This is a Good Book Thursday, November 22, 2018

I read two supernatural books this week that were/are bestsellers, and I found them both curiously flawed.  One was Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which was a kind of grittier Harry Potter with weirdly cold sex, and the other Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping.  Spoilers ahead.

The Magicians confused me because the book kept shape-shifting on me, first the story of a whiny nerd at a magic boarding school/college who is such a mystery to his teachers that they can’t discern what his magic major should be, then a dissolute young graduate acting like an arrogant jackass in the city (graduates without a major, so forget that plot point), and then the plot takes a stagger sideways and makes the protagonist a destined hero fighting in a fantasy land.  I would have bought any of the three worlds–Grossman’s versions of Hogwarts College, New York City, and Narnia–but the protagonist doesn’t transition through the three worlds, he lunges.  The protagonist also did something horrible to somebody who loved him, then became sociopathically outraged when the loved one returned the favor (because it was completely different when he did it than when it was done to him), and then the writer fridged the only character I cared about to give the protagonist man pain.  I will give Grossman a lot of credit for just going for it throughout, no plot move too insane, because that takes guts.  I just want some coherent structure there, a little foreshadowing to smooth out the lurches.  A throwaway paramedic character and an obscure supernatural visitor turn out to be the key players, but each of them has only one scene near the beginning, and after that it’s a picaro plot until the two of them show up again at the end.  And I did read it to the end, so I’m torn about how I felt about it, obviously the book is readable, but I think the proof is in the fact that it’s a trilogy and I have no interest in following Quentin through two more books.

I have a lot of interest in following Peter Grant through Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, which is why I pre-ordered Lies Sleeping, the seventh Peter Grant book, and I’ll probably buy the next one, too, but if it has the same problems as this one, that’ll be the end.  Like Quentin, Peter is an apprentice magician, not in college but in the small supernatural branch of the London Met.  The first book in the series, Rivers of London, renamed Midnight Riot in the US, is fantastic.  After that the books vary in quality but not in imagination: they’re fast-paced stories full of vivid characters in intricate plots with excellent antagonists.  (There’s one where Peter ends up Faerieland that I felt had a lousy ending, but then I thought Quentin endings up in Faerieland was lousy, too, so take my criticism there with a grain of salt; I may just be anti-Faerie.)  

.  Any push to the plot is kneecapped by the shifts in story intensity and Peter’s interminable lectures on London architecture and Roman history.  I have no problem with the way previous books dropped this kind of info into the narrative because he didn’t go on forever and the information was always relevant.  Here the relevant information is drowned in the pages of crap that Peter spouts.  Why any of these characters spend time with is beyond me; a guy who was once smart and charming has become the guy at parties who stands by the bean dip to give you the history of legumes.

The one weakness of the premise which Aaronovitch has navigated well before is that the stories really need back story of history and mythology.  Previously, Peter was swotting up on this stuff so we found out about when he found out about it; his research was part of his sleuthing.  In Lies Sleeping, Peter just bores the reader with stuff he already knows that the he feels reader should know; I kept waiting for him to say, “And there’ll be a quiz at the end of the chapter.”  That results in any push to the plot being kneecapped by Peter’s interminable lectures on London architecture and Roman history, the miscellaneous stuff drowning the relevant information the reader needs to understand the underwhelming climax.  It also results in a lot of skimming.  Why any of the interesting returning characters spend time with Peter is beyond me; a guy who was once smart and charming has become the jerk at parties who stands by the bean dip and gives you the history of legumes.

