79 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday 5-11-17

  1. Some folks left encouraging comments last week about my reading slump. Thanks, folks!

    This week I’m reading “Pretty Face” by Lucy Parker which I’m really enjoying.

    I think that’s already been recommended here, so I will throw in a bonus recommendation of the audiobook for “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir. Yes, it’s a YA dystopian novel and honestly I had suspension of disbelief problems with some of the world building upfront. But it has that cracktastic page turning ( what is the audio equivalent of page turning) quality and the narrators are excellent. The male narrator has a beautiful English accent and color me shallow, but that works for me.

  2. “Death of A Peer” by Ngaio Marsh (publ as “Surfeit of Lampreys” in the U.K.) I’ve read and reread many times since discovering the book as a teen. Listening for the first time on Audible now. Delightful love story wrapped in a murder mystery with a zany family. Marsh was a theater director and set designer and does the best job of describing rooms and settings without bogging down in description.

  3. I’m almost finished reading Kelley Armstrong’s Missing. Gosh that woman can write! The action just flows. I hate to put it down and read late into the night. Tonight I get to the ending. Can’t wait.

    It’s YA.

    1. Have you read her Darkest Powers series? I read the first 2 books in one weekend, I couldn’t put them down.

    2. Missing was really good. I’m a few chapters into the YA she released before that, The Masked Truth. And the Darkest Powers books are great, too. I second that recommendation.

  4. How about some memoirs this week. I’ve listened to several, and the great thing about these is that they’re read by the authors. I’m not going to include NLS references in this case, because they’re all easy finds. Carly Simon’s “Boys in the Trees” is wonderful. So is Lauren Graham’s “Talking as Fast as I can,” with some great stuff on writing in it. Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” was fun both for the stories, including that amazing story about Stockholm in 1976, but also because he conveys the joy of the life he lives in his reading. John Fogarty’s “Fortunate Son” is also interesting, though he sometimes seems like he’s talking to kids with his delivery. And Carol Burnett’s “In Such Good Company” is a scream, because she includes audio from her co-stars. William Shatner gives us “Leonard” which is a wonderful memoir to his friend of so many years. And Grace Jones’s “I’ll Never Write My Memoir” is a whirlwind tour through Andy Warhol’s The Factory, French high fashion, Studio 54, Hollywood, and the life of a unique woman with no regrets and no fears most of the time. And of course, if you need one more, “The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher is also great and very personal.

    1. I just finished the Lauren Graham book and enjoyed it. Will have to look for the Carrie Fisher – still can’t believe she’s gone.

  5. I’m an essay fan. Periodically I reread Anna Quindlen, Roger Angel, Calvin Trillin, and most of all EB White. (I think he’s the only person whose letters I’ve also read. He couldn’t write a boring page if he tried.)

  6. I have enjoyed reading the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series. They are written by Colin Cotterill who is an Englishman who has spent most of his adult life in Thailand and is married to a Japanese woman. The series takes place in Laos, after the communist revolution. Dr. Paiboun was a revolutionary but is older and has a rather jaded outlook on the whole thing. I really enjoy getting a window into other cultures and countries and despite my concern about how a European would really be able to understand a culture so different from his, I have to say that it feels as if the story could be possible. Dr. Paiboun is a coroner and is both respected and resented in the new regime; he is brilliant and funny and it’s given me a sense of what life might be like in a country struggling to live out its revolutionary dreams with all of the human flaws still rampant in the citizens. (I hope I am not giving a circular recommendation here; I don’t remember how I found these books.) (And the next book is coming out in August.)

    I am not in love with most of the new books I’ve been reading, so I’ve been going back to old favorites to help me deal with our world these days. I’ve been re-listening to Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. I admit to having a prejudice against books that are only or mostly about men but these broke the mold for me; I completely adore the characters of Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon. Their adventures are great and they are all described so well but not excessively. It also lends itself really well to audio format; my preferred narrator is Simon Vance for these, but Audible no longer has him available; his Captain Aubrey was so dead-on. Listening takes longer than reading, but it can add a new dimension when well done.

