Monday, October 02, 2023

What I'm Reading Now

Pretty much just Barbara Hambly, though I am also listening to audio books while I go to sleep and while I'm at the gym.

Barbara Hambly, The Emancipator's Wife

This is an historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln, and therefore a bit about Lincoln himself, and the events leading up to the Civil War, as well as some about the war itself.  Most of what was in the novel I did not know, so it was like reading an actual novel for me, rather than an historical novel. I knew the stuff everyone knows about Lincoln, but not that Mary Todd Lincoln saw three of her four children die, all of diseases we can quite easily cure today, and that it left her a little insane with grief. Though this novel makes the case that she was bipolar even before those events.

Well-written, this one sucked me in. I read almost nothing else for three days -- it's about five hundred pages long, but also I read it slowly, fascinated by the world Hambly gives us. Impressive novel.

Barbara Hambly, Homeland. 

An epistolary novel of the American Civil War, letters (some sent, most not) between a woman in Kentucky and one in Maine, who were friends before the war and remained friends throughout. This is as good the Lincoln novel, but also very grim in spots. The picture Hambly gives here of what life is like for civilians during the war is probably the best I have ever seen. Why isn't this woman better known as a writer? An upsetting but stellar book.

Barbara Hambly,  A Free Man of Color and Fever Season

These are mysteries in Hambly's Benjamin Javier series, about a free black man who is a musician and a surgeon in New Orleans in the early 19th century.  These are not as good as The Emancipator's Wife or Homeland, but I enjoyed them. Like the novel about Lincoln, they're absorbing and a bit grim. There are like a dozen of these, so that's my reading sorted for awhile.

I understand Hambly has written some science fiction, but my library mostly has only her historical and mystery novels. There's one Star Trek tie-in, and one fantasy novel, which I have put on hold. The library also has e-books, which I don't usually check out because the system is so clunky, but I might have a look.

I have started a couple other novels, including one that showed real promise, The Centre, by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, about a mysterious language school, where people can become mother-tongue fluent in a language in ten days. The first third of this very slim book was excellent, and then the next third was so odd and boring I finally just quit reading. I don't know what went wrong. It's almost like Siddiqi was trying to convince us that her main character was unreliable, or shallow, and we shouldn't like her as much as we had so far. Which, okay, but what did that have to do with the mystical magical language school, which is what the book said it was going to be about? 

I don't know. I may give it another shot one of these days. Maybe the last third redeemed it.


nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm glad you're enjoying her!

Back in the 90s, she was very much thought of in the same bucket as Martha Wells-- Spec fic without implicit misogyny that wasn't just retreads of Dungeons and Dragons. She'd also been in that era's wave of vampire books, though not as famous as Ann Rice (also not as misogynistic...)

One of my college friends whose mom was in the LA nerd scene said Hambly stopped Spec Fic for a while after being stalked, though I don't know if that's true or not.

Wikipedia says she also wrote for kids shows including She-Ra in the 80s(!)

nicoleandmaggie said...

UC Riverside has this:

How cool is that? Does your university archives have that for you? They totally should.

delagar said...

That is very cool!