What books are you currently reading?


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Samnell wrote:

Finally finished Rise of American Democracy. Wilentz might have improved his ratio of 75% pro-Jackson shameless hackery unbefitting his education or station in life to 25% history writing, but only as Jackson receded into the rear view mirror for a fairly conventional history of the late 1850s. There's one point in there that I might look a bit farther into as I understand it's the subject of some legitimate debate, but holy s@!! this was an awful book. It's so bad I intend to advance my plans to read more early republic stuff just to make sure sleights of hand he slipped past me get corrected before having chance to take root. The thing as a whole is every bit as mendacious as the editorial he crapped out a few months back that had the history blogosphere take a few moments out for a collective evisceration.

Wanted to pick up Excession and get my Culture fix, but it's not available as an ebook in the US. Dammit. Bought Old Man's War again. I can't decide if I like it or not so far. Started in a bad mood and the first few chapters are largely an exercise in an old man mourning and saying goodbye to his old life. Not the greatest time. The narrator reminds me a lot of my grandfather and I'm not sure if that makes me uncomfortable or nostalgic. It also feels very much like something written with a Sixties kind of scifi sensibility, which isn't really my thing.

Samnell, I don't mean to put you on the spot, but have ever considered publishing a volume of history essays yourself? I sort of feel like all you'd have to is polish your blog entries and posts here to have enough material.


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Hitdice wrote:
Samnell, I don't mean to put you on the spot, but have ever considered publishing a volume of history essays yourself? I sort of feel like all you'd have to is polish your blog entries and posts here to have enough material.

Thank you. (Seriously, thanks!) But I don't consider myself competent enough on the back end of these things or sufficiently notable to rise above the publisher's general slush pile. Mike Duncan did it by creating history podcasting from scratch, but short of a time machine I can't go back and swipe the idea from him.*

I've considered reaching out to the major popular magazine but its interest is pretty closely-tied to wartime and mine are very much antebellum. It's a great magazine, but probably not the market for antebellum content unless it's a feature in the biography of some wartime notable or semi-notable. Postwar content is similarly couched in things like politicians' wartime records during future elections. I could probably do military action-oriented stuff, but it's really not what gets me excited.

*Though I might do a history podcast anyway. I've been thinking about it for a while. Very different register from my written voice, of course.


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Finished Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962.

Starting Antony Beevor's Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge.

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Set wrote:

Just re-read Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart, and it was as fun the second time as it was the first. Fun stuff set in an over the top 'mythic China.'

Have you read the sequels, too? What do you think of Eight Skilled Gentlemen as the concluding volume? I found the plot in BoB the most straightforward of the trilogy, but in its own way ESG just has this luminescence to it - despite the nearly impossible-to-follow plot.


@ Zeugma - my own recollection of reading Eight Skilled Gentlemen as a teenager was finding it somewhat incomprehensible. Like, I don't actually remember anything about it because I wasn't able to get it.

Bridge of Birds, on the other hand, was amazing.

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@ Zhangar

The significant part of "Eight Skilled Gentlemen" comes at the end when No. Ten Ox meets/saves his parents' ghosts due to a celestial boat race. But yeah, the plot is incredibly convoluted and I don't think the Eight Skilled Gentlemen are ever adequately explained.


OKay. I vaguely remember a boat race scene, but nothing about its content or context.

The second book is the one where they went to Hell, right?

Man, now I want to re-borrow them from my big brother and re-read them.


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I posted this on another forum yesterday evening:

So last night I was seized by the inexplicable urge to finally sit down and read my copy of the first Birthright novel, The Iron Throne, by Simon Hawke. Having finished it less than an hour ago, I have mixed but generally positive feelings about it.

The Iron Throne is the story of Michael Roele, the last emperor of the Anuirian Empire. It's evenly divided into three parts, the first being the setup and Michael's childhood, the second part being the civil war that Michael fights to retain control of Anuire, and the last part being the machinations that eventually lead him to go to war with the Gorgon. There's apparently a sequel novel, titled War, and based on the strength of this one I might pick it up should I come across a copy, but I'm in no particular hurry to locate one.

