Monday, May 22, 2017

What I'm Reading

I'm still sorting books -- up to the T's now, plus we have sorted and shelved the poetry, the graphic novels and (some of) the reference books.

Meanwhile, here's what I've been reading:

Jo Walton, Farthing, Ha'Penny, Half a Crown

These are three separate books, a trilogy. I found them during the great sorting, and uttered a cry of glee, since I had forgotten all about them. I think these may well be the first Jo Walton books I read, though I'm not sure about that.

They're alternative history novels, set in London (mostly), a London in which England made peace with Hitler in 1941. America never entered the war; Hitler conquers most of the Continent, and in the first novel, Farthing, Germany is still fighting Russia.

As the trilogy progresses, England (along with the rest of the world, including America) slides further and further into Right-wing fascism. A main character in all three books is a Scotland Yard Inspector (this is his job in the first book, anyway) named Peter Carmichael. Carmichael is gay, with a lover, Jack, who is posing as his valet, since in this timeline being LGBT remains very much illegal.

The other main character in each book is a woman, each time a different one. In Farthing, the woman is Lucy Kahn, the daughter of a British nobleman who has married outside her set -- married, in fact, a Jewish man. In Ha'Penny, the woman is Viola Lark, another nobleman's daughter, who has been exiled from her family for becoming an actress. Unlike Lucy, who is uneducated but intelligent and perceptive, Viola is both uneducated and something of a lout, not really interesting in anything except acting. This gets her into some trouble.

In the final book of the trilogy, Half a Crown, the woman character is in fact a young girl, the working class daughter of Carmichael's partner. Well-educated and perceptive, she too (nevertheless) runs into trouble -- because Britain had become a dangerously fascist country by this time. But she is smart and tough enough to find her way out again.

These would be good books to read at any time, given that Walton is a wonderful writer. But with the US plummeting so scarily toward fascism, they're especially good.

Omar El Akkad, American War

This one is near-future science fiction, and so plausible it's almost horror fiction.

Global warming floods the coastal cities. Congress and the President (in 2060 or so) pass a law making the use of fossil fuel illegal. Four Southern states attempt to secede over their right to burn all the gasoline and diesel they like. After a brief period of tension, a Southern terrorist / suicide bomber kills the President and starts the second American Civil war.

That's the background to the story, which is about a young girl and then a young woman, Sarat Chestnut, and her family, as she grows up a refugee and then a soldier in this America. Told from the point of view of her nephew, who survives (through her intercession) the War, this is a grim and wonderful book.

Also deeply disturbing -- El Akkad, though he's from Canada, clearly knows and understand the character of his Southern neighbors.

Very highly recommended.

Dennis Lehane, Since We Fell

Lehane is very readable. I really liked his book The Given Day, which I see from checking his bibliography on Wikipedia he has written sequels to. I should probably have read one of those instead of this.

I mean, it was fine. Interesting characters, a plot that clips along, good writing. Our main character is a woman who grew up with a horrible narcissistic mother, and then had a terrible experience in Haiti where she was sent as a reporter, and then ends up marrying this guy who seems too good to be true, who helps her get over her anxiety and panic attacks.

Of course, the guy is too good to be true. Plot twist! And then more plot twists after that. And even more! It's a lot of fun, but ultimately just snack food.

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