This is a Good Book Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019

I found a great new (to me) YA author and read a four-book series of hers: Maggie Stiefvatert’s Raven Boys series. Supernatural plot with a great cast of characters and some lovely writing. A girl named Blue who amplifies supernatural powers meets four boys from an expensive finishing school who turn out to be more than they seem. You know how I love team stories, and this one is surprising in its complexity, one of those stories with interlocking parts that act like gears. Also the all-female family crammed into Blue’s house is another team/family of interesting complexity. And then there are the Bad Guys Things. Lots of fun.

What did you read this week?

65 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019

  1. Oh, I love Maggie Stiefvater. And her writing is just brilliant. Have you read any Kristin Cashore? She’s got some great YA fantasy as well, plus a fascinating novel called Jane, Unlimited that I think you’d find especially interesting from a structure standpoint.

    1. Just requested JANE, UNLIMITED–thank you! (Read a brief review and the structure does look VERY interesting.)

      1. I found Jane, Unlimited delightful. The Raven Boys, on the other hand, I couldn’t get through. So many people seem to like it, but I got about two chapters in and decided I could not stand it. Hated the characters, hated the prose. Still wondering why but not inclined to try again.

  2. I’m on a Mary Stewart binge. Someone mentioned last week that “Madam, Will You Talk” was set in the south of France so I re-read it after having been in that area a couple of years ago and enjoyed reading about the places we’d been. I never knew it was her first novel – what a great debut! I’ve moved on to “The Ivy Tree” and am now on “Nine Coaches Waiting” which – lovely surprise! – I don’t think I’ve ever read, so it’s all brand new.

    1. I still have my copies of Mary Stewart’s first nine novels. I reread them every 5-10 years, and ALWAYS enjoy them. My two favorites are NINE COACHES WAITING (lucky you to be reading it for the first time!) and THIS ROUGH MAGIC.

    2. Nine Coaches Waiting is my absolute favorite! My copy is so old that the pages are brown, the cover barely hanging on through the wonders of cellotape and the price on the cover is 96 cents. And I think that it is a replacement for the first copy, which I read to death. I loaned it to my sister , who lived in that area for a few months while studying French, and she kept saying, “I’ve been there! It really looks that way!”

    3. Love Mary Stewart. “This Rough Magic” is one of my favorites along with “Madam, Will You Talk”.

  3. I found Karen Hesse (thank you, side job!) and read Letters from Rifka and a couple of her sweet picture books. Moving on to Out of the Dust. Also, not a book, but a great article in this morning’s New York Times about Ann Patchett. Her struggles with the novel coming out next week are an encouragement, I think, to any writer!

  4. As I feared, reading epic doorstopper fantasy is a struggle. (Kushiel’s Dart) So many names and countries of people I don’t care about, but it’s building to a big political game, so I kind of have to, to get the most of the book? But momentum is slowly picking up.
    Jacqueline Carey shares a “extremely linear storytelling” style with Tamora Pierce, where things just keep happening in order, and the over-arching structure isn’t always apparent.
    I find it interesting how this contrasts with much more act-based prose, that evokes TV and film styles, with much greater conservation of detail and a structured, driven pacing, such as our host’s writing. Always cutting straight to the drama, having a distinct “promise of the premise” and trying to deliver on it ASAP.
    Whereas with the “extremely linear storytelling” style, I often feel a disconnect with what I perceive to be the promise of the premise from the synopses, and how the prose takes its sweet, sweet time getting there because the actual appeal, I guess, is about living the protagonist’s life, one day at a time.

    1. Kushiel’s Dart is probably my favorite in the series. The next two are reasonably good but I lost interest after that. There is so much world building going on that unless she did a major info-dump, it would be hard to get a feel for the world without the layering.

      The structure reminds me somewhat of Sarah Monette’s Doctrine Of Labyrinths series. The first and second of which (Melusine and The Virtu), are not available on Kindle. Periodically I hunt down a copy of this to read.

      Sarah Monette also writes as Katherine Addison. Many of us loved The Goblin Emperor which she wrote.

      1. Monette’s Virtu, etc., are very very different from Goblin Emperor — much much darker and less hopeful. (No, I didn’t care for them although the writing was technically excellent.) There’s a new book co-written with the excellent Elizabeth Bear: The Cobbler’s Boy, with Katherine Addison, from Sobbing Squonk Press (short novel). I have it in e-copy but haven’t read it yet.

        Addison’s next novel is in process, focussing on the priest who helps solve the mystery in Goblin Emperor. Can’t wait!

        1. I’d love another one from Addison set in the world of the Goblin Emperor. It’s such a wonderful creation. And I too have The Cobbler’s Boy in e-copy and haven’t yet read it.

