Bragan Reads Stuff in 2024, Pt. 1

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Bragan Reads Stuff in 2024, Pt. 1

1bragan
Jan 2, 3:04 am

Hello all! Happy New Year, and Happy new reading! This is Betty, back for the... 14th? 14th-and-a-fraction?... year in a row at Club Read. I'm hoping for lots of great reading in 2024, or at least to avoid being crushed under the ever-increasing weight of my TBR for another year. (Seriously, it now fills an entire room. One whole, actual room.) No doubt we can expect the usual eclectic mishmash here, heavy on the speculative fiction genres and non-fiction, but with a smatterings of darned near everything else.

As usual, I like to just leap into the actual reading part, so here we go: my first book of the year! Which I was kind of hoping would be the last book of last year, actually, but best-laid plans and all that. Anyway:

1. 13: The Story of the World's Most Notorious Superstition by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer



A look into superstitions, beliefs, and attitudes surrounding the number 13, including how they've changed and developed over time. It's not incredibly well-organized and in places it gets pretty repetitive. The whole book is only 200 pages, and yet I feel like it could and should have been tightened up a lot.

Still, I respect how much effort the author put into researching the topic, and I did learn some interesting stuff. I was particularly interested to read about the existence of Thirteen Clubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose members enjoyed flouting, defying, debunking, and generally having fun with superstitions. They sound like my kind of people. For my own part, I've always had a real fondness for the number 13. Partly because I dislike superstitions and am happy to champion an unfairly maligned numerical underdog (an attitude that the author also talks about a bit in the book), but also because I turned 13 on a Friday the 13th and have 13 letters in my full name. I've always said that if there was anything at all to superstitions about the number, I would never have survived to adulthood!

Rating: 3.5/5

2dchaikin
Jan 2, 7:16 am

Happy 2024, Betty. I grew up associating #13 with my sports hero, Dan Marino’s number. So I’ve always liked the number. My son’s birthday is the 13th and he will turn 18 on a Friday.

3bragan
Jan 2, 7:35 am

>2 dchaikin: Amusingly, the book did point out that people who like the number 13 generally do so because they associate it either with birthdays or sports. So maybe we're both a bit predictable there!

4dukedom_enough
Jan 2, 7:54 am

>1 bragan: Does the book have a page 13?

5baswood
Jan 2, 12:23 pm

I was also born on the 13th (April), but it was a Thursday

6LolaWalser
Jan 2, 3:54 pm

Happy new year, Betty

I turned 13 on a Friday the 13th and have 13 letters in my full name. I've always said that if there was anything at all to superstitions about the number, I would never have survived to adulthood!

Or, YOU are Voldemort. :)

7arubabookwoman
Jan 2, 5:07 pm

My middle son was born on Friday the 13th. I had been at the doctor and he said I could be induced, but then said, are you sure you want the baby to be born on a Friday the 13th? I said yes, I wasn't superstitious. Then as I was walking up the steps to the hospital, I went into labor. As the doctor said, that baby was going to be born on the 13th, whatever. It turns out that his son was also born on the 13th, just not a Friday the 13th.

8bragan
Jan 2, 7:33 pm

>4 dukedom_enough: It does, but it would have been funny if it didn't. :)

>5 baswood: I think I was born on a Tuesday, but telling people that I turned 13 on Friday the 13th is much more fun!

>6 LolaWalser: Happy New Year! And, shhh, don't give away my secret identity!

>7 arubabookwoman: It honestly staggers me that that's something a doctor would even ask you about.

9avidmom
Jan 2, 7:58 pm

My son is also a 13 baby. Whenever his birthday falls on a Friday, he watches the Friday the 13th" movie(s).

10bragan
Jan 2, 8:26 pm

>9 avidmom: A fun tradition! The book talks quite a bit about those movies. Apparently they've had a pretty big influence on the spread of Friday the 13th as a superstition worldwide, which is interesting to contemplate considering that the first one was almost named something else entirely and the connection to Friday the 13th was kind of added in belatedly.

11FlorenceArt
Jan 3, 4:46 pm

It’s neat that you turned 13 on a Friday the 13th! In France it’s supposed to be unlucky if there are 13 people at a dinner table. For some reason I thought about this not long ago and wondered if it had something to do with the last supper.

