonger trilogy, he’s written two books for adults: Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City (very very strange—read it immediately) and this one, his first novel, with a narrator who works as a living statue, collects (i.e., steals) important objects from the people around him for his private collection, and never ever takes off his white gloves. Carey is interested in what happens when you objectify people and personify objects and really I have no idea what’s happening, but I LOVE him SO MUCH, GUYS.
(LC Score: 0, because my library didn’t have it and I had to buy my own copy, darn)
After catching a few episodes of Victoria on Masterpiece Theater I thought this would be a fun read—but apparently so did everyone else. RETURNED UNREAD (because it was due and had holds and I’m in the middle of this whole Georgia thing right now anyway).
(LC Score: -1)
Library Chicken Score for 4/24/17: 6
Running Score: 11 1⁄2
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:
Georgia: A Brief History by Christopher Meyers and David Williams (like I said...)
After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia edited by Hugh Ruppersburg (hopefully not too many sweaty barefoot insane cousins)
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit (because Solnit is wonderful and I’m obsessed with disasters)
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (because I will read anything with “Library” in the title!)
Here’s your (new!) weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited by Leslie Klinger
I’ve watched television and movies inspired by Lovecraft’s tales, played board games based on his works, and read countless novels and short stories set in the world he created, but I’ve read very little by the man himself, which is embarrassing given my self-proclaimed status as a hard-core bookish sf/fantasy nerd. This beautiful oversized volume collects 22 of Lovecraft’s Arkham Cycle stories, with extensive annotations by Klinger and a short biographical preface. (Spoiler: Lovecraft was super racist!) Lovecraft definitely has a specific (and repetitive) style — narrators share events almost TOO TERRIBLE TO RELATE involving INDESCRIBABLY HORRIFIC TENTACLED ENTITIES the mere mention of which MAY DRIVE YOU MAD — and may not be for everyone, but this is a great introduction to his work, definitely worth passing along to any teens or adults who may have a Cthulu t-shirt or two but have never gotten around to reading the original. (LC Score: +1)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
As a fan of Victorian novels, I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve watched gracefully waste away after being stricken with consumption. And there are times (especially after a not-so-successful day of homeschooling) where being an invalid on top of a mountain somewhere, breathing the crisp fresh air while a handsome young orderly adjusts my lap blanket before wheeling me to another part of the meadow, sounds pretty awesome. Except, of course, for the whole coughing up blood and dying part. Mann’s famous (and famously long) German novel, set just before the Great War, describes the kind of sanatorium I’ve always imagined myself in and the people that inhabit it more or less permanently. I enjoyed this novel, though I only understood about 80% of it, not including the almost-entirely-in-French chapter that my translation (by H.T. Lowe-Porter) didn’t bother to translate to English and which I didn’t understand t al, forcing me to spend quite a bit of time arguing with Google Translate before discovering a more recent and more friendly edition (by John E. Woods) online. (NOTE: For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading this book alternately with the Lovecraft collection and they went surprisingly well together. I have no idea what that means.) (LC Score: +1)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief by Dorothy Gilman
This 10th entry in the Mrs. Pollifax spy series — think Miss Marple, CIA agent — has, as usual, a faintly ridiculous plot (set in Sicily this time around), but makes a delightful change from tentacled monsters and German consumptives. (LC Score: +1)
The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer
I think I picked this up based on Amy’s recommendation — and it is indeed a charming little romance, once you get past the racism, which is still kind of charming. (At least compared to Lovecraft.) (LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)
Russell, burnt out from her high-powered London life, moves to Denmark after her husband gets a job at Lego. This is the memoir of her “Danish happiness project”, investigating the claim that Danes are the world’s happiest people and trying to figure out why. I’ve had this book on hold since I read a similar travel memoir — The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth — but apparently the idea of moving to Denmark strikes a nerve with my fellow metro Atlantans, because I had to wait months for it to become available. I was reminded of the very similar (but non-Danish) The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and of the two Scandinavian memoirs I think I preferred the Booth book, but it’s still an entertaining read. It left me with NO desire to move to Denmark, however. (LC Score: +1⁄2, loses half a point because I returned it overdue)
Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux
I love a literary biography, especially of a female writer, but it’s unusual for me to read one about an author I’ve never heard of or read before. Woolson is primarily known today for her close friendship with Henry James, but in her time she achieved both popular success and critical acclaim. While the reviews of the day hailed her as a permanent addition to the American literary canon, my library doesn’t even have copies of all her major works, though it carries several biographies that (no doubt) emphasize her relationship with James and her death by probable suicide in Venice, proving that fame is fleeting but gossip is forever. (LC Score: +1)
Georgia Odyssey: A Short History of the State by James C. Cobb
I grew up in Florida, so while I learned how to pronounce Ponce de Leon correctly (hint to fellow Atlantans: ‘ponts-dee-lee-on’ is not the usual way to say the name of that street downtown where the Kripsy Kreme is located), I don’t know much about Georgia history. As I’m going to be teaching a class on the history of my adopted state in the fall, I’ve started reading up and have learned that most of Georgia history can be subtitled “Don’t Be Bringin’ Any of That Yankee Nonsense Down Here.” After reading a couple of volumes heavy on cotton crop statistics and making my way through all 1,037 pages of Gone With the Wind, it was wonderful to discover this lively and surprisingly entertaining history by native Georgian and UGA professor James Cobb. At just under 200 pages, it lives up to its title’s promise, but Cobb packs a lot in there. (LC Score: +1)
Library Chicken Score for 4/14/17: 5 1⁄2
On the to-read stack for next week:
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars: The Story of America’s Most Unlikely Abolitionist by Catherine Clinton (for the Georgia class)
Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White (reread for the Georgia class)
Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman (because it’s the week of Fanny, I guess?)
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (because I’m gonna need some space opera after spending all that time in Georgia)