An even bigger problem is the way the plot heaves and subsides in tension.  After six books, the Martin the Big Bad is on the run.  Everybody knows who he is and what he looks like so is mystique is gone.  He’s still a powerful magician, but at this point, so is Peter, and the Folly is full of powerful magicians since they’ve added the Russian who tried to kill them and little Abigail.  They know Martin is doing big magic and they discover the physical object he needs to do his magic and destroy it.  Then somebody says, gee, maybe he had two of those made, so they find another one and destroy it.  Then they think, gee, maybe he had THREE of those . . . .  The story wants us to believe we have a Big Bad that’s probably going to destroy London, a magician of incredible power (established in previous books but not in this one), but the danger isn’t so great that Peter can’t take a weekend off to go to a fair (which, to be fair, he pretty much had to since the river gods were throwing the party) in which everybody has a wonderful time and nobody’s tense or worried.  Martin must have been taking that weekend off, too.  Peter gets kidnapped and spends a week reading the Simarillon and posing for his guard before he escapes.  The Tolkien never plays a part in the plot (although I was skimming a lot by then so I might have missed a connection) but he makes many references to the story anyway which like much of the architecture lectures are completely irrelevant.  When he gets out, which of course the reader knows he will, he’s the protagonist, not much has changed on the outside; everybody must have been sitting around waiting for him to get back.  It’s the weirdest book of the series because all of strengths of the previous books are gone.  There are no new fascinating characters because there so many old fascinating characters (glass houses, Jenny) who do nothing new and are therefore much less interesting.  Lesley is still doing her Lesley thing; Guleed is still being quietly snarky in her hijab; Nightingale is still the cool, wise mentor; Abigail is still talking to foxes and winning the most-likely-to-replace-Peter-as-the protagonist vote.  None of them change during the story, including Peter, which pretty much tells you that none of the events of the story (which when we finally get to them are spectacular) had much of an impact on the characters.  That’s a bad, bad thing in storytelling.

Aaronovitch established a rich world through the previous six books but he bobbled this one, and I think he knew it because at the end of the book, he throws in a creaky plot device that I think is supposed to leave the reader thinking, “Oh, no!”  My reaction was, “I don’t believe it.”  Peter is one of the most important cops in this world, protected by an extremely powerful mentor, doing a job that the rest of the Met doesn’t want anything to do with.  At this point in the series, Peter should be untouchable, but if the writer hadn’t professionally fridged him, the reader would have been left with the same world the book started in (nobody changes, nothing is lost, although props for bookending this book with the beginning of the first book).  I’ll still buy the next Peter Grant book because Aaronovitch has delivered so many times before, but I doubt I’ll read this one again. It’s definitely the weakest of the seven.

So what have you been reading this weekend?

(Also, Bujold’s Paladin of Souls was BookBubbed yesterday for $1.99 on Amazon and Apple, and I’m assuming it’ll be at that price today.  Excellent book, but then Bujold is always excellent.)

76 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday, November 22, 2018

  1. I’m enjoying a few books at the moment, but I haven’t finished them yet, so I won’t say anything at the risk of jinxing myself.

    But, I do have to say the six-year-old really liked “Holes” by Louis Sachar. We did it as a read out loud for him because it’s definitely for older kids and while it gets intense in parts (touches on segregation and lynchings) it is not super scary. It is about a boy that gets sent to juvenile detention to dig holes and he starts to wonder what is going on. There are a couple different plot threads that come together in a very satisfying way.

    On a lighter note, we’ve read a lot of Judy Moody books. Those are more 2nd, 3rd grader slice-of-life books. Judy is spunky and fun and the books never get too gross (my pet peeve) or too mean (embarrassing stories or people being mean make the younger one really anxious.)

    1. You might also like Regarding the Fountain which is an epistolary novel about a school water fountain and a town wide conspiracy. That was one that was very well received at our house. Other favorites included My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (best for reading aloud at that age) by Patricia C. Wrede.

    2. When he gets old enough for it, the Holes movie is really good. I never read the book, but my sister did multiple times, and she loved the movie just as much.

  2. It’s a while since I read ‘The Magicians’, but I remember being really disappointed in it, and your analysis rings bells. It grabbed me to begin with, and then lost me.

    Sorry Aaranovitch has gone off the boil. Sounds like it would have been better if he’d limited himself to a trilogy, or even a quintet. I lapsed a couple of books ago, when the violence got too much. But I loved ‘Rivers of London’, and the way the city was alive with spirits and roiling stories.