12bragan
Jan 3, 6:01 pm

>11 FlorenceArt: Oh, you've just hit on the the main point of the book, really! Apparently 13-at-a-table is the original source of the superstitions about 13, that got generalized to other stuff later (and then, at least in the US, was lost almost entirely). And it does seem to come from the idea of the last supper, despite a lot of other speculative explanations that came along about it later.

13OscarWilde87
Jan 4, 3:23 am

Hi and a happy new year!

I already like the discussion about 13. Friday the 13th is also connected to superstitions here in Germany. I will be interested in your review of the book.

14bragan
Jan 4, 6:13 am

>13 OscarWilde87: Happy New Year!

I do think that's as much of a review as you're getting, I'm afraid. It was a very short book. :)

15OscarWilde87
Jan 5, 5:55 am

>14 bragan: Oh, silly me. I looked at the cover of the book, skipped to the discussion below to read the review afterwards and then never went back to it. Whoopsie. So sorry. I do like your personal 13 connection. Coincidence? ;)

16bragan
Jan 6, 2:31 am

>15 OscarWilde87: LOL! Well, that just means that I was able to deliver on your request before you even asked for it, right? :)

17OscarWilde87
Editado: Jan 6, 3:48 am

>16 bragan: Indeed! Never had anyone respond to my requests that fast. :)

18bragan
Jan 6, 4:35 am

>17 OscarWilde87: I knew finishing 2023 with that giant book on time travel would pay off. :)

19bragan
Jan 8, 2:10 pm

2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik



Every ten years, the wizard known as the Dragon demands a girl be sent to his tower to serve him. No one likes the idea of giving up their daughters, but not only is the wizard their lord, they desperately need him to fight back against the Wood, a forest full of monsters and corrupting evil. He always picks the best and the brightest, so everyone is certain that this year he will pick Kasia... including Kasia's best friend Angieszka, until she gets picked instead, and finds herself drawn into the world of magic and the struggle against the Wood like none of the other girls before her.

I utterly adored Novik's Spinning Silver, so I was very much looking forward to reading this one. I can't say it enchanted me quite as much as that one did, and there are some elements of it that didn't work for me quite as well as others. (A sort of rapid time-skip early on, for example, that I wanted more details on, and a romance that I still don't quite know how to feel about.) It's only by comparison that it's at all wanting, though, because overall it's a good, strong, engaging fantasy novel, with a likable main character, an interesting plot, and some cool magical worldbuilding.

Rating: 4/5

20bragan
Jan 8, 3:20 pm

3. Monty Python's Big Red Book



A companion book of some sort to Monty Python's Flying Circus, published in 1971. There's a lot of familiar stuff in here: the Upper-Class Twit of the Year competition, silly walks (in the form of a series of still photos), Dinsdale and his hedgehog, etc. There are also lots of very silly ads, naughty pictures, a bunch of forewords consisting entirely of people complaining about not being invited to write the foreword... Basically lot of the kind of silliness you expect from Python. The result is random, surreal, and ridiculous. So, pretty much exactly like the experience of watching an episode of the show, only without having the actual Pythons to watch, so not quite as good.

Still. I paid 50 cents for this at my local library sale, and I got at least a dollar's worth of laughs out of it, so I'm happy.

Rating: 3.5/5

21labfs39
Jan 8, 5:01 pm

>20 bragan: Is the Big Red Book's cover being blue an allusion to Holy Grail? "What is your favorite color?"

22valkyrdeath
Jan 8, 5:28 pm

>20 bragan: That sounds very similar to the Monty Python book I got from a second hand book shop as a kid, but that one was called something like Monty Python's Brand New Bok. I loved Flying Circus and Holy Grail as a kid. The book was the same assortment of randomness. It had a very plain white dust jacket and I'd had it ages before I held it in a way that the jacket fell away at one end and saw the cover underneath was made to look as if it was a pornographic magazine. Took me a bit by surprise! Somehow I think it might not have been intended for my age group.

23bragan
Jan 8, 5:36 pm

>21 labfs39: Ha! I hadn't thought of that, but it might be.

>22 valkyrdeath: These things can be fun library sale finds! But, yes, if that one was anything like this one, it was probably really not intended for children.

24dchaikin
Jan 8, 7:37 pm

>19 bragan: my 1st thought was that she really needs Vimes.

25bragan
Jan 9, 2:20 pm

>24 dchaikin: Well, really, who doesn't need Vimes?

26AlisonY
Jan 10, 1:06 pm

>1 bragan: My parents were both born on the 13th day of different months, so I also have only positive things to say about the number!