    I did just read the new Sharon Lee and Steve Miller book, The Gathering Edge. They are doing a very long story arc and publish a book a year, so it’s not a series for the impatient. The books could be considered space opera or just scifi, but they are as much character-driven as plot-driven and include some romance, although not usually as a major story line. I like that they are not dystopian (mostly) and that they are a kinder vision of beings in another time and place than some of the harsher scifi out there. So bottom line, I will continue to follow this series, it is well-written, but it isn’t something I would tell most people ‘oh, you have to read this’. Just putting it out there.

    1. I love the Liaden stories as well! My favorite is probably Plan B but I would suggest reading Agent of Change andCarpe Diem first for maximum enjoyment. Very even balance of male and female characters as leads.

    2. I love love love Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Changed my world when I read them. Never read a book that seemed so real I was surprised to find when I stopped reading I was in 1990s southern california.
      My brothers were reading them too. They were really hard to find in the 90s, so when we’d find one in the store, we’d buy it even if it was out of sequence, bc even though we were reading them in sequence, it could be awhile before we’d find the next one. Buying them out of sequence was financial sacrifice bc the books were $14 ea and we were all just out of school and broke, but they were so good we were compelled to snap them up whenever we had the chance.
      When I finished The Ionian Mission, the ending was so gripping, I screamed out loud, leapt out of my chair, threw the book down and ran into my bedroom to see if I had the next one.
      Did not intend to scream. Was not being dramatic. Just felt like I was there with them on a sinking ship, not knowing if one of the main characters was alive or dead.
      O’Brian did kill beloved characters off, which kept it real and gripping. There’s no guarantee of a happy ending in his books. Sounds dreadful, but makes his stories powerful and moving.
      One of the meanest things I’ve done is read the last sentence in one of them to my dad who hadn’t finished it yet. I thought it was funny until I saw the look on his face. Should not have done that.

  7. I’m currently reading Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer, and I’m quite enjoying it. It has a “haunted” mansion. The setting makes me think of movies like Rebecca. A 2-star review on Goodreads said this, “for those fans of cozy mysteries, particularly the ones featuring goofy aristocrats stuck in an eerie mansion with murder in the background and light banter constantly in the foreground, please ignore the 2 stars. this is a 4 star book for you.” And that is what made me read the book.

  8. I fell in love with “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness. It’s the first in a very fine trilogy. Witches and vampires falling in love, time travel etc. the BBC is currently developing a series of it. I also like the Julie Mulhern country club murders They are set in the 1970’s so I feel nostalgia for my Dr. Sholl’s wooden slides.

    1. I love that trilogy so much. I’ve always had a problem with historical fiction done by well-meaning authors who don’t know much about history. Harkness is an historian, and weaves all sorts of real events and people into her paranormal mystery/romance setting but manages to make it such a credible narrative. And I found myself really liking so many of her characters and settings. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

      1. I know her characters and events become real. I especially like Marlowe being a demon.

  9. To be a Machine by Mark O’Connell is a wonderful, funny, engaging exploration of the weird world of tech experts attempting to download/upload the human brain, run cryogenic centres for corpses to hang out in while we wait for the secret of eternal life etc. It’s incredibly well researched and fascinating, as well as very funny.

  10. I’m working on Radiance by Grace Draven. It is a slow build, but very enjoyable.

  11. A Rational Arrangement by L. Rowyn
    I know I have mentioned it here before, but I like it so much that I feel the need to proselytize. Slightly fantasy with a regency-like culture (yes, another author I love who is a big Georgette fan). It’s worth reading for the talking great cats alone, and the relationships are satisfying. Not too much world building, and an interesting world. Warning, there is some fairly graphic gay sex and one part was pretty grim. But then there is the happy ending after the grim part, so all good.

