winterbadger: (pooh tao)
It seems hard to believe that I haven't updated this list since October. I'm fairly sure I'll have missed out some titles as a result. But it also seems likely that I've not come close to matching last year's total of 48, let alone my goal of 50. But looking back over the years since I started keeping track here (in 2008), I've only once hit 50 and many years not reached 40, so 42 or so seems adequate. I don't know whether it's because I pick long books, or read slowly, or what. I certainly have a lamentably short attention span, so I flit back and forth between things.

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling (36) This really deserves an entry of its own. Let's just say that Ferling does a great job of pulling off the heaps of laurel and waving off the clouds of incense and letting the very human Washington stand out.

John Macnab by James Buchan (37) An adventure tale by an accomplished tale-spinner, this story of three "gents" roughing it to play a prank on landlords in the Highlands is entertaining for its story, for its loving view of the geography of the Highlands, and for its portrayal of Scots and English (and some dreadful American) 'types' seen through the eyes of a Scots minister's son who rocketed upwards through Oxford and the diplomatic service to the governor-generalship of Canada.

Dodger (38) and The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett (39) One non-Discworld and one (final) Discworld volume by the master. Entertaining and educational in equal measure.

The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing (40): A graphic novel of pulp adventure in the style (artistically and literarily) of Herge's Tintin. I'd read sections for free online and eventually treated myself to a hard copy of the entire book. It's very fun if you don't take it seriously.

The California Voodoo Game by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes (41) A re-reading, and another of those where one sees the imperfections of a book one loved blindly at the time. Niven and Barnes sexism is off-putting, almost repellent, in a way that is clearly still popular among the Gamergate/Sad Puppy crowd. That said, it's an entertaining story combining RPG, sci-fi, and detective genres.

Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (42) An entertaining tale (really a novella) of a young man in a medievalesque fantasy setting. I'll certainly read the others of its ilk.

Still in progress:

With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia by Thomas J. McGuire
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Little, Big by John Crowley
Eastward to Tartary by Robert B. Kaplan
Boderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid
Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
The Far Side of the World and The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian (32, 33) I do love O'Brian's novels, and I've managed to read and re-read about half of them and left the other half deiciously undiscovered. The Reverse of the Medal marks my first step into that undiscovered country.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (34) I keep doling these out sparingly to myself because they're so wonderful, and I can read each of them for the first time only once. This came with a lovely prequel short story that was full of character and charm despite it's brevity. The novel itself was worthy of Dunnett in its complexity and "headology". And, like Dunnett's books, I love some of these characters and appreciate others without liking them, but I find all of them fascinating.

A Sort of Samurai by James Melville (35) A re-read, a case early in the reader's acquaintance with Inspector Tetsuo Otani of the Hyogo Prefectural Police. I wish more of Melville's enjoyable Otani novels were available as e-books; at the moment, only the first three are.

In process:
With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia by Thomas J. McGuire
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling
John Macnab by James Buchan
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Little, Big by John Crowley
winterbadger: (books)
ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger (27) I would recommend this as a good starter in understanding what ISIL (and Salafist terrorism in general) is, where it came from, and where it's heading.
The Ionian Mission and Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian (28, 29) More intelligence operations and Mediterranean travelogue than brillian ship-to-ship action, but entertaining and characterful.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (30) The graphic-novel version of this creepy tale.
InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (31) Entertaining young adult fiction from Gaiman and a collaborator.

In process:
With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia by Thomas J. McGuire
The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
winterbadger: (bed)
Recently read:

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (24) More of Gaiman's excellent short fiction and poetry. Some striking horror, comedy, and of course comedic horror in this collection of short tales from the inimitable tale-spinner.

Lincoln's Spymaster: Thomas Haines Dudley and the Liverpool Network by David Hepburn Milton (25) A counterpoint to Our Man in Chalreston, an account of the Quaker lawyer from New Jersey who served for ten years as US consul in Liverpool, documenting and trying to thwart the Confederate use of the neutral UK as a base for building and equipping its small by very modern fleet of commerce raiders. This book, among other things, provides clear evidence of how heavily some factions in the UK supported the Confederate states, to Britain's eternal shame.

The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian (26) More sailing war stories, glimpses of Regency domestic life and finances, and intelligence web-spinning, as Lucky Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin travel from Nova Scotia to Britain, to the Baltic, to Paris, and all the stormy seas in between.

In process:
ISIS: The State of Terror
by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger
The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian
With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
So, January was very busy for me book-wise:

Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran by Roxana Saberi (1) Interesting account of an Iranian-American journalist who was arrested and imprisoned briefly in Tehran on trumped-up espionage charges. Listened to it on CD, read by the author. Because the book is primarily about her experience in the political section of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, one gets very little perspective on Iranian society in general. But she does paint some interesting and engaging portraits of the interrogators and officials she deals with and, even more, of the other prisoners she encounters after her intitial period of solitary confinement. I read a number of the reviews of this book on Amazon after listenign to it on CD, and I found several good characterizations of it. I certainly agree with one of the commentators who grows restive with Saberi's whiny, self-pitying tone. She never endures any real hardship, and she seems inclined to overdramatize both her shame (after she initially decides to "confess" in hopes that it will get her released) and her heroism (when she subsequently decides to engage in hunger strikes to pressure her captors).

Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (2) Another novel by the excellent Furst, who is a great writer of historical thrillers set in the era before and during the Second World War and usually featuring some combination of espoionage and military affairs. This tells the story of the French military attache in Warsaw in the last few years before the outbreak of war, as he runs agents, conducts intelligence gathering himself, and romances a beautiful woman (or two). Mostly mellow (but not boring) with occasional bursts of chilling action, and full of convincing period detail.

The Monkey's Wedding by Joan Aiken (3) I'm always stumbling across new collections of Aiken's short storie, which I have been reading (along with her YA fiction and her novels) since childhood. This is a typical collection of her worK: some of the short stories it contains are whimsical, some gruesome, some mournful, and some simply odd. Lots of magical realism to be found in her stories, and a great del of fun as well.

FDR: The First Hundred Days by Anthony J. Badger (4) An excellent introduction to the subject, but for the novice a bit like drinking from a firehose. The names, dates, associations, and legislative histories come think and fast in this relatively short work (in recorded form it is just five CDs). While it's engaging, it only scrapes the surface of any of its subjects. I learned a great deal about the causes of the banking crisis, some of it quite different to the common conceptions of the origins of the Great Depression. The parallels to the Great Recession are many and startling; the biggest difference is the extensive cooepration that FDR got from his party and the Republicans. He was by no means popular with everyone, and resistance to the New Deal existed and grew during its lifetime, but he was always able to find sufficient legislative support for the policies he pursued. Part of that came from his strong support among Southern Democrats, cultivated over many years. (Blacks were more or less entirely shut out of the New Deal planning and implementation and hardly even considered at all during FDR's administration.) Part of his support came from a group almost unknown today, the Progressive Republicans who had backed his cousin Theodore Roosevelt; though not so much like those who call themselves progressive in today's politics, they were worlds ahead of the current mainstream of Republican thinking, being concerned to constrain business and industry far enough to make life fair and bearable for the working man.

Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke's Drift by Mike Snook (5) The second half of Snook's pair on the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, this tells of the British victory in the early stage of the campaign that served to leaven the disaster of the battle of Isandhlwana. The small garrison of a two-building supply depot guarding a river crossing managed to hold out against the reserve corps of the Zulu army. Snook examines the events immediately preceeding the "siege", the battle itself, the immediate aftermath, and the remainder of the campaign. Like any good storyteller who has given you deep and interesting portraits of a variety of chacters, Snook provides details of what happened to the major protagonists (and some of the supporting characters) throughout the rest of their lives. The book brings the invaluable perspective of a professional military man to examining the action. Snook has spent a good deal of time in the region, and he served most of his career in the modern descendant of the 24th Foot, the principal Regular Army unit invovled at both Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. His officer's eye view gives the reader information and an understanding of the combats (and the campaign overall) that few (possibly none) of the other well known writers on the campaign could supply. On the other hand, he seems (to me) a little too ready to show solidarity with some of the actors and excuse faults or put the best construction on a situation in order to preserve the reputation of his regiment and of the Army as a whole. I'm also inclined to think that a professional historian would manage to supress his inclination to snipe at characters he dislikes a little better than Snook does. But this pair of books remain, in my opinion, both invaluable and long-overdue analyses of the opening stages of the 1879 campaign.

Four by Jonathan Gash. He's a writer of mysteries centered around an antique dealer, Lovejoy, who lives near Colchester in Essex. He's an expert in many fields of the antiques trade, a diviner (able to suss out true antiques, whether he can analyze them or not), perpetually skint, and a cheerfully sexist womanizer. The stories follow a predictable pattern. Someone involves Lovejoy in a hunt for a specific treasured antiqu; he is or becomes invovled with one or more women; violence ensures--usually someone close to him is killed or injured and he goes out looking for revenge and the antique; more violence happens--Lovejoy getting his revenge...and the antique. Curtain. So, formulaic, but the stories are kind of a delivery mechanism for the things that Gash has learned about hunting for--or faking--antiques, which is quite a lot and certainly interesting. There's usually some location that we learn about too, often as part of the climactic events.

The Judas Pair (6): in which we learn about flintlock weapons, especially duelling pistols. No specific location.
Gold From Gemini (7): in which we learn about Roman Britain, especially coins. Location: the Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man.
The Grail Tree (8): in which we learn about religious relics, especially a cup that may be the True Grail. Location: Colchester Castle.
Spend Game (9): in which we learn about early railways. Location: a fictional failed railway, possibly modeled on the Colne Valley Railway.

In progress:
The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 by Michael Beschloss
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Recently completed

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (6). A re-read of an old favourite. I've gotten to the point that, after maybe half a dozen to a dozen rereadings of this, I don't forget the plot in between :-) and even begin to find the author telegraphing it a bit. But I love the character portraits all the same, and the interaction of the players. Peter Wimsey the clever man playing the fool so as to put other people at their ease; Mervyn Bunter the tireless and loyal servant, firm in command of his employer where he feels he has the prerogative to be so and kindly and affectionate only when he knows it will be unseen and unheard and create no tension in the delicate balance of class and respect and comradeship he shares with Lord Peter. Charles Parker the intelligent, thoughtful, educated man of the middle class, neither filled with inverted snobbery nor lacking the ability to be polite and courteous to those he meets of whatever standing, and fully conscious of his abilities without either deprecating or inflating them. Yes, these are all characters I admire and wish to emulate, each in his own way.

The Korean War by Max Hastings (7). Recorded. A good book, though dated (1987) in some of its comments 'in light of contemporary events'. Hastings is quite an unrepentant British jingoist and Tory, and that shows clearly when he deals with the battle of the Imjin River, where a small British contingent fought a valorous retreat against tremendous odds. A heroic battle, but he devotes about the same amount of time and space to that battle of a few thousand UN troops (which had no tremendous impact on the war) as to the allied landing of 40,000 men at Incheon, one of the pivotal events of the campaign. The voice actor perfectly reproduces the snide sneers that I would expect to hear from Hastings himself, which sort of adds to the entertainment value. :-) The section on POWs (UN and Communist) is fascinating and touches on something that I knew literally nothing about. I'm sure that is comments drawing parallels between Korea and Vietnam and his open-eyed assessment of the US Army's poor performance in Korea raise some hackles, but I think by and large they are quite on point.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (8) Recorded. I enjoyed this a great deal, but the recording I was able to get hold of was, to my dismay, of an abridged version of the book. The third volume of this trilogy, which I heard earlier in the Spring, was 700-some pages printed and 20-some CDs. This was 920 pages in print but only 8 CDs. I really detest the recording of abridged versions of books, but sometimes they are the only version available. To the extent I can gauge from what is left, this is a thorough and comprehensive description of the early part of Roosevelt's life and career, from his birth to his ascent to the presidency on the death of President McKinley.

The sheer drive and determination of Theodore Roosevelt are quite astounding (especially to a slug like me); he was nervous and unhappy when he wasn't working furiously. At the same time, he seems to have had the most amazing polymath personality, being intrigued by and building up an encyclopedic knowledge about everything he encountered from birds to the history and practice of naval warfare, from Classical authors to public administration. He was also a hugely prolific author, though I have to wonder somewhat about the quality of his writing--he once wrote a life of Cromwell in a month, while vacationing. I can't imagine a professional historian feeling he could properly research the life of Oliver Cromwell in a single year, let alone research and write it in a month while sitting on the verandah of a summer house on Long Island.

What's also remarkable (as I may have remarked after finishing Colonel Roosevelt) is how some fo the same issues and patterns of political and social life that were prevalent aroudn the turn of the 19th/20th century are still front and center: the corruption of the electoral process is front and center in this book, as Roosevelt made great use of the machine politicians of his day, who were all funded and at the beck and call of Wall Street corporate interests. Remarkably, he managed to both use them and remain (to some extent) independent and even advocate and push through reforms that would make the election of legislators and the actions of government much less corrupt.

In progress

Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers in World War I by Arlen J. Hansen (Some fo COl. Roosevelt's family worked in the American Hospital in Paris, which is mentioned here.)
The Captain From Connecticut by C. S. Forrester (several chapters in; odd to read Forrester wiring about an American)
French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics, 1792-1815 by Paddy Griffith
Enter Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy (Learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the influence of pre-Islamic Persian religion on early Christianity)
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783 by William M. Fowler, Jr.
winterbadger: (books2)
Despite doing a fair bit of reading (not of books) for my class, I've been keeping up the reading/listening. Read more... )


Sep. 10th, 2009 11:03 pm
winterbadger: (edinburgh)
I broke down and bought some of the Ken Stott Rebus series. I still say that John Hannah is the definitive John Rebus. But I like Ken Stott as an actor, and I love the really comprehenisve shooting that they do in and around Edinburgh. I watched several of them in the last couple of days, and I recognised all sorts of places, large and small (from St Giles and the Castle to the Malt Shovel in Cockburn Street and the Jinglin' Geordie in Fleshmarket Close). I even recognised a couple of places I've not actually been yet, only planned to--a short cut away from the Edinburgh action in "The Naming of the Dead" moves the story to East Lothian and shots of Bass Rock and North Berwick Law (waves to Rho).

I really can't wait to see Auld Reekie again. :-)
winterbadger: (books2)
Short summaries of a few more books I've read lately.Read more... )


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