  5. I’m re-reading Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano series, currently in chapter six of Rules of Engagement, book 5 of the series. Paladin of Souls is still on the little Kindle. There’s no book open on Joe, oddly enough. I’ve plenty of books on its TBR list.

    Put me on the “I Love Autumn” list. I turned off my air conditioner. At the moment, my air movement needs are being supplied by a four inch fan, which I wall-mounted using Command Hooks to blow down at me at my desk. I may even be tempted to open the only window and the outside door to the storm door. They’re screened.

    Next, I’ll have to put a blanket on the bed. Good sleeping weather. 🙂

  6. I read a few chapters into about ten new novels, then, nyenh, RT to my local elibrary. Finally I heard the voice of an author with the clear blessing of her muse.
    No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, narrated by Janina Edwards, captured the underbelly of S E Phillips’ forte, the depth and charm of a southern small town with Superstar homeboys. A young man successful in business goes home again to woo the love of his youth, and discovers that, yup, change happens.
    In Pinewood, N C, younger folk take for granted that they have full civil rights, while older folk counsel, “go along to get along”, as the blurb says. The African American generations in this comfortable microcosm reflect the influence of rapid cultural changes since the mid 20th century, when Jim Crow yielded to the Tuskegee air pilots and school segregation yielded to Brown v. Board of Ed.
    I love SEP’s romances, and I enjoyed discovering SP Watts’ social perspective and deep (often amused) understanding of and respect for the differences that generate tension and sustain a functioning society. Looking forward to more of her books.
    My CFS/ME reigned supreme last week, so I escaped into Gunnery Sgt. Kerr’s universe, where Tanya Huff insists on victory against all odds and a boyfriend for her gritty heroine.

    1. Stephanie Powell Watts [acquired]. Last time someone mentioned her around me my library did not have her. Now they do!

  7. I read Lindsay Buroker’s fifth book in her Star Kingdom series, Gate Quest. This one wraps up the current story arc, although the epilogue teases a new story arc starting in book six, due in November. Now I have to go back and read her Knight Protector, which takes place in the same universe, which I started but got distracted by something else. That one is billed as A Science Fiction Romance in the subtitle, and the first couple of chapters were pretty decent. But apparently Knight Protector takes place concurrently with Gate Quest, and book six of the main series, as teased by the epilogue, will join the two sets of characters up.

    I also read The Vine Witch, by Luanne G. Smith. A decent fantasy romance/mystery set in 1910 era France’s wine making region, where the vine witch of Chateau Renard has just spent seven years as a toad before she is able to break the curse and returns home to find that the vineyard she called home has been sold to a new winemaker who believes in science, and science alone, romance ensues, also murder, in addition to the mystery of who turned her into a toad in the first place, and why. I wanted to like this better than I did. I’m still not sure why, I should have.

  8. I had big plans for today and then at 6AM slashed a vein in the top of my foot and ended up in the ER. Three stitches and a tetanus shot. Then I had errands and an appt, so I’m going to take a long nap now and then possibly read more of my newest book, Unfuck Your Habitat, You’re Better Than Your Mess. So far, I like it, although I’m skimming parts like what to do if you’re a perfectionist (not about cleaning, I’m not) or what to do if you’re mentally ill (I AM JUST FINE), but I like her approach. And the front bedroom is much cleaner now, too.

    1. Oops and ouch! On the other hand, a nap and a read, and you won’t need a tetanus shot for quite while.

      Reading the third of Tanya Huff’s Sgt. Kerr books, which I must admit I am taking my time with. Lots and lots of descriptions of terrain and armaments, I’m losing track. But I know the 4th is good, so I’m soldering on.

    2. I am so sorry. What a rotten start to a day. Nap sounds like the proper response. I’ve heard you heal faster by sleeping.

      1. I was until Milton decided to move to the other side of the bed and stepped right on my stitches. I screamed so loudly he jumped a foot in the air. I’m trying to figure out how to stop the ache. Ice? Icy-Hot? Heat? I’m clueless here. But it hurts. She whined.

        1. I’d go for comfort – so probably something warm you could wrap round your foot. A quilt or a pillow might also prevent the dogs getting to it.

          1. That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll just take my computer and go back to bed with the electric blanket. It’s been that kind of day anyway.

        2. The best thing is ice 10-15 mins at a time. This will bring down any swelling. Also you could elevate the foot on a pillow. Take some Ibuprofin or Aleve. Stay away from Aspirin.
          So sorry you have to go through this. The electric blanket is fine for the rest of your body and will be a comfort. Heal well and fast.