    I wonder if Amazon is going to start wondering about the upsurge in purchases of certain titles on Thursdays and Fridays………

  12. I’m reading two books at the moment. Kelley Armstrong’s YA thriller The Masked Truth is the first. But I was suddenly not in the mood for a thriller so I got Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened; she’s the Bloggess. She starts with stories from her childhood, and I finished the chapter where her daughter was born last night. I had to make an effort not to laugh too loud because I was reading it at work, but there were parts where I just couldn’t laugh quietly. That woman is FUNNY. So I definitely recommend that.

  13. My current favorite series is Queers of LaVista by Kris Ripper – it’s the queer, urban version of a small town romance series that I didn’t know I was missing until I read it.

    It’s 5 romances (including mm, ff, mmm and mf) – about a group of friends and aquaintences who are regulars at local queer bar. The romances are stand alone but there’s an over-arching murder mystery that is very well done. It’s not a “figure it out from the clues” type mystery – it’s more about how the community responds to a series of murders.

    The sense of community is fantastic – in fact some of the romances take a back seat to the community stuff, but I was ok with that.

    I’m honestly not sure how well straight readers will relate to it, but I (a 40 something bi woman) loved reading about 20 and 30-something queer people who seemed like actual people I could know. But even though I came for the representation, I stayed for the humor and the writing and the character development.

  14. P. C. Hodgell’s God Stalk is one of my favorite fantasy. Also the next book in the series. They work almost as stand alones. The third book I did not like and until the last few I was not too thrilled with series anymore. However, the last one I read was good, although nothing was as good as the first two. No romance to speak of.

  15. S. L. Huang’s Russell’s Attic series is brilliant. The protagonist is a not particularly likeable gunslinging mathematician, and it somehow works. The action scenes in particular are amazing – maths and bullets everywhere. I’ve only read the first two books and the first two short stories due to the demise of my e-reader, but I’m really looking forward to reading the rest. The first is called Zero Sum Game.

  16. I always read a few chapters of a book to unwind before going to sleep. Because I’m in the home stretch of the rough draft of a book, I don’t want to start something new and be pulled down the rabbit hole and find myself reading until 2 am. So what do I do? I read a Jenny Crusie. Because the story is familiar, it’s a comfort and I can put it down after a couple of chapters. I’m re-reading Bet Me, and the cat has just appeared…of course I had to read an extra chapter last night. ?

  17. Just want to mention Bill Bryson, he is very good and very knowledgeable. His book House is full of interesting facts. My son is into biographies of musicians and I enjoyed Willie Nelson’s, I enjoy his music a lot as well. An author I have not read lately is Qiu Xiaolong, his Inspector Chen mysteries give an insight into China.
    .Now that I am older I find that Iprefer “Cosy mysteries” most of my authors are out of print, I enjoyed Emma Lathen, Craig Rice, Patricia Wentworth, luckily I have a lot of them in paperback to fall back on. I am enjoying some new authors thank to all of you,

    1. I wish they’d put Emma Lathen into Kindle. My copies are falling apart and the paperbacks are unreadable at this point.

      1. I went to look – there are some! Looks like they started Kindlizing them middle of last year.

        1. Oh, they do! Thank you!
          They’re retro white guy banker mysteries, and I love them anyway.


          They’re all listed as by Emma Lathan and Deaver Brown (editor) which is not done, thank you. So I looked up Deaver Brown:
          I don’t see how it can have passed into public domain since Hennesey is till alive (b. 1929). It looks like he’s just e-pubbing and badly at that.

  18. I just finished Megan Whalen Turner’s A Conspiracy of Kings in anticipation of the new one in the series coming out next week . I think it’s called Thick as Thieves. I’m too tired to look it up. Her books are worth the 5+ year wait.

    1. Aaaaaaaaand got the first one.

      This Thursday thing is such a great idea–nearly overwhelmed with all the recommendations though! Hehe. A good problem to have.

  19. Heroes Are My Weakness, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. A reread of her all-out gothic – as distinct from her semi-gothic Aint She Sweet – so genre. First time, I read avidly as the plot turned, studded with small astonishments, characters developed, expectations reversed. I stayed on for the ride. And, yes, that alludes to Cowboys Are My Weakness, the terrific first novel from Pam Houston that I was thrown out of book group for liking.