I went into this book with a bit of trepidation. Simon Hawke isn't one of my favorite authors; I'd read his Dark Sun "Tribe of One" trilogy (and its sequel, The Broken Blade), and came away thoroughly unimpressed, mostly because I felt that the morally high-handed protagonist was a poor match for the harsh world of Athas. As such, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the characters in this book. The story centers not on Michael Roele, but on his best friend and high chamberlain Aeden Dosiere. While unexpected, this actually made the novel stronger, as it let us get a feel for the young emperor in a way that humanized him more than I'd expected. Rather than portraying Michael as a Superman-like character, he's instead presented as something of a hothead; his heart is always in the right place, but he's a little more fond of war than Aeden is comfortable with.

The other characters are also fairly easy to relate to, if perhaps a bit too flat in their presentation. We're typically shown what sort of person a character is when they're introduced, and they never deviate from that; while characters can be deceitful and conniving, that's always towards other characters, never to the readers. This isn't as big a strike against the book as I'd have expected, however, because the book's focus on plot, and political and military maneuvering, is a major factor in what happens here, eclipsing the character drama (albeit only barely). In this, the novel does a good job of displaying the political machinations that go along with having high positions. The maneuvering is never complicated, but rather we're shown how the political dimension factors into almost everything that happens, and the book makes these reasons plain and easily-understood.

The largest flaw in The Iron Crown is in how it uses the Birthright setting's chief villain, The Gorgon. That's because it doesn't use him very much at all. The real villains here are Michael Roele's elder sister, Laera, and the Archduke of Boeruine, Arwyn. The latter is the immediate threat, being an ambitious man who plunges the empire into civil war in hopes of attaining the throne. The former is a seductress, determined to avenge her hurt pride over Aeden dumping her when the two had a teenage fling. These are the stories that largely drive the plot.

These two stories also don't fit together very well. The first third of the book does a very good job setting up the second third; the explanation of Aeden's duties to Michael work to lay the foundation for Arwyn Boeruine's ambitions, which erupt into the civil war that the middle of the book deals with. It's the last third of the book that doesn't really fit. The only connection is Laera, whose pettiness and desire to avenge her wounded ego serve as the impetus for the book's final sequence of events. But this feels somewhat minuscule compared to the political backdrop presented in the earlier two-thirds of the book. It would be one thing if Michael's final war, against The Gorgon, was a natural extension of the regional politics at the time, or if The Gorgon had been a motivating force all along. Instead, things come to a head largely because Laera has been nursing a rather petty grudge for years, and almost by accident falls in with The Gorgon to put the final part of the novel into motion.

It's the one major discordant note in what was otherwise a rather pleasant read. There were some other complaints that I had too - the near-total lack of magic, for example (especially clerical magic, which seems to be totally absent here) - and I suspect that were I to closely compare the details of the book to the Birthright Campaign Setting (since this takes place 551 years before the time in the boxed set), I'd find some anachronisms, but those are altogether minor issues, and don't really take away from the story as a story.

Overall, The Iron Throne is an entertaining read, if only a mild one, and does a good job of showcasing one of the most important moments in the campaign world's history. Insofar as D&D novels go, it's one of the better ones.


I remember liking The Iron Throne and War when I was a teenager. Rich Baker wrote a novel detailing High Mage Aelies backstory that he implausibly claims he converted into an FR novel. Really he just did a pretty poor job of swapping out BR proper nouns for FR proper nouns. (A battle takes place between Avanil and Boeruine, using those names, at one point.) I don't remember it as a bad book exactly, but it's extremely jarring in the context of then-contemporary FR.

Finished Old Man's War in a marathon session. That means I like it, I guess. It's well-written. But I don't want more of it. It comes off as Starship Troopers written by a non-fascist and avoids most of the usual pitfalls of military fiction in favor of something that's a little bit more ambiguous and less obsessed with shooting and killing. I don't mind books about shooting and killing, necessarily, but I generally like my violent adventure stuff to happen in different contexts. Didn't like so much that the ambiguity fell right out for the standard stuff that's meant to sound noble and idealistic but is really just the creed of a street thug writ large. I've read hints the series grows out of this, but I don't care enough to continue.

