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!
Happy Fourth of July! Today I will be enjoying the traditional re-watch of the musical 1776 and hissing and throwing popcorn at the screen whenever Thomas Jefferson shows up. I might also read a bit. I’m still in a reading slump, meaning that I find it hard to focus on anything and have at least half a dozen partially finished and temporarily (I hope) abandoned books lying around. When I’m feeling like this I have a hard time dealing with any kind of fictional conflict, so when I see it approaching I put down the book and pick up something else—typically a reread and/or something with very low stakes. Bring on the Jeeves and Wooster!
Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse
The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster Sees It Through by P.G. Wodehouse
How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
I’ve been reading and rereading Wodehouse for decades, but before now I’ve never tried to read through all ten Jeeves and Wooster novels in chronological order. (Mostly because the joys of Wodehouse are not dependent on “story arc.”) I’m enjoying the experiment, of course, but I’m also finding that it allows me to appreciate Bertie’s voice even more—his verbal tics and repetitions, the way that the story of his winning the Scripture Knowledge prize at school works its way into every single narrative. These are books #4 through #7—three more to go!
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Tommy and Tuppence #1. Young Tommy and Tuppence, childhood friends just demobbed from their service in The Great War, run into each other in London and (through the usual series of unlikely coincidences) find themselves caught up in a mystery involving the sinking of the Lusitania, Bolshevik spies, and a missing girl named Jane Finn. It’s all utterly ridiculous plot-wise, but great fun, especially if this if your first introduction to the Beresfords. I’ve read it before and remembered The Big Twist, but still enjoy reading it as a romance, even if the mystery is a bit silly.
(LC Score: 0, Kindle)
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Another reread! Inspector Alan Grant, flat on his back after an in-the-line-of-duty accident, revisits the murder of the Princes in the Tower. This novel consistently ranks as one of the best mystery novels ever written and I’ve read it at least a couple of times before, but it’s actually the fifth novel with Inspector Grant. Last year I went back to read the beginning of Tey’s series (the first one is The Man in the Queue) and found that I really enjoyed them (though fair warning: they are typical detective stories, so don’t go in expecting something like the historical conundrums of The Daughter of Time). When I got to The Daughter of Time in the sequence, I wasn’t in the mood for a reread (too many great library books on the stack) and it’s taken me until now to get back to it. One thing that struck me was how much more I enjoyed the book now that I understand more of the historical context, having read more English history in the interim. I also think it makes a great homeschool read, not just because of the history, but because the whole point of the book is to develop your critical thinking skills and look at history (or more specially, historians) with a skeptical eye. It’s a great way to introduce students to the idea that history is written by the winners. Since it helps to have context, it would be a good side-by-side read with for anyone studying that period, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s doing Shakespeare’s Richard III. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Shockingly, NOT a reread! This YA fantasy is one of the books I’ve been picking up and putting down for a couple of weeks now and I decided to power through. I love the beginning: there’s a modern-day town on the edge of a forest and everything is perfectly normal, except for the unbreakable glass casket in the forest where a horned prince has slept for decades. And a changeling attends high school with our protagonists and every year a couple of tourists get eaten, but yeah, other than that everything’s perfectly normal. This novel has a lot going for it—there’s a great scene where the high schoolers are partying and drinking in the woods around the glass casket like they do every Friday night because of course that’s what teenagers would do—but (and this may be the slump talking) it turns out I’m kinda over Faerie at the moment. I’m also definitely not in the mood for YA teenage kissing, and there’s a LOT of YA teenage kissing in this book. (Diverse kissing, though, so thumbs up for that!) I think it’s a case of wrong book, wrong time for me, but I’d have no hesitation in passing it along to my favorite YA readers.
(LC Score: +1)
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
So YA fantasy isn’t working for me; let’s head back over to the mystery section. Claire DeWitt is a very unusual private investigator who has been hired to find out what happened to a missing lawyer in post-Katrina New Orleans. I really enjoyed this book. I also am now completely freaked out about ever visiting New Orleans, since Gran vividly depicts it as a lawless violence-ridden Third-World city that you need special skills to survive. (Seriously: my daughter’s freshman chorus trip was to New Orleans and if I had read this book before then I might not have been able to sign the permission slip. Fortunately she and her fellow singers had a great time and all returned unscathed.) Alongside that, there’s an incredible amount of love and respect for the city and its inhabitants here. If anyone out there is from New Orleans please read this and let us know what you think—I’d love to see a reaction from someone who knows the city.
(LC Score: +1)
Farthing by Jo Walton
A murder has taken place in a country house in 1949 England, getting us comfortably back to the world of Wodehouse and Christie—except that in this version of 1949, England made an early peace with Hitler (as a result of the Hess Mission, which, yes, I will happily read ALL THE BOOKS, fictional and otherwise, about Rudolf Hess and his bizarre flight to Scotland) and so now exists in the shadow of a Third Reich-controlled Europe. The owners of the house and their friends make up the “Farthing Set,” a group of powerful pro-German politicians who helped broker the peace. Things do not end well. I don’t want to say too much, except that it’s a great book and I recommend it, but the book does have a strong political viewpoint and I was surprised to see that some reviewers thought it heavy-handed. I did not, which may be an unfortunate side-effect of the times we are living in. It’s the first book in a trilogy; as soon as I work up the emotional energy I look forward to tackling the next two books.
(LC Score: +1)
The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest by Peter Dickinson
In her introduction to Farthing, Walton thanks Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Peter Dickinson for getting her on the right track regarding British mysteries. I had not read Dickinson, but of course I have to check out anyone mentioned in such illustrious company. This is his first novel, written in 1968, and first in a series with Inspector Jim Pribble as our detective. Here’s the setup: During World War II, a (fictional) New Guinea tribe called the Ku were slaughtered by the Japanese. The handful of survivors now share a home in London, along with the anthropologist daughter of the white missionary couple that had lived with them in New Guinea, and their chief is murdered. When I first saw the cover of the library edition, featuring a cartoonish African man, I was...concerned. You might be thinking that all this sounds like a great opportunity for a lot of casual racism and general offensiveness, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The Kus are described as primitive and child-like, definitively alien and Other, and characters more or less continually comment on the blackness of their skin. One character also suggests that the anthropologist, who has been accepted as a member of the tribe, is keeping them as her own private project, a personal “ant farm” that she can tend and watch. That said, Dickinson gives depth to the story and the characters, and the Kus that we meet (the few with speaking parts) come across as distinct individuals. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, but I can tell you that I read it more or less in one sitting and that I’ve got the next one coming. I’m hoping for no more cartoon African covers.
(LC Score: +1)
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
The nice thick sequel to The Three Body Problem. Nope, not this week.
(LC Score: -1, RETURNED UNREAD)
Library Chicken Score for 7/4/17: 3
Running Score: 57