27bragan
Jan 10, 1:32 pm

>26 AlisonY: 13 babies (and their children), unite! :)

28FlorenceArt
Jan 11, 5:42 am

>19 bragan: I thought Naomi Novik’s books were no more than OK, until A Deadly Education. I loved that book and its sequels.

29Jackie_K
Jan 11, 12:24 pm

Finally remembered to check for your thread - it's now starred so I'll no doubt pick up some BBs at some point this year from your non-fiction reads. Hope you had a good Christmas/New Year.

30bragan
Jan 11, 1:07 pm

>28 FlorenceArt: I have A Deadly Education on the TBR, and at least one person I know keeps bugging me to read it because they loved it so much.

>29 Jackie_K: Hello and welcome! I had a pretty good holiday season, and hope you have, as well!

31AnnieMod
Jan 11, 1:13 pm

>1 bragan: So one of those non-fiction books that really should have been a long magazine article instead? :)

>19 bragan: *mumble* I really should stop putting authors into "I know I like them so they can wait" category... :)

32bragan
Jan 11, 3:03 pm

>31 AnnieMod: So one of those non-fiction books that really should have been a long magazine article instead? :)

It certainly would have worked perfectly well for it, yeah. Although maybe I'd have been less likely to read it then, and it was at least interesting, so... *shrug*

I really should stop putting authors into "I know I like them so they can wait" category

Oh, god, that's exactly what I've been doing, too, isn't it? At least, it may be part of why I didn't get to this one until something poked me into doing it. (Specifically, my Santa for SantaThing this year giving me the first of her Temeraire series, immediately prompting me to go, "Oooh, great, but I really ought to read this standalone novel of hers first!")

Although in my case it's also often "I need to wait for the exact right time so I can properly appreciate this thing I expect to love," and then, of course, when does the exact right time for anything ever come?

33AnnieMod
Jan 11, 3:09 pm

>32 bragan: That's the big issue with these non-fiction books, isn't it? Too short to be a book and long articles don't have that many visible places to go (the few magazines such as New Yorker for example probably won't get them the visibility they want). So authors pad them enough to make up a whole book out of it and then I often get annoyed when I read them.

Yep. One of my goals of the year is to actually read my authors and my series and not just keep them waiting while I explore new authors and genres and styles (or keeping them for the times when I know I need something I will like). We shall see how that goes.

34bragan
Jan 11, 3:55 pm

>33 AnnieMod: This one fortunately managed not to annoy me too much even though it felt padded, but I've read plenty that really, really did. I suppose I can't blame the authors or publishers too for much wanting to put things into book form, but that doesn't change the fact that some things really just should not be. It occurs to me now that what I'd love to see is more collections/anthologies of article-length non-fiction, but maybe those don't sell all that well.

And I don't exactly have goals for this year, but one of the things that is at least sitting in the back of my mind is a desire to continue with/get to more series instead of putting them off or stalling out on them. Something I'm working on right now, in fact...

35rhian_of_oz
Jan 13, 11:19 am

>30 bragan: Adding my voice to the chorus recommending A Deadly Education.

36bragan
Jan 13, 8:05 pm

>35 rhian_of_oz: It's becoming a very loud chorus, really!

37bragan
Jan 14, 5:00 pm

4. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brian



Book 12 in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, which I've just gotten back to after a bit of a hiatus. I suppose it features Captain Jack Aubrey on a bit of a hiatus of his own, come to think of it: having lost his commission in the Royal Navy thanks to a false accusation, he has turned instead to a stint in command of a privateer-- Oh, excuse me. A letter of marque. Apparently we don't much like the p-word.

I can't say it's a favorite installment of the series. It feels, perhaps, as if having set up a shocking reversal of Jack's fortunes at the end of the previous volume, O'Brian then had to spend the length of this one just writing his way back out of it again, making it feel more like an odd little interlude than anything. And I did have an issue with it that I sometimes have with these books, in that for maybe the first third of it I frequently had no idea what was even going on. Someone would explain a complicated naval situation and end it with the equivalent of "you understand what I'm getting at here, right?" and while the person they were talking to always did, well, your humble land-lubbing reader here, not so much.

Fortunately, though, after a while either I finally got my sea-legs back, so to speak, or O'Brian started putting things more simply for me, and after that I did enjoy it more. Character-wise Jack feels very consistent, although