    I’m still binging on Nora; rereading ‘The Liar’ at the moment.

    1. Rivers of London is brilliant. I do have hopes for the next one, now that they FINALLY got rid of the Big Bad.
      The one thing Grossman did right was limit The Magicians to a trilogy.
      This always makes me think of the UK Life on Mars. They were offered a third season and said, “No, thanks, we’re done.” I’d have watched that show forever, but I know a lot of my passion for it is because it was two excellent seasons with no fall off.

      1. There are quite a few bestselling series that seem to suffer from this problem of being wonderful up to a certain point and then suddenly going bad and clunky around back story. I’ve wondered in the past if it was an issue of the writer feeling as if they had gotten too important for editing. So a lot of the pace in earlier books came with the help of a good editor, but when that editor is no longer listened to, things fall apart.

        1. Once upon a time I used to wait to until an author’s books came out in the UK to buy her as I loved her publisher book covers. One year they stopped publishing her, her last book had been okay, but with a screw up in the timeline (I hate that)

          So I had a look at her next book without buying, I’m pretty sure she lost her editor, it was a train wreck, dialogue everywhere, no actual plot, I read the reviews of the next couple in the series and stopped reading her, such a shame, the start of her series was so much fun

    2. I too was left pretty cold by book 1 of the Magicians, and decided I was done. I didn’t even feel like trying the tv series, since I didn’t like any of the characters at the end of the first book.

  3. After reading (or in some cases, starting and putting away) a lot of stuff not worth mentioning here, I finally found some books I liked. One of them is ‘Intermediate Thermodynamics’ by Susannah Nix, the story of a female rocket scientist who falls in love with her script-writing neighbor. The only thing I couldn’t quite understand was the idea that you supposedly cannot date a guy that your best friend has gone out with (and there was no tragic breakup). Is that so? In Germany, we don’t have these traditional dating rituals so I was a little confused. But besides that, it was a really good story and not as superficial as I had expected it to be.

    Then I read Kristan Higgins’ ‘Good Luck with that’ about three women who met as teenagers in a camp for overweight girls. One of them dies, having been super-obese in the end, and leaves a list for the other two to fulfil. Now I think this ‘list’-meme has been sufficiently exploited by now, but again, I was pleasantly disappointed in my expectations even though the happy endings kept coming a little thick, but hey, I’d rather take one HEA too many than being frustrated when they are missing.

    My next project is reading the “Danger Cove” Quilting Mysteries by this here Gin Jones, looking forward to it very much. Still thinking about downloading the new Aaronovitch but maybe later. Jenny’s critique hit just the things that I was having problems with anyway in the other books.

  4. “a kind of grittier Harry Potter with weirdly cold sex” sounds… a bit nauseating?

    I finished rereading the last “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”-book, “The Last Olympian”, by Rick Riordan. Have read the first book in the next series, “Heroes of Olympus” and am now somewhere halfway through the second. It’s great to see how not only Riordan’s characters, but also he as a writer, grow through the course of the books. I love and admire the way he has of puzzling pieces together to a well-built world with characters whom, with all their flaws, are engaging and inspiring rather than just annoying kids with issues.

  5. I read the first Rivers book and liked it, but not enough to go purchase the entire series–and annoyingly my library won’t get the rest of them. Sorry to hear the last one sucks. Doesn’t look like Smart Bitches liked it either:

    As for me, I read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, which is a teenage book but a good one about girls standing up for themselves at a sexist Texas jock high school. I dragged my way through The Hallowed Hunt, which sadly isn’t quite as good as Curse of Chalion/Paladin of Souls. I read Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep, which I really liked as an empowerment book. I also reread The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (one of my top favorites), which is also very good on that scale.

    I think I am feeling being a peon lately, but if I stood up for myself at my job I’d be so (very literally) fired, so I enjoy the vicariousness.