Not sure what's up next. I've got Excession on order, but that'll be at least a week.

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Zhangar wrote:

OKay. I vaguely remember a boat race scene, but nothing about its content or context.

The second book is the one where they went to Hell, right?

Man, now I want to re-borrow them from my big brother and re-read them.

Yeah. In The Story of the Stone they go to Hell.


Set wrote:

Just re-read Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart, and it was as fun the second time as it was the first. Fun stuff set in an over the top 'mythic China.'

That is my most favoritest book in the world. Bullfinch meets Lo Pan.


Realized that several of my next histories to read were Jackson, Jackson, and more Jackson. Several others not available on Kindle and I just read a massive tree carcass. So I ended up with The Missouri Compromise and its Aftermath by Robert Pierce Forbes. It opens by calling the Jacksonians on their b%&+!$*#, which is both just and awesome.

Also: a neat historiography of the issue right at the beginning. That's where it needs to be but it's usually the thing the publishers tell you to cut. Often that's with good reason, but when you're doing something new or different it's very important to have. So far, Forbes seems on about how the Missouri Crisis is treated in isolation, as a freak event rather than one tightly integrated into the rest of the era. Like the traditional historiography of slavery.

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I finished The Girl with Ghost Eyes.

It was excellent! All the kung-fu and monster-killing action I could want. My only peeve is

Spoiler:
that Li-lin isn't reconciled with her father at the end. I understand it had to be that way, he had to reject her, but it just made me sad in an otherwise satisfying ending.

One caveat: anyone looking for "authentic Chinese wuxia" should probably read an authentic Chinese author - this book is more "Kung Fury" meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," as it says on the inside cover. Read it for the fun, not its historical accuracy or authenticity.


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Kirth Gersen wrote:
Kajehase wrote:
Red Heat by Alex von Tunzelmann. (About the Cold War in the Caribbean.)
Dang. For a second I thought it was a novelization of the old Schwarzenegger movie!

"And introducing Raul Julia as Generalissimo Trujillo."

Frankly, I doubt there's a Schwarzenegger movie with nastier villains than Trujillo or Papa Doc Duvalier.

And while I can't say I approve of the man, the life of Fidel Castro before coming to power would make for a great movie.


My great-grandmother came here from the Dominican Republic. She had some interesting things to say about Trujillo.


More Kung Fury is good. I haven't read many Chinese works (mostly The Legend of Sun Knight <- Legal Translation), but I might try to fix that eventually.

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Kung Fury was ridiculous!!! I was rolling when I watched it!

Now I want to make a mad monkey monarch called King Kung Fury the Furry.

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I ordered some more portal fantasy from my local library for next year. Barbara Hambly's Darwath series.
I'm a bit on the fence about more 1980s-90s portal fantasy after reading the first 2 books of L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Spellsong Cycle and getting bored.

So has anyone read the Darwath series, or any of Barbara Hambly's other books? What did you think?


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Zeugma wrote:

I ordered some more portal fantasy from my local library for next year. Barbara Hambly's Darwath series.

I'm a bit on the fence about more 1980s-90s portal fantasy after reading the first 2 books of L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Spellsong Cycle and getting bored.

So has anyone read the Darwath series, or any of Barbara Hambly's other books? What did you think?

I liked it a lot. Despite the "portal fantasy" thing, I doubt it's got much in common with the Spellsong Cycle, though I haven't read that.

It uses a lot of fairly standard fantasy tropes, but with a strong horror edge and, at least by the end of the trilogy, subverts many of the standard expectations.
It's one I go back to from time to time. There were some sequels to the original trilogy, but they didn't grab me as strongly.


I agree entirely, TheJeff. Have you read any of the Benjamin January series? I haven't, but as soon as I read the synopsis of the first book, I remembered the way she used modern american vocabulary to inform the experience of a pseudo-medieval fantasy world and said, "OMFG, if she works that right, it's gonna be fricken awesome!"

I liked her vampire books, but I only read the first two, and honestly may have read the first one before Stephanie Meyer was even born, so vampires weren't, like, a thing at that point.

The Dragonsbane series was pretty good, if a bit action/adventure-ey.