  9. Just want to leave a plug here for the ALA. Macmillan is planning e-book shenanigans starting November 1, 2019. They will allow libraries to buy only 1 e-book copy for the first 8 weeks of a book’s release. (Are they trying to increase piracy? Cause this seems like a guaranteed way to do that.)
    The ALA has a petition at but so far they’ve only got 29,000 signatures.

    I’ve been reading the (non-pirated) latest Seanan McGuire Unkindest Tide and enjoying it.

  10. Jenny, so sorry about your foot. Hope you heal fast.
    After a recommendation here, I read The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel. Great plot and interesting world building, so it reads quickly, but the characters spoiled it for me. They all acted like stupid teenagers, with lots of angst and not much understanding or acceptance of others, even though there is nobody under 30 in the story. Overall – a disappointment.

  11. Ooh, that sounds nasty, Jenny. Hope it heals quickly. I read the latest Patricia Briggs, Storm Cursed, and enjoyed it, also reread the first Murderbot, which was as good as ever. Now I’m reading an early George RR Martin, Tuf Voyaging, which is set in space. Very enjoyable so far.

    And today, after a breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and preserved mulberries (a friend of mine has a tree so I freeze lots every year) I’m going to the kids’ climate strike.

      1. It’s about a sentient AI who is a bodyguard android. It calls itself Murderbot because it believes that it lost control and killed some humans. The series follows Murderbot trying to solve the mystery of those deaths and protect some humans it is fond of. It’s a mystery mostly.

      2. There are two answers to that – -the plot is about a cyborg or android (flesh and machine parts) constructed to be a bodyguard, in a terrible Catch-22 corporate regime. Something goes wrong on an alien planet and everything turns out to be more complicated than it was supposed to be. Nice little adventure story, very pulpy, happy ending.

        But the story is also about what it’s like to be a SecUnit, an android constructed to be a corporation’s idea of the perfect soldier. There’s a line partway through something like “they had to give us human intelligence to deal with humans. The alienation and depression were just side-effects.” Murderbot was barely educated, knows it doesn’t know enough, isn’t given the tools or authority to really protect its human clients, pretends it doesn’t care, cares a lot. This part is balanced between comic representations of terrible, terrible jobs in which the lawyers and management control too much, and tragic representations of alienation in every sense. (This is not laid on heavy in the writing.)

        Maybe I have three answers! There are two kinds of androids — SecUnits who are soldiers, and ComfortUnits who are sex workers. As Murderbot describes it, SecUnits don’t have gender, and ComfortUnits have whatever gender their employer expects. As I reread it the SecUnits have been assigned hyper-stereotyped-masculinity, they’re supposed to be emotionless and fearless and unthinking, and the ComfortUnits have been assigned hyper-stereotyped-femininity. Murderbot doesn’t think about it this way.

        tl;dr — Murderbot does not approve of or enjoy murder.

      3. Thematically, I think it’s about what it means to be human and what it means to be good. And it’s entertaining.

      4. Like the others have said, you’ve gotta try Murderbot. I already trusted the author before it came out, although I’d sort of been lukewarm about the bird series, so I went to read the first page to make sure it grabbed me, and got through about one paragraph before hitting one-click-buy.

        Think of the title as snark. It’s how the protagonist thinks of himself, not what anyone else thinks of him. It’s basically a mystery in a space-opera setting, with an over-arching mystery about his past, plus smaller mysteries within each novella. It’s really more cozy-mystery-level of darkness for the most part, rather than noir darkness.

      5. Also, these “novellas” feel pretty much like one book that got broken into three parts for marketing purposes.

        I enjoyed the first one (I kept hearing Bruce Willis as the hero) and found the second one more about character than plot–not making me excited enough to submit a library request for #3, yet.

    1. I love Tuf Voyaging. A collection of short stories about Havilland Tuf, an interstellar trader. Humor, pathos. I wish he’d write more of them. You know, after he finishes A Song of Ice and Fire (fingers crossed).

      1. Gary I also really liked Martin’s Fevre Dream, set on a paddle boat. I rather wish he hadn’t started on Game of Thrones (which I’ve read a few of, but got sick of waiting for the rest), so we would have got more of this odd and interesting mix of things he was writing previously.

  12. Most recently finished (in rough order) A Better Man (Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny). Murder in Bel Air (Aimee LeDuc series, by Cara Black), and The Body in the Castle Well (Bruno, Chief of Police Series by Martin Walker). In other words, I’m on a Francophile binge. 🙂

    1. I just finished A Better Man as well. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it so I ended up reading it twice. I often miss a lot the first time through a book since I’m so eager to get to the end.

      1. I’m glad I’m not the only one unsure about A Better Man. I just about quit half way through and not because of the mystery (the solution to which I think she telegraphed hard).

  13. Over a year ago, I totally lost a library book. Looked and looked but it was nowhere in my car, my house, and my tote bag. So I paid the library for it, and left it as one of those mysteries that your heirs will discover after you die.

    But I had to move a piece of furniture, and behind it, balanced on one corner behind a back leg so that it was basically invisible, was the book. I was going to take it back to the library, but I looked it up, and they have 14 copies, so I kept it and started reading it.

    Really cute memoir by a Cornish man called Tom Michell, who was teaching at a boarding school in Argentina as a 20-something adventure-lover during the mid 70’s. The title is The Penguin Lessons: What I learned from an Extraordinary Bird, and I’m finding it really adorable. He rescues the little Magellan penguin from a beach covered in crude oil, where it was the only one among dozens of oilsoaked corpses to show signs of life, and it’s really touching. It’s his first book, written in his middle 60’s, but well worth the read.

    He suffers a penguin bite in the beginning too, a propos of Jenny’s, so it’s apt as well. 🙂

  14. Jack Scalzi Old Man’s War. He and it has become a cult classic in a short time. After that book he went on to spin a 4 more books in that world. And if you’re truly not into that then try his Android’s Dream which starts off “Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.” Moeller is the human trade rep to the upcoming negotiations where the otherside speak to each other olfactorally. So as Moeller sits at the table placidly speaking English for the crowd he’s tooting to the Nadorian trade rep that, to put it nicely on your blog, his father isn’t his father, which causes only 1 event to happen. The Nadorian trade rep errupts for no “apparent” reason to onlookers and when the other planet’s envoys try to calm him down, this enrages him further to the point he cluches his ‘heart’, collapses on the floor dead and the hunt for a new trade rep begins. Only problem? The ceremony to install the new trade rep on the planet of Nador has to be a person with a certain blood line. She’s a human from New Zealand and she doesn’t want any part of an intergalactic dispute so she’s given protection by the US gov’t and they end up together.

    Scalzi is a great writer and this is a fast read.

  15. Finished Busman’s Honeymoon, lovely, lovely book. Loved it, one of my favourite Dorothy Sayers book. Read Thrones and Dominations and now Assumption of Death written by Jill Paton Walsh because I love the characters. Not ready to give up the Whimsey world.

    Heal well.

    1. Thrones and Dominions upset me. I think Wimsey belongs to Sayers alone.

      However, I love the short stories Sayers wrote about Peter and Harriett after their marriage (and birth of three sons). They are intentionally not deep, but comfortable.

  16. The reading gods were kind to me this week-they sent me 2 books I really enjoyed. The first is The Lost For Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland. I’m a sucker for novels set in bookstores and this one was not your run of the mill cutesy novel. The heroine, Loveday, is a wounded bird who uses books as a defense against a world that has turned upon her and as a way to understand herself. The story alternates between the present day and the time in Loveday’s childhood when things all went to hell for her. As the book went on, I became more and more involved in Loveday’s journey and nervous about the outcome because I really wanted her to triumph.
    And just in time for the new school year, my copy of The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! arrived. I am always amazed at how much expression Mo Willems can get into a line drawing and this title is no exception. This is a perfect example of why I love picture books.

    1. Can’t wait. I love Mo Willems. For sheer beauty try Yuyi Morales The Dreamers. I’ve been doing Show and Tell with it everywhere I go.

  17. I’m going to look for Maggie’s series. Kelley Armstrong has. YA entry into her Women of the Otherworld series which on my wishlist.

  18. As I reread Maybe This Time, I tie Alice with Greta Thornberg. While their personalities could hardly be more opposite, they are both determined thinkers.

  19. My eyes have been too irritated recently from allergies to do much reading. Instead, I got a month of Netflix and binged on the UK’s Bodyguard (amazing series — the UK really knows how to do mystery/thriller genre well), and Father Brown (solid and comfortable, rather than truly amazing), and Longmire (I didn’t get caught up in it when I saw the first season when it first came out, but I’m totally addicted now, picking up with the second season; I should probably go back and rewatch the first episode after I finish the series, just to see what changed).

  20. I love the Raven Boys series. So good! I glommed it hard when I discovered it. This week I’ve read Seanan Macguire’s latest October Daye and then glommed three T Kingfisher books in rapid succession. Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine which are fun fantasy with a band of misfits on what they think will be a suicide mission. Good romance, snarky and some genuinely scary/sad bits. Then SwordHeart which is set in the same world a few years later but a different part and different characters. I read the sample for that one a while back and had it on the ‘get to it one day pile’ so I’m glad I read the other two first. Swordheart is less scary but also good romance and good snark and adventure. I hope she does more in the world and need to try some of her other stuff.

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