    1. Loved loved loved The Rook. Alas, didn’t enjoy the sequel (“Stilleto”) as much — was it too Belgian? too bone-y? Whatever, it didn’t have enough of The Rook’s protagonist to suit me, like practically none.

  6. Thank you for an analysis of The Magicians because I hated it. HATEd it. And I was aggravated by the dissolute man-pain from the boy-child and the fact that he had all this power and was still a despicable idiot. And he fridged the girl and was horrible to everyone. Not a person I want to follow.

    After bingeing my way through Suzanne Brockmann’s work since 2004, and then Person of Interest, I realized I am sublimating a lot of rage, and I want to see bad guys punished. Either with bullets to the kneecap, or fiery death or protracted misery or something. To that end I have been seeking out various things on Netflix that are several seasons, contain clear good guys (no ambiguity thank you!) and takes out evil. Bullets are ok if they get the other guys worse. Any recommendations gratefully accepted.

    1. Have you ever read Dick Francis? He has the most despicable bad guys and they all end horribly because the hero is just an everyday guy with a fascinating job and an unbending sense of morality. I don’t care for the later ones his sone is doing, but class Francis can be very satisfying.

      See also Michael Gilbert: horrible people doing awful things and getting it in the end because honorable men quietly put down whatever they were doing and say, “No, not on my watch.” I love Michael Gilbert’s stuff.

      And there’s always Pratchett. His villains always get exactly what they deserve.

      ETA: Just realized you were asking for streaming recs.

      Excellent for elegantly defeating bad guys: Leverage. Very clever plots.

      I don’t think it’s streaming anywhere, but the UK Life on Mars is fabulous.

      I can’t watch John Wick again because the bad guy kills a puppy, but he pays big time and it’s an extremely violent payback. It’s actually a very good super-violent movie, I just scream inside every time I think about that puppy. Of course, so did John Wick which is why he takes out so many horrible people so efficiently. It’s a smart movie, very wry.

      If you want something lighter, Legends of Tomorrow always beats the bad guy in the end, although they tend to fall all over themselves doing it while encountering absolutely absurd problems. I think there’s a sign in the writers’ room that says, “What the hell, why not?” Avoid the first season, although that will mean you’ll miss Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, which would be a shame.

      The Closer is fun, and Brenda always closes her cases, even they don’t actually close. If she can’t arrest you, she’ll make sure you pay some other way.

    2. Leverage is definitely a good choice for that. I think they took it off Netflix, but if you can find it through a library or want to buy it on Amazon, it’s totally worth it. There’s an episode in one of the later seasons where the bad guy (who is literally trying to steal a heart from a terminally ill kid) tells Nate Ford “God helps those who help themselves” and Nate says “And I help people who can’t.” There’s not much shooting of bad guys in this show but they suffer in other ways. You remember Martin Shkreli? The guy who raised drug prices and got convicted of fraud and has a punchable face in every photo he’s ever taken? He’s pretty much a real-life Leverage villain. These are people you really want to see pay for their crimes.

    3. Burn Notice!!! The heroes are always morally good and triumph over evil, be it lawful or unlawful evil. Plus, it’s a team story.

      I also really like White Collar (con man helps the feds).

      1. Oooh Burn Notice is a good one. And that one does have shooting. And explosions. And strangely informative voice overs about how to do things like armor a car with phone books. It’s still on Netflix, I think. My favorite episode is the one where the hero is trapped in a bank during a robbery with someone he’s…having issues with…and they have to work together to thwart it.

        1. Burn notice Season 2 Episode 13 Bad Breaks, my favourite episode of Season 2

          TV series where the good guys win

          They’re old, but I like the Pretender, The Magnificent Seven tv series, Brimstone

          If you’re not choosy about the bad guys suffering, Dexter Season 1 (I never watched later seasons)

        2. I like the one where he’s basically pretending to be the Devil, and when he snaps his fingers, things blow up. I love all the “Who is this guy?” reactions. And the pilot for that series is just so good, too.