    Anyway, this time out with Heroes, I am reading for craft and shaping, and finding lots of it. I expect the experience is akin to what I expect from another favorite writer with her Devil and Nita Dodd. A first sweeping read and a second appreciative read. Other reads beyond are pure pleasure.

  20. Would you help me find a specific type of character/plot romance story? I want to read a story in which the guy and gal both have to succeed in something that’s traditionally considered women’s work. Besides that, I’d like the plot to hinge on their success in women’s work.
    I love romance and strong heroines, but I want a variation from a situation where the heroine succeeds in a traditionally male way and the hero succeeds in a traditionally male way.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Wow. I’d never thought of that. Traditional women’s work: Child care, teaching, nursing (all nurturing careers instead of get-ahead-and-climb-the-ladder careers). I got nothin’, but it’s a great question.

      1. I just read and bookmarked your “Defeating the Critics” blog post a few minutes ago, so it’s interesting that this question pops up here. I think “Maybe This Time” (which I just re-read, too) is a full-throated defense of women’s work and a rebuke, of sorts, of how men distance themselves from that work. I just finished a book about, essentially, saving a child, one village at a time. My protagonist is female, but she is supported by men who share her commitment to family and community. (Now I just need the nerve to send it out there among the wolves.)

        I’ve read a lot of books that take the opposite tack but for the life of me can’t think of one that fits Elizabeth’s description. Maybe she should write the book she wants to read.

        1. Part of the problem is that “pink collar jobs” have some very different social and workplace dynamics than jobs where the competitive world of men sets the tone. I’ve encountered this both from male friends working in typically female workplaces like nursing, travel agencies, and libraries, and also from female friends who went from male dominated fields to ones where a “female” culture is at work. Outside of the work, and the higher nurturing orientation expected from the workers, there’s also some interesting and often mean-spirited dynamics at play too. And this happens even if both jobs tend to be team oriented. I’ve got a close friend who left IT to go back into health care. She got her RN and BSN and started working in hospitals and was shocked at how bad the hazing was and how much individual initiative was shunned because it made the rest of the women look bad, at least to their perspective. Having to butter up her coworkers with gifts and snacks also shocked her, and the spite and freeze-outs in direct opposition to policy and the needs of the patients appaled her. I’d get instant messages from her on a regular basis asking how anyone could think this was proper and justifiable, and I found myself explaining the dynamics of some pink collar workplaces, which she would research and then shake her head. The point of this is that most men would be blindsided by this, so they’d have an extremely hard time working in such an environment. Also, many would take it as a shaming because of the status and privilege factors. (There’s a reason why “Petticoat Training” was considered an effective treatment for problem boys for so long) So to make an inversion tale work it’d need to deal with a lot more than someone getting a job as a nurse, teacher, librarian, or admin. (The latter being a male job not all that long agao) And then when you pile the linguistic factors into the mix it gains another level of complexity. (I took a college course on Language and Gender — fascinating course, in spite of the instructor who was so bad I attached a ten page double spaced addendum to her evaluation, without addressing any of her abysmal accessibility issues in it) I suspect any work that dealt with such a role inversion would have to be self-published, as editors would tend to classify it as transgender fiction, and mainstream publishers still tend to look askance at anything like that. That said, I’d read something like this if it was done well.

          1. Thank you Nicole and others for responding to my question. I’m a female/male romance fan, so the transgender aspect hadn’t occurred to me. I was thinking more of the social/economic strata differences. I mean, I agree that when men start doing traditional women’s work (weaving, other textile and piece works, whatever) the job becomes redefined as man’s work. So perhaps the story would take place in a time/place when work definitions are changing. Anyway, it’s the highest comment to suggest that I write this, especially as we track Jenny’s work on The Devil in Nita Dodd.

