I have been a reading machine this month. Reconnecting with longer works over my vacation helped me realize how much I’d missed this part of my life. Short stories are great, but I definitely missed the passion of devouring good books with a voracious appetite. I’d even begun to think I’d lost the ability to do so.
One of the things I’ve decided to do to help me continue reading novel-length works is a monthly post of mini-reviews of everything I’ve read. A monthly writing post helped me stick to my writing goals, so hopefully this will help me stick to my reading goals.
Yeah, sure, I could use Goodreads for this task. But I don’t use Goodreads because it’s owned by Amazon and they seem disinclined to help clean up much of the abuse going on over there with 1 star review bombing and other malicious activities. Plus, well… I mostly hate Amazon. Seriously, everyone should be using Bookshop.org to order books. I get most of the rest of my stuff through other stores, like Kohls or Target. I realize some folks feel they can’t stop using Amazon, and that’s fine. Just make sure it’s your only alternative first.
So here’s what I read in July, with brief reviews (spoilers included):
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett – Snuff had been sitting on my shelf for a while, but I pulled it for vacation. I read about half in the days before we left, and the rest while up in Maine. Snuff is Pratchett at the top of his Discworld game. Sam Vimes, his wife Sybil Ramkin, their son Sam, and Vime’s very deadly gentleman’s gentleman Willikins, take a much needed vacation in the mountains. But a copper is always a copper, and Sam’s vacation turns into a mystery when he discovers a dead goblin. Great plot, great characters, and an always hilarious adventure from the master of comedic fantasy.
A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny – another vacation read. The story is told from the perspective of Snuff (no relationship to the previous novel of course), a dog familiar to a character named Jack, who we are to assume is Jack the ripper. Other famous literary monsters show up, like the Doctor (supposedly Frankenstein) and the Count (Dracula). Told via a chapter per day of the month, the characters are enacting an ancient ritual, and Snuff and the rest of the familiars work together to get them safely to the ritual’s conclusion. Some want to open a portal to the realm of the elder gods and loose them upon the world, the rest want to stop them. It’s a lovely short novel, with all of Zelazny’s usual writing touches and I loved it.
Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir – You can read my short review of this in my post Reading Vacation. Great book, but VERY different than its predecessor.
Ill Met in Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber – Also mentioned in the Reading Vacation post. Fafhrd and Grey Mouser remain some of my favorite fantasy characters.
Ship of Shadows, by Fritz Leiber – ibid
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal – The last book I read during vacation. Lovely alternative history, with the space race kicking off far earlier due to changes in our leadership as well as a tragedy with global ramifications. Great characters, and a great “what if” riff with plenty of rock solid science and historical details to root the reader.
The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal – Upon returning home, the sequels to The Calculating Stars waited for me. I tore through the first of the two and loved it. We skip ahead in time, with earth already having established a moon base. Now it’s time to journey to Mars. A solid continuation of the previous novel, building and expanding on the many changes while remaining rooted in historical details.
The Pioneers, by David McCullough – I love me some David McCullough. One of the best history writers working, he’s able to spin dry topics and boring dates into a really intriguing story. This work covers the period of western expansion right after the war of American independence, and focuses primarily on the founding of Ohio. I had no idea the deep connections between New England and Ohio until I read this (and wonder of people from Ohio do, either), and there’s a lot of fascinating history here.
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson – Sticking with non-fiction, I turned to this book. This had been sitting on my shelves for a while. I very much enjoyed Bryson’s humorous novel A Walk in the Woods, about his attempt at through-hiking the Appalachian trail. This volume serves as a great introduction to the history of earth, from its astronomical roots and the Big Bang, down to the latest (or latest as of the early 2000’s) research into DNA. Slightly behind the times (we’ve discovered the Higgs-Boson now), it’s still an excellent introduction into what we know about who we are and how we got here. Which, mostly it turns out, isn’t nearly as much as you think.
Guards, Guards, by Terry Pratchett – I watched the first episode of Amazon’s “The Watch” and was thoroughly disappointed. So, I picked up this book, the first of the commander Vimes story sequence. I hadn’t read the earlier books yet and figured it was about time. And yes, the commander Vimes of the early books is VERY different than the later one I’d grown used to. Still hilariously good story telling, and I still think the Amazon show does a poor job of retelling this particular story.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers – I’d seen Ms. Chambers mentioned around the usual SFF circles, so I grabbed this from the library. Truly excellent world – universe – building. The plot itself didn’t really feature the high stakes I’d expected until near the end, but it was very much an enjoyable read once you got used to her wonderfully alien aliens.
Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett – the second of the city watch novels. Vimes is beginning to look more like I expected, laying off the drink and anticipating his wedding to Sybil Ramkin and his retirement from the watch. But of course, captain Vimes is faced with a final mystery, one that the various guilds of the city would really rather the watch not take up, when a mysterious item called “a gonne” is stolen from the assassins guild. The city watch comes into its own here and asserts more control, and I’m enjoying seeing the development of these characters and the watch in general. Excellent follow up to the previous, and even better than the first one.
The Sirens of Mars, by Sarah Stewart Johnson – Dr. Johnson is not only an expert in planetary science, she’s one of the mission consultants for the rovers on Mars, including Spirit, Sojourner, Curiosity, Opportunity, and now Insight (I believe). This book chronicles the history of our exploration of Mars, from its earliest beginnings with Galileo, through Sagan and the Viking missions, right up through 2017. But it’s also filled with personal touches about how space – and the many scientists who proceeded her in planetary research – inspired and informed her career. Really great science writing here, and a wonderful history of our relationship to the red planet. I read this in one evening (it’s a short read at 180 pages, but still, that’s how much I enjoyed it).
I don’t think I’ll get any other books read before the end of the month, so I’ll call it there. It was an excellent month of reading, and I plan to continue this trend going forward, though likely the monthly numbers will be reduced now that I don’t have a week to myself away from work to look forward to. Until Christmas that is… so maybe send me your recommendations?
Better yet… just send me more books!