      2. Oh, White Collar has some wonderful episodes. Terrific characters. That’s another great pilot, too.

  7. I’m reading The After Wife by Gigi Levantine Grazer. Probably not what I should be reading as this has been the year of death. Thankfully not immediate core family. Come on 2019. So done with 2018.

    Happy thanksgiving to America. Turkey and gravy and all the fixings. Enjoy. And dessert too.

  8. So glad to find other people not liking the Magicians. I didn’t get more than sixty or seventy pages in before deciding life was too short to spend surrounded by hateable characters.

    I mildly liked Rivers of London (which my Us-ian library has catalogued by that title), but not enough to read any more.

    What have I read lately? Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, which I like in spite of a plenitude of unlikeable characters. Mostly I have been falling asleep before I can read more than a few pages, which is good, because I’m getting almost enough sleep, but disappointing.

  9. I tried the tv version of The Magicians and quit a few episodes in because he was less interesting than every woman on screen, but for some reason I was supposed to care about him. To be fair though, I read so much fantasy as a kid and loved it so much, I tend to judge adult protagonists who discover magic is real Very Harshly if I think they don’t deserve the world they’re in.

    1. I stuck with the TV series for two seasons, although it got disturbingly graphic (cw for sexual violence), because of the women (and Penny and Elliott). I think the TV version also found Quentin a bit trying, because he seems to get less and less screen time. I do remember heading it was a book first and getting excited… And then finding out Quentin was the MC and losing all interest. He was insufferable enough without being the POV character!

      1. I had very mixed feelings about the books (yes, I read all three, and yes, Quentin does get a bit better but not enough to make me really like the books), but I LOVE the TV show. Season 1 was average, but it picked up in season 2 and season 3 was so much fun. I think the more they move away from the book plots and just let the fun ensemble (and yes, it is now 100% an ensemble show) do what they do best, the better it gets. And this scene where Margo and Elliott talk in “tv show” is AMAZING!!!

  10. Argh, hun. There’s a duplicate with “push to the plot” up to “bean dip.”

    I though I was scrolling and reading too fast, but nope, there it is!

    I read and highly recommend Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder. Novella kicks a$$.

    I require large amounts of hugs and FGVB and whatever else positive and unicorn-y y’all can throw at me. I’m @SarahV2K on Twitter and Instagram.

    I got a lot of love today. And it helped. But a difficult situation arose and I wish I had money to solve a dear family member’s health related problem. Sigh.

    1. Wishing you bunches of FGBV and warm Arizona sunshine. I hear you on the wish more money to help out family/friends. Best I can do is vibes and sun.

  11. Reread a book by a fav author, this time round hated the protaganist. Die for Love’s Jacqueline, I now see clearly, is an early Elizabeth Peters’ go at Peabody. Jacqueline knows herself as superior to anyone else in the room, tells them so, and then recites all the flaws the characters possess. Plenty of flaws because charmless wimps abound. Plus, the villain is discernable from the first, clues not nearly as disguised as they should be.

    Gotta read a Crusie quick.

    1. Yeah, Die for Love’s pretty dismal. I love Naked Once More, it’s the Jacqueline book that really worked for me. Overall, I found Elizabeth Peters’ books mixed, some I love and some … not. I wish she was still alive and writing.

  12. I just finished the new Aaronovitch book, Lies Sleeping. I like it better than Jenny, but not by much. The first 6-7 chapters of info dump/synopsis of ALL of the previous works, should really have been condensed.

  13. I read Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, which is the sequel to Nevermoor. I couldn’t put it down – the kind of story that reminds me why I love reading fantasy.

  14. I had a week of really good books. Firstly, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers. I really love the direction her writing is taking. I enjoyed her Glamourist series, but didn’t love it to bits. But her later books are wonderful. Ghost Talkers is First World War, with spiritualists helping the war effort by debriefing dead soldiers.

    Secondly, Minette Walters’ The Turn of Midnight. This is a follow-up to her book about the plague, The Last Hours. Once again, I love her new direction and she turns from crime to historical novels. Her characters are so engaging, and I just love this duology.