      2. Yet your stories sometimes have f/m protagonists and situations which come close to what I’m looking for. In Bet Me Min and Cal’s careers are pretty equal but with amusing gender twists (actuaries are sometimes imagined as men while trainers can be imagined as a step from teaching ((therefore women))). In Welcome to Temptation Phin runs a bookshop and Sophie makes movies, almost a role reversal, and then the traditionally male position of mayor flips as Phin plans to avoid another term and Sophie sees her future in that job. In Charlie All Night they’re both radio announcers (or so it seems). No wonder I love your books. I simply want to search for a further step — and now I’m having difficulty defining it. Thanks for helping me think out loud.

        1. The basic premise for me for Bet Me was a woman who was overweight and a man who was dyslexic, so that they’d both have had to cope with the knowledge that they were failing societal norms, Min that she be thin and sexy and Cal that he be smart and aggressive. I already knew a lot about being fat, so I researched dyslexia and found that dyslexics often become very successful entrepreneurs because they can define their own work that way. I didn’t want Min to lose weight or Cal to suddenly be able to write because I wanted part of their bonding to be, “Yes, you’re completely normal, in fact, you’re wonderful.” So I was conscious of gender roles in that sense, but not in the “she’s an actuary, he’s a teacher” approach. You’re right, though, it comes close.

    2. Nearest I can think of is Sophie Kinsella’s ‘The Undomestic Goddess’, where the heroine flees her high-powered job when she makes a mistake, and has to master being a housekeeper instead. The hero’s a gardener.

    3. Nora Roberts has a quartet about a group of friends that centers around a wedding venue. I think the male love interests still have more traditional jobs, but they all lend a hand with events from time to time. The first one is about a female photographer and a male teacher. Then there is a cake decorator and a florist, and an event planner. I don’t remember what the guys do for a living…

      1. And I think Donna Kauffman has a baking series (with sweet in all the titles) one of those at least features two bakers. Cooking on a certain level is culturally acceptable for men, but it is traditionally ‘women’s work’. Ok I think I am done now.

    4. The closest I can think of are the Corinna Chapman series, she’s a baker and he’s an ex-military private eye but they both spend a chunk of the novels making and dispensing food (either for business, charity or simple friendship).

      Not a romance but Corinna’s sidekick Jason and his journey from junkie to muffin creatorextraordinaire (while still remaining the kind of 16 year old boy who can polish off an entire baguette as a snack) is genuinely heartwarming!

      1. I think my favourite Jason moment is in the third book, when he catches the flu and they all take care of him, because that’s what family does.

        1. I loved him bonding with bunny the huge rabbit who was temporarily in his care, Jason has real trouble reading but still tracked down and read a rabbit care book…

      2. What do you mean by a baguette? Because to me it is certainly an easy snack.

    5. This isn’t a romance, but Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos explores a lot of those women’s work issues. She imagines a planet colonized by evangelicals who shun women and create their own babies in uterine replicators. Our story begins a few hundred years later when the society has had to actually cope with men having to do the “women’s work/roles” and the genetic material they started out with is starting to deteriorate. Our Hero, Ethan, is an obstretician/geneticist who is in charge of leaving Dear Old Athos and venturing into the coed world in search of some eggs.

      The story is by turns thoughtful, thrilling, and it retains a certain coziness and wonderful dynamic between Ethan and the mercenary he meets (Ellie Quinn). Ellie is pretty cool! She’s a swashbuckler, which may fulfill the “succeeding in a traditionally male way” part of your requirement.

  21. Martha Wells just came out with a Science Fiction novella called All Systems Red, the first piece of the Murderbot Diaries. It was a fun, quick read: a lot of action, a little adventure, a bit of mystery and of course a murderbot narrator.

    On a related note, I have now added “become a murderbot” to my list of career goals. Or at least my bucket list.

  22. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself being drawn to books with humor and characters with quirks. I have all of Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow mysteries. Her main character is a female blacksmith who eventually marries an actor/theater professor. The action takes place in a small town in Virginia filled with some wonderful characters and an amazing extended family.

    I’ve also enjoyed two series written by Juliet Blackwell. One centered around a witch who runs a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. The other centers around a woman who takes over her father’s company restoring old homes in San Francisco. She finds she has inherited her mother’s ability to sense spirits in the old homes. Each of the series feature supporting characters that are as interesting as the protagonist.