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Thanks, Hitdice and thejeff!

I like "action/adventure-ey." What I found boring about the Spellsong Cycle was that Modesitt spent a lot more words worldbuilding than he did moving the plot along or giving new insights into the characters. I found his lengthy descriptions of meals and landscapes annoying. He only needed to go into Anna's voracious appetite to fuel her magic once; he didn't need to describe each time she ate! Also, there were some weird shifts in tense and point of view.

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Finished reading "Zero Sum Game" by S.L Huang. It's time to delve back to the Wheel of Time for the penultimate volume, Towers of Midnight. Actually pretty excited about this one. We'll see how it holds up.

Zero Sum Game thought:
Considering just how much this book penders to my specific kind of geek, it was a pretty average read.

The ingredients are all here - a fast paced action story populated with characters that deviate enough from the cliches of the genre to be interesting - and based on and around math. And not just the predictable, low hanging fruits of the concept such as calculating bullet trajectories, but a bag of nifty tricks that have mostly to do with physics, and some nice references to some actual mathematical concepts from various fields (don't know that I've ever seen the Rieman Zeta function and a monte-carlo Markov chain mentioned in the same text before). The concept also allows for some unusual and interesting use of language, such as describing a splatter of blood with the word parabola. Look, I know you don't need to be a physics professor to be aware that all things fall like a parabola, but the added verisimilitude of the character thinking in such terms adds a lot to the book.

However, I somehow didn't enjoy the read all that much. Partly I think that is because I found the writing of the action scenes a bit lackluster, skimmed over for the benefit of other stuff. If I'm reading a book about a bunch of rag tag gun toters, I want to have well written shootouts that hopefully utilize the heroine's math abilities to distinguish themselves. Some of them do, most of them don't. That detracts from the experience.

Second, the story was not of the kind I was expecting - a lot of moral ambiguity and an ending that doesn't wrap up most plot threads, making this far from a self contained adventure. There's nothing wrong with either of those in a vacum, but they are not best suited for the format of the rest of the story.

I'm grasping at straws, here, really. My complaints don't make a ton of sense even to me. The short of it is that I found the read to be entertaining but not much more. I was never invested and didn't really feel any tension. A classic three stars out of five, if I had to rate this. Nothing specific was wrong, I just wasn't gripped.


Darwath is less action/adventure-ey than Dragonsbane. More horrory, as I said, though in a fantasy vein. There's a lot of world-building & politics, but it all serves the plot. Not a lot of extraneous description, at least by my standards.


I've read ONE Barbara Hambly book, and it was like "The Hand of Magic" or something. I had little clue what was going on in the grand scheme, as I later learned it was book 2 or 3 of a series, but I found it to be a pretty enjoyable fantasy read. I liked the characters a fair bit despite knowing little about their motivations.


I've heard that the sequel(s) to Dragonsbane get very bleak; I read Dragonsbane a number of years ago, and I'm curious how the story continues, but I'm not up for bleak right now. Can anyone confirm or deny?


Readerbreeder wrote:
I've heard that the sequel(s) to Dragonsbane get very bleak; I read Dragonsbane a number of years ago, and I'm curious how the story continues, but I'm not up for bleak right now. Can anyone confirm or deny?

It's very, very bleak through the second, third and fourth books (I think Dragonbane was written as a stand alone novel and Hambly just kept writing about the characters until she had a follow up trilogy) but gets to a happier place by the end.

@ Rynjin: OMG, I'd forgotten about Sun Wolf and Starhawk, thanks for reminding me. :)

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I just got a bunch of books I had ordered from the library at a bunch of different times all at once:

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence
Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

So, I'll be busy for a while....

:-D


'Players of Gor'. A distinct improvement on the last instalment, but not quite back to mid-season form for Wonder Norm.

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@Limey: are you going to read all of them?

I'm not looking forward to your upcoming work: "Gor: the annotated bibliography." Complete with index and concordance!


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Can a human withstand that?


Yes, I am going to read all of them. All the ones I have, anyway (up to volume 24?). The fact that I'm prepared to do so does probably call my humanity into question.

Scarab Sages

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Just started reading Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp. I always liked his D&D novels.

Anyway, this appears to be sort of a Palpatine/Vader buddy cop type book, except with more....evil.


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Christmas Book Presents, Part One (?)

For my mommy--
The Nightingale by Krisitn Hannah
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

For my sister--
Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford

For La Principessa--"Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer

For Mr. Comrade--
Teamster Power by Farrell Dobbs
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

For The Nigerian Princess--
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

From Mr. Comrade and the Nigerian Princess--
An antiquarian copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Less book related, Mr. Comrade also gave me a quarter ounce of a headie called "Gorilla Glue." [bubble bubble bubble]


[DJdD]Haven't made much progress in The City, alas, but she has already been rescued from the "lascivious brothel." Not much salaciousness (she gets out pretty quick) but The City is, thus far, the only fantasy novel I've ever read that discusses donkey shows.[/DJdD]

[CA]In other news, read Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy last night.[/CA]


Reading Bloodbound at the moment, still not sure how I feel about the new Tales novels being Tor. Nothing against Tor, but the larger trade paperback format doesn't fit safely and neatly in my trench coat pocket. :(

Enjoying the book itself though, ahhh dour Pharasmans, why are you so amusing?


Finally finished the Rosa Luxembourg reader and also polished off 'Dragons of Summer Flame' by Weis & Hickman. I'm not sure why there was a bellydancer on the cover behind Emo Tanis, but maybe there doesn't have to be a reason


I'm reading Raspberry Pi Users Guide by Gareth Halfacree and Eben Upton.
Recently finished Stone of Tymora by RA and Geno Salvatore

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Limeylongears wrote:
Finally finished the Rosa Luxembourg reader and also polished off 'Dragons of Summer Flame' by Weis & Hickman. I'm not sure why there was a bellydancer on the cover behind Emo Tanis, but maybe there doesn't have to be a reason

I don't know why there isn't a bellydancer on the cover of every book!


The Reformation A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch a little more than halfway through.

Finished the Devil's Chessboard : Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government a week or so ago. Highly recommend it.

Read At the Mountains of Madness HP Lovecraft before that.

Next up is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72 by Hunter S. Thompson.

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I started Barbara Hambly's The Time of the Dark. Book 1 of the Darwath trilogy. So far it is not as weird/scary as I'd expected it to be. I also had this strange notion that it would be closer to Francis Steven's style of portal fantasy than L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s. It's not... But it's hard to get that gonzo and still be publishable.

I kinda want to write some Francis Stevens fan-fiction.


Finished reading one of my Christmas presents, X's for Eyes by Laird Barron. Laird Barron's rapidly become one of my favorite horror writers.

The Venture Brothers meet Nyarlathotep is an oversimplification, but it works.


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Done with the Ardennes for the time being, have moved on to Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R..


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Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

A bit like a more-obvious-jokes and less broody gothicness take on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell. Very funny.


Cole Deschain wrote:
Finished Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962.

I remember that being really good.


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Comrade Anklebiter wrote:
Cole Deschain wrote:
Finished Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962.
I remember that being really good.

Horne's my go-to for Anglophone treatment of French history (since I am, alas, not literate in French)- except for Southeast Asia. I lean on Bernard Fall for that area.

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I'm about halfway through Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon, which is about first contact with aliens... in Lagos, Nigeria. (Characters joke about assuming it surely would happen in the US instead.) The main characters are a marine biologist, a soldier on the run from his unit, and a Ghanian rapper, who the aliens have decided to make their emissaries, but there are a lot of great supporting characters, too.

I'm really enjoying it, but caveat: some of the dialogue is in Nigerian Pidgin English. It's not too hard to get the gist (mostly English vocabulary, but the pronouns and grammar are different), but could be off-putting for some.


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Sounds like I oughtta try a Kindle sample...


Judy, I feel like I've asked you this before, but you've read the Xenogenisis trilogy by Octavia Butler, right?

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Hitdice wrote:
Judy, I feel like I've asked you this before, but you've read the Xenogenisis trilogy by Octavia Butler, right?

I have! Love her work, she never gives you easy answers.

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Just finished Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone.

Just started Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen.

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