    Thirdly, The Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I think someone here recommended his books, though it might not have been this particular one. A fascinating look at the problems that arise when animals are biologically manipulated to become soldiers. The contradictions experienced by the main character, who has the instincts of a dog, are so poignant. My only problem with the book was that it had a false ending about 4/5 of the way through.

  15. I finished Anne Bishop’s ‘Others’ series. The last one I read, Etched in Bone, might not be as good as the previous four, but overall, an excellent paranormal series, one of the best in the genre. It’s quiet and low-key, with the original world building. Yummy. I want more, but the next novel is promised only sometime next year.
    Also I re-read Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series. It started with her new novella in the series, Diamond Fire, just published, about the wedding of the protagonists of the series Nevada and Connor. It was a short and charming mystery, focusing on Nevada’s sister Catalina. After I read it, I decided to re-read the novels and enjoyed them the second time around. Of all the books this team has written, this series remains my favorite. I couldn’t even read more than the first couple of Kate Daniels novels – I disliked Kate herself too much to keep reading her books.

    1. There is another book that just came out this year set in The Others world (and if anything, even better than the other books in the series). I think it was called Hidden Lake. Something like that.

      1. Oh, I read that one. Actually, it was the first book I read in this series. I liked it so much that I backtracked to the beginning of the series and read the rest of the novels in the right order.

  16. “So what have you been reading this weekend?” (You ask that every week!)

    “(Also, Bujold’s Paladin of Souls was BookBubbed yesterday for $1.99 on Amazon and Apple, and I’m assuming it’ll be at that price today. Excellent book, but then Bujold is always excellent.)”

    Yes! There isn’t any *bad* Bujold, just some’s less excellent than others. ALL my favorite Ohioan authors are like that. (Lookin’ at you, Jenny.) Even though Lois lives in Minisnowta these days.

    I was looking up (cough) Crusie interviews on You-tube last night – found a bunch and downloaded them, too – and also found “Manhunting.” That shouldn’t be there, should it? Somehow I started listening (to see if it was abridged?) so that counts. It’s in my Audible library, so I don’t feel guilty. I *will* hear it all.

    I just finished “Recursions” by Marion George Harmon, my favorite author of superhero stories (Wearing the Cape series).

    I bought a used copy of “Naked Through The Snow and other bits of silliness” by Sailor Jim Johnston. I paid too much and Jim didn’t get a penny in royalties, but this was a replacement for one of six I bought back when they were new. I gave five as gifts, and misplaced the one I kept just for me. You’d love Sailor Jim. You can google “On the subject of penises” and giggle merrily, or try to find “Death by Pizza” – “I cut the pizza in four pieces, because I wasn’t hungry enough to eat six or eight.” I quote that line all the time. 🙂

    1. I forgot that I have “Storm Front” from Audible open as well. Stories about a wizard named Harry are delicious.

  17. I’m reading Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. I read Uprooted a few years ago and really loved it. (I write unconventional fairy tale books, in part because I love to read them…Jenny, you might actually like the version of Faerie in mine. Or not. Hard to say.)

    I actually bought the book some time ago and it had been sitting on my TBR shelf until someone here mentioned it and reminded me. I’m really enjoying it, but I do find the constant POV changes without anything that tells you who is talking (you have to figure it out from context) kind of annoying. Still a wonderful book, but I’d pay money for them to have simply put “Miriam” at the top of the chapter, or whatever.

    This will undoubtedly still be what I am reading next week, since it is 466 pages long…

  18. Thanks for the recommendations: The Goblin Emperor, Good Luck With That, and The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie. Enjoyed them all.

  19. Read Augustin Burroughs’ Wolf at the Table – memoir about frightening father. Gripping, unsettling read.

    Off to get Jessica Townsend’s first book in Nevermoor series because of recommendations here. Tnx.