    Given all that is happening in the world right now, I really appreciate books that take me out of the everyday and don’t make me feel sad when I’m finished.

    1. Just want to ditto the Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow series) recommendation.

      I also really like her Turing Hopper (artificial intelligence) series, although it’s out of print (but you can get used copies, and she’s talked about reissuing it herself and possibly writing more in the series if she sells enough of the existing books):

      1. I was on the fence about the Turing Hopper books, but finally got off and ordered the books. I’m looking forward to four “new” books to read. Thanks for the much appreciated shove.

  23. A few Thursdays ago, someone commented on the fact that she enjoyed reading older books that might otherwise be overlooked by younger readers. That struck me as apt, and I wanted to mention three books that I loved in high school:

    The Pickwick Papers was one of them — just a sweet, funny book without the plethora of plucky, oppressed orphans that one associates with Charles Dickens. Written and set in the 1830s or so. You might not think of Dickens as writing anything that’s describable as “laugh-out-loud funny” but this one is.

    Another was Leave It to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse. (The “P” is silent.) A lot of Wodehouse’s books play mostly with class quirks and prejudices, but this one (set sometime in the 1920s or 30s) is about a plucky, imaginative free spirit who falls for a girl and ends up doing various acts of detective work trying to support and vindicate her. It’s another one that made me laugh over and over again out loud when reading and rereading it.

    The third was “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons. She worked at a newspaper that serialized popular novels during a time when British fiction was full of grim rural tragic tales told at great length in rural dialects. She wrote this as a novel in which one sensible woman finds herself stuck in the midst of this type of setting, and calmly goes about solving everyone’s problems in the most polite and ingenious ways. This book is super funny if you enjoy dry British humor. Written & set in the 1930s.

    1. Cold Comfort Farm is my favourite book of all time (sorry, Jenny!). I take a penguin copy with me any time I travel, which frequently leads to uncontrollable giggling and strange looks from fellow passengers.

      1. Perfectly understandable. I’ll never write anything as good as “something nasty in the woodshed.”

        1. “Oversexed cousins called Seth or Rupert.”

          Or both.

          Or was that just from the movie.

        2. One of the best exchanges in fiction: “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”
          “Did it see you?”

      2. Cold Comfort Farm is a book that gets better on re-reads. My first read, I didn’t like the heroine at all. Entirely too bossy, and imposing the Rich Man’s Burden on the country hicks. But the second read was better; I started to see her own insecurities and why she needed to exert control and create standards. The rustics in that book are all to type, and Stella Gibbons really has some fun with them.

        The story reminds me a little bit of a Georgette Heyer mystery I read (Envious Casca). There’s that same sort of distance, cynicism and darkness-with-humor.

    2. Oh, Wodehouse. I’ve laughed myself into coughing fits over Wodehouse.
      It’s been awhile since I read Cold Comfort Farm, but I still remember the “something nasty in the woodshed” bit and use it all the time.
      Dickens not so much although I do like “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” because he died before he could finish it, so I could teach it as a text analysis, as in, “Knowing what you know about Dickens, and knowing what he’s written so far, and having seen the title page he drew for the book before he died, how does this end?” Because there is no right answer, nobody knows, so it was just a great assignment.

    3. And the movie was my introduction to Rufus Sewell. Be still, my heart.

  24. Here’s an oldie: Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novel, “This Rough Magic.” I read it in high school, and aside from telling a cracking good story, it introduced me to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” I loved everything she wrote.

        1. Oh, I love My Brother Michael! I’ll have to dig out my old copy now and reread.

          1. One aspect I love in My Brother Michael is the humor. Anyone who has learned to drive a stickshift transmission knows how difficult it is. The heroine’s ability to begin her tale with the hilarious story of driving a huge sedan with a manual transmission from Athens to Delphi illustrates her capacity for growth in confidence and courage.

  25. Re-reading Laurie King’s Locked Rooms. I love her Russell books; and re-read them just to spend time with her characters.

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