29-40 (very long, again)

Standard

I know, I am SO behind. The end of the school year is busy and hectic, and on top of that, I got a PMP certification in mid-May, which took a lot of my time. I did get a fair amount of reading done, but I didn’t have any time to post. I had a lot of book-related thoughts, too, so I need to find some time and energy to get here more often…

29. Three in Death by J.D. Robb

I could have done without the ghostly aspects of the last story, but I am glad that I am not totally up to date in this series.

30. Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le Guin

This was three short novels together in one book. Since there were only 370 total pages, I am counting this as one book.

These stories are loosely connected by one world that figures in all three novels, with long periods of time in between the stories, on the order of hundreds of years. These books were not as complex as her later books, but they were definitely very good. I particularly liked the third book; the characters were very well-developed, and I liked the way that the people evolved their control of their mind power. I found this book because of the series feature here at LT, because I didn’t know about it before I went to see what I had in this series, and I am glad that I did find it.

31. A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

This is an author I found here on LT, and I am so glad I did! This was a fascinating investigation of what a fully female world would look like, and how they would interact with another world. Slonczewski was very effective at making her main villian less than totally villianous. I totally believed that the character of Berenice could fall in love with him, even though he was so condescending and sexist. And, you could see him clearly struggling to do what was right, even as he made the wrong decisions. I also like this kind of feminist book where there are men who are not sexist, and women who are not wonderful–I can’t stand the kind of book that paints all men as evil, which is clearly not true.

Shora, the watery world where the women of the book live, is a wonderfully realized world, with an incredibly detailed ecology. It’s amazing that Slonczewski could express so much about the world without breaking the pace of the story–I never felt lectured to by the book.

32. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Eh. I persisted in reading this book because some people I like on LT (although no specific names spring to mind) said it was good, and I was mildly interested in where the bishop’s bird stump would turn up, but it was a bit of a struggle. The storyline was needlessly convoluted–all the sections where the hero sits down and attempts to puzzle out how all the time contimuum stuff would try to correct itself, I just skimmed. Who cares? Also, could these people have been any denser? The whole book drove me crazy while they tried to figure out who Tossie should marry, since it was blindingly obvious from practically the first scene with her in it. All the craziness they perpetrated while trying to figure out the identity of her future spouse? Made me want to just smack them.

So, when they get to the end and Ned figures it all out (or mostly–and I hate that kind of ending, where they throw in a maybe-there-is-one-more-element-we’ll-never-be-able-to-know wrench in the works), I find it hard to believe. I find it hard to believe that Ned can find the door to his room when he wakes up in the morning! Too complicated, too irritating, too glib. Oh, and when they figure out what happened–the thing that caused everything to go wrong–they decide it’s great that they can do it again and again. Hello? Haven’t they noticed 400 pages of craziness, with people trapped in the past and Europe being potentially lost to Hitler to tell them this was a bad idea?

And the foreshadowing was pretty intense. If I hadn’t been skimming whole sections and just trying to get through the book quickly, I would have figured out the entire plot well before the end (rather than the 75% of it I figured out without trying).

There were some redeeming qualities to the book, though. Willis is a good writer, and things moved along quickly. I liked Verity (although she was pretty stupid, too). The stuff about butlers was very amusing. Some of the characters were caricatures, but some of them were very well realized and interesting. I found myself liking the characters, even as I wanted to inflict bodily harm on them. The scenes with the animals were well-done. There is enough writing skill that I might be willing to try another Willis book in the future, but I can’t recommend this one.

33. The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Fantastic. Deeply disorienting, as it deals with homeless people and mental illness. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the “twist” at the end, but it was still just a fascinating book. It is hard to say much about this without giving away the twist, and I don’t want to ruin this for someone else if they want to read it and be surprised, but this was really, really good. Bohjalian has some weird quirks, like referring to his main character as “the social worker” a lot, but that may have been a bit of a plot point, come to think of it. Also, there were a lot of references to eyeglass frames, and whether they fit the age of the person who was wearing them. Weird. But overall, it was beautifully written, and I had trouble putting the book down.

34. Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

Deeply disturbing. I feel that I understand Islam fundamentalism a bit more, and also how women can possibly be fundamentalists, even though I still think it is a terrible idea. Of the many things I am grateful for in this life, high on the list is the fact that I was not born as a woman into a fundamentalist Muslim family and society. Although, come to think of it, I am glad I am not a man in such a society, either. Scary, scary stuff.

35. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

I love Kate Atkinson. You can’t expect her books to be firmly grounded in reality, although some of her more straightforward mysteries are more realistic. This was a bit of a combination–there was a fairly straightforward mystery in one sense, but it was a bit separated from reality, too. I love the way Atkinson tells the reader things that the characters do not know, and how she experiments with reality. Also, how things that are not real give us information that is really true. It is fascinating figuring out the interaction between the real world inside her story and the imaginary–because there are connections, the imaginary is a commentary on the real. I am very interested in the nature of reality, personally, so I love to read Atkinson’s investigations of the subject.

36. Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan

I somehow had the idea that this was about Indian immigrants, but it is actually about Sri Lanka. I learned a lot, but in a very interesting, incidental to the story sort of way. The structure was a bit odd, with no quotation marks to indicate for sure when peo
ple are talking, for instance, but it flowed very well.

That said, the end of this book was disappointing. The story just kind of ended, with no real conclusion to justify the tension that was built up as I read. Because there was a build up of tension, very subtle, that had me racing to an ending that was distinctly underwhelming.

Ganeshananthan is definitely an author to watch out for. I am sure that she will mature as a writer, and her future books will be even better than this one, which did have a lot to recommend it. The characters are very realistic, and their relationships were fascinating. As a Westerner, I don’t have much experience with arranged marriages, and the various gradations between a completely arranged marriage and a love marriage chosen only by the couple involved. The information on the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka was illustrated through the impacts to the various characters in a way that imparted a lot of information without making the reader feel like the book is a textbook or a newspaper. Overall, I do recommend this book, but don’t expect a fantastic ending.

37. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

This was certainly better than What Came Before He Shot Her, but it is far from a return to George’s earlier brilliance. I figured out the end to the mystery on page 384 of a 603 page book, without really trying. The characterization was a bit unrealistic to me. Lynley finds a body while he is wandering off mourning his wife and child, and the detective in charge of the murder investigation puts him in charge of key parts of the investigation? At least Havers points out how irregular this is, but still, it’s not believable.

That said, I did read it compulsively to the end, and there were mysteries about the characters that I did not completely figure out until they were explained (although that may have been partly a matter of will on my part). I hate to be critical of an author that has written many excellent books I have really enjoyed; I know this is a very difficult thing to do well, but I have to admit I am a bit disappointed. I really hope that she continues to get better as she puts the self-indulgent mess that was What Came Before He Shot Her further and further behind her.

38. Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff

Funny, interesting, a quick read.

39. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Although it has been over 20 years since I read this book, I remembered who did it right away. It was still an excellent book.

40. Shadow’s End by Sheri S. Tepper

I could have sworn I already had this book, but I picked up a used hardcover anyway, since I figure hardcovers are always better than paperbacks. But when I started to read it, it was completely unfamiliar. Not like I didn’t remember how it ended, but like all new information. And I couldn’t find the paperback on my shelves, so maybe I never did read it. Or maybe it’s in a box somewhere.

Anyway, I liked this book. It is very similar to a lot of Tepper’s other books, and relatively low on the preachiness scale. Tepper is a bit more into religion and gods than a lot of science fiction writers, which can be a bit jarring to someone who isn’t expecting it, but she is really good at world-building and creating real characters. I really cared about these people.

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