Now I #AmReading Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

I read Between Two Fires by Christopher Beuhlman recently, and it’s really quite remarkable and wonderful. And I mean wonderful in a horror novel that freezes your blood and turns your stomach, but somehow brings you to the edge of tears at the end way. It’s especially effective if you dig medieval history, stuff about the Black Death (who doesn’t dig a little plague?) or feel any sense of interest in or any connection to the Catholic Church or Christian mythology.

The link to my review of the novel is here.

The rest of this year’s reading list, so far…

2012 BOOKS
1. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
2. Among Others, by Jo Walton
3. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester
4. Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter
5. Kat, Incorrigible (Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), by Stephanie Burgis
6. Remote, by Donn Cortez
7.The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet
8. one awesome draft novel by a dear friend
9. Property of a Lady, by Sarah Rayne
10. Hark a Vagrant by Kate Beaton
11. Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitt
12. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
13. Broken Harbour, by Tana French
14. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
15. Are you My Mother? By Alison Bechdel
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
18. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
19. On Conan Doyle or The Whole Art of Storytelling, by Michael Dirda
20. Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg
21. Between two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman
22. Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty by Catherine Bailey
23. (Reading now!) The Warlock’s Curse, by M.K. Hobson

Short Stories
“Men Who Would Drown,” by Elizabeth Fama
“Six Months, Three Days,” by Charlie Jane Anders
“Nell,” by Karen Hesse (

Faithful Place, by Tana French
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

Archers are cool now ( #amreading The Hunger Games)

The things I read after Are You My Mother? were all three The Hunger Games books, by Suzanne Collins, in rapid succession.

I can’t remember the last time I read something super-hot and popular. But Kelly and I had seen the first movie and the arena/political concept was compelling. I dug the savaging of reality TV (competition porn, as M.K.Hobson calls it) and the 1984 overtones. And I found the Katniss/Peeta cynically-motivated romance kinda cool. It’s sort of got an “Aliens made them do It“, flavor, but I mean that in a good way.

Anyway, I hoovered up all three books one week not long ago.

The further I went, the less happy I was with the whole story. I’m not saying the writing fell off or that anything big changed, just that my reader satisfaction decreased as things got darker. Sure, what happens in the first book is awful, but somehow there’s enough snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat–enough balance–that I was okay with the dystopian future and I like me some high-fiber hurt/comfort content. But as the revolution unfolds and things get worse and worse (and I’m not saying this is unrealistic in a war story, mind, just depressing) I started to disengage. Ultimately, I felt Katniss took one body-blow too many. Too much hurt, with no comfort possible. Those of you who read to the end can probably guess which loss I mean.

I thought Collins did some decent SF worldbuilding. I didn’t much care for District 13, but their existence made the revolution a more believably fair fight. And I am all about pure true love, so I was Team Peeta all the way.

A question I’ve seen raised about Katniss is whether she is a kick-butt go-getter heroine and an inspiration to the youth or if the only real choice she makes, like many a girl protagonist, is about Which Boy?

To this: prior to the novel’s initial incident, Katniss transforms herself from a starving child to a person who’s feeding her family. She makes the big decision to save Prim. Then, yes, she’s swept up in a game that’s much much larger than her. Her choices become limited… but I don’t think one can argue she doesn’t play the damned game to the best of her ability.

In the following books, there’s a lot of believable freaking out and PTSD and mourning of things lost. It was a bummer to read, but, again, I thought pretty realistic. And even as she flips out, Katniss does things–when choices are available to her, she does make them. I’d say characterizing the trio of books as one big romantic angstfest with a passive main character is a tad unfair.

The Hunger Games trio has flaws, and certainly there are plenty of times when Katniss is swept up in the flood of war, paddling just to stay afloat. But whenever she has her feet on solid ground, I would argue, she tries to work out the move that will rebound to the best advantage to herself and her beloveds.

Are You My Mother? Yes, I #amreading Alison Bechdel

Like a lot of fortyish lesbians, I’ve been reading Alison Bechdel’s stuff since I was in my twenties. Dykes to Watch Out For was, at one time, just about the only decent fictional mirror of my own life to be had in pop culture. Watching Mo, Lois, Toni, Clarice and all her other characters grow up and change, week by week–or, more often, in the annual cartoon anthologies–was an often pleasurable, always funny, and occasionally painful experience.

And, like a fair number of Bechdel’s fans, I was wowed by Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic when it came out a few years ago. Bechdel’s cartooning and her writing style lend themselves beautifully to memoir, and the book is incredibly intimate. If Dykes to Watch Out For is a mirror, this graphic novel creates the experience of actually being the super-powered fly on the wall, of seeing an intimate family drama play out, while remaining unseen. It’s powerful stuff, and the story is wholly compelling.

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama her newer memoir, is tougher going. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is about Bechdel’s father, and his suicide, and as such it’s a messy, difficult tale. But mothers and daughters are even thornier subject matter, especially since Bechdel’s mother was alive and well as she was writing it. The story here reflects that murk and difficulty very faithfully. It’s honest to such an extreme that much of it feels like TMI, and all that wriggle-in-your-seat discomfort was compounded, in my case, by the sense of having known this author for so very long, having that illusion of . . . not of being buddies, obviously, but of having a long acquaintance. (All on my side. I’ve never met her.) The light it shines on mother-daughter relationships in general means this is not a book that leaves the reader feeling easy or relaxed.

It’s an extremely good memoir and it ends remarkably well–which surprised me. But it’s a hard book to love. Or perhaps I should say, it’s hard to love without reservation. Are You My Mother? is one of those books you want to armor yourself against. All this really means is that you probably shouldn’t do that.

Read it, absorb it, take your lumps and do something frivolous afterwards–that’s my advice. Here’s the cover:

Now I #amreading Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Actually, this is another wasreading post, if one were to be picky. But it’s true that the new Tana French novel, Broken Harbour, came out this week. I have been panting to read it, and blew through it in three days. It’s another Dublin Murder Squad book, and this time the point of view character is Michael “Scorcher” Kennedy.

Scorcher is a minor character in French’s previous book, Faithful Place, but it is in this book that we get to know him, rather than just seeing him through the eyes of his frenemy, Frank the Undercover guy. The connection between the two books, as usual, is pretty minor–enough to maybe make you curious about reading Faithful Place, not enough to make you feel as though you missed anything big. The point is that after not getting it right on his last big case, Scorcher’s got his first high-profile killing in awhile, and he’s taking a rookie with him as his partner.

Like most of French’s cops, Scorcher is far too emotionally involved in his case. Like most of her mysteries, the murder he’s investigating has a link to his past, and he hasn’t told anyone, and it’s ever so subtly fucking him up.

I love French for her prose, but I noticed it less in this book. I think I liked Frank’s voice better than Scorcher’s. It’s one of those things: Frank is more likable, even though Scorcher is demonstrably a better person. Nice kid, good kid… you know what I’m saying?

What pleased me most about this book was partway through I was absolutely convinced I knew where it was going, how the pieces fit. I thought I was going to see French repeat herself in a very fundamental way. And, to my delight, I was wrong. That is pretty rare for me as a seasoned mystery reader. I have been at the armchair whodunnit racket for so long that I usually know exactly what’s coming.

I followed up this book in pretty short order with Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. That one didn’t surprise me, but it was horrifying on a level that kept me both interested and emotionally engaged. I’ll talk more about that, another time, but in the meantime I want to thank Kristine Smith for the recommendation.

What I #AmReading – Faithful Place, Tana French

Faithful Place is a third time reread for me. I picked it up a couple weeks for two reasons. First, events in the life of me had conspired to make me feel excessively picky when it came to book-reading, and it was either read something I loved or don’t read anything at all. Second, French has another novel coming out in late July. It’s another Dublin Murder Squad novel, the protagonist is Scorcher Kennedy, and it’s called Broken Harbor.

The first time I read Faithful Place it was to find out what happened to a girl named Rosie Daly. For plot, in other words, and one of the things I love about French is she sets up developments I didn’t see coming, reveals that blow my mind and make perfect sense. She plays fair.

The second time, it was just to roll around in her beautiful writing style while seeing how she’d directed my attention to and yet not too close to the important stuff.

This time, though the novel was every bit as wonderful, it held no surprises. It was a bit like wearing a beloved and attractive garment that just isn’t new anymore. It was comfortable and satisfying, but a bit of the shine had come off. But it’s got me entirely psyched for Broken Harbor; Scorcher’s a pretty minor character in the previous book, and getting reacquainted with him before embarking on the new book has heightened my excitement.

Tick tick tick, Tana. I love what you do, and a book a year is awesome, but it’s nevertheless hard not to wish you wrote even faster.

Cover here:

And, as usual,
Previously read in 2012
1. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
2. Among Others, by Jo Walton
3. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester
4. Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter
5. Kat, Incorrigible (Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), by Stephanie Burgis
6. Remote, by Donn Cortez
7.The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet
8. one awesome draft novel by a dear friend
9. Property of A Lady, by Sarah Rayne
10. Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton
11. Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitts

1. Faithful Place