  20. My son-in-law has discovered PCHodgell and God Stalk and is loving the series. Caused me to re-read the series and then give him my Hellspark book by Janet Kagan. These are the only books I still have in hardback.

  21. I’m reading historical mysteries and just started Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. It’s the first in a very promising series about a young descendant of Queen Victoria during the 1930s.

  22. I’m rereading Othello to stay one step ahead of the AP lit class–still
    great–and ordered Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, but haven’t actually stated reading it yet. Probably won’t get a chance till winter break (starting Dec 22 this year, so I’m bummed to have to wait so long). Other than that… Just a lot of reading student work, bleaugh. They are NOT covering themselves in glory this quarter, I assure you.

  23. I listened to the beginning of Nature Girl by Carl Hiassen in the car. It’s pretty good. I had luck with Star Island on another long drive.

    I read Black Sheep by Heyer after completing These Old Shades. I liked Black Sheep better. The conversations were very sparky.

    1. They’re from either end of her career: ‘These Old Shades’ is one of her earliest, and ‘Black Sheep’ one of the latest. She started off writing more romantic adventures, set in the C18, but later segued to comedies of manners set in the Regency period.

  24. I’m reading Jared Diamond’s book about traditional societies and I’m fascinated. He’s brilliant at weaving together anthropology, archaeology, psychology and his own experiences into a clear narrative about how we got where we are and what we can do about it.

  25. I’ve been reading Avery Flynn’s Harbour City books over the past month and really enjoying them. The first three (starting with The Negotiator) go together as a loose trilogy, and the most recent two (Butterface and Muffintop) are the start of a spinoff series. They’re very body-positive and fairly light in angst, which is always a plus, and they seem to be getting better with each book.

  26. Oh phew. I haven’t been here in a while and just – I have given up altogether on Aaronovitch, which makes me very sad. The early RoL were so great and then they just went splat and he started up with the comics and the books got sloppier and sloppier. They’re diffuse and random and all the secondary characters are just developing randomly and conveniently and disappearing when in convenient. It’s been very disappointing. And magicians was cold and mean. I don’t mind the sheer chaos and recklessness of the plotting but it’s a mechanical pointless read, but I’m a completist and when I was done I felt punished and the lone upside is I’m way more able to walk away from series now.

    I am (happily) reading Andrea Höst’s Touchstone trilogy, which I am really enjoying against all my expectations (it’s a journal/epistolary portal YA fantasy and yet somehow…) and also something called The Gray House, by Mariam Petrosyan (a boarding school for the purportedly disabled/different in Eastern Europe) which feels like a long fever dream in the reading of it and I can’t explain why I like it so much. And then I just finished Rumer Godden’s Coromandel Sea Change which is very complete in and of itself.

    If anyone is wanting to read a couple of chunks of memoir, Tamara Shopsin’s Arbitrary Stupid Goal and Mumbai New York Scranton were great. Also, the children’s books she and Jason Fulford have done, which are mostly about color and shape (the ones I’ve seen, anyway) have been huge hits with the very different 2-7 year olds of my acquaintance.

  27. Hallowed Hunt is now my favorite Bujold. I needed to reread it a couple of times, and the Bujold listserv discussed it. One thing Bujold intended that wasn’t clear in the book was that Ingrey, the main character, is only in his early to mid twenties. If one is expecting a mature and savvy hero/heroine (by dint of reading other Bujolds), he’s joltingly inexperienced.

    There are complexities to the plot, themes, and writing which I didn’t pick up the first time around: just one example is the repetition of events which show how Ingrey has learned to act rather than react (think of horses falling in the water with their riders).

    Of course, it all goes with what you enjoy. I find that rereading opens new worlds to me, with simple stories not just complex ones.

  28. Thank you again for recommending Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day!
    My husband and I read the book and enjoyed it immensely.

    This week we watched the movie.

    Frances MacDormand was amazing, and we liked seeing familiar actors and lavish scenes.

    But the movie seemed more conventional than the book, which is odd because the book is from the 1930s and the movie was made in the 2000s.

    Rather than mention a bunch of differences, I’ll give the biggest downer for me. SPOILER. SPOILER. The book’s conclusion is that Guinevere has landed a job and a beau while the movie’s end has Guinevere accepting a marriage proposal.

    I’m now happily rereading the book.

  29. I have been looking forward so much to this next Aaronovitch, and I’ve saved it for the holiday. I’ve tried to skip the spoilers, but I have found the first bunch of chapters slow going. I find the comics disappointing, I wish he would stop those, but I enjoy Peter so much, I hate to think of not being able to visit with him again.

  30. I’m not sure what suckered me into trying The Magicians, but I remember being both surprised and pleased by the first evidence of active magic in the book, when the protagonist suddenly makes some gesture in a moment of anger that turns out to have some supernatural effect. But within a couple of chapters I was really irritated by it. I’d already put a library hold on the second and third books by that point, so I finished the first book getting increasingly pissed at the whole thing, and out of that feeling, and a sense of obligation to the library system, I skimmed the other two volumes. If they hadn’t been library books, they would have gone straight to the dumpster.

    What strikes me in retrospect about the series is that the only time I felt the author was writing in his own voice was when he was portraying the smugness of the uber-successful In Crowd (of mostly boys) in one of his various school settings. Someone was always leaning back, ignoring all the others in the group, and alternating jaded putdowns with bitter complaints about someone else’s lameness.

    The only empathy I ever felt the primary male characters showed was employed towards competitive ends, and the more they engaged in magical activities, the more it seemed just a means to show off, to win the envy of their rivals, or to get even with someone. Everything and everyone, except a few minor or sketchily drawn romantic foils, seemed oblivious to the feelings or the inner life of anyone else.

    It would be unfair to say this is often a characteristic of male writers, but I somehow feel that it’s a characteristic of privilege. Whatever causes it, it truly soured me on this series. Thinking back on it makes me doubly grateful for the way “Guards Guards!” starts out with Vimes lying facedown in a gutter. Now THERE was a writer with a sense of fellowship with the little guy, and not one of his books made me feel like flinging it into a dumpster, unlike the damn Magicians.

    1. I think that’s one of the reasons I love Pyramids. The opening is set in the Assassins school, and the hero is the new kid who doesn’t know what’s going on, but copes. He’s actually the son of a pharoah and is going to get powers later on, but in the beginning, he just finds some mates and tries to survive. I found it charming. And since it’s Pratchett, funny as hell, if you like jokes about pyramids and math.

  31. I just finished Lies Sleeping, had to avoid this thread until I did! I’m very easy as a reader, but the end of this book jarred me. The info dump didn’t bother me so much, I was driving while listening and was probably distracted by people on the road. The listening version of scanning over paragraphs.

    Some of the stuff that happened at the end didn’t ring true to me. I was thinking how did we get from there to here? But I love Kobna Holdbrook Smith’s voice and will probably listen to all of these books a million times because I’m delighted by the way he tells the story.

    But Leslie’s actions at the end of the book had me frustrated. It didn’t feel right to me. She who always believed in proper policing and the letter of the law.


    1. Yeah, Leslie did not ring true to me, either, but I think she was a victim of unfocused plotting. They had to get out of the story, so they sent in a deus ex Leslie.

  32. I read the last 2 books in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by Kate and Sarah Klise. It’s a very early middle grade series about a boy with an unusual family and full of really awful puns and great sketches. I had forgotten about the series until I saw it on Amazon.

    I also read The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. It’s a middle grade as well about the goings on at an unusual inn during the Christmas holidays.

    Then there was The Ravemaster about life with the Tower ravens which was a great deal of fun, especially for a raven fan like me.

  33. There’s a bit early in _The Magicians_ that slides from denigrating bad fantasy novels, to denigrating fantasy escapism, to denigrating fiction-reading escapism. By the end of _The Magicians_ I figured that was one of the bits of denigration that the author really meant and was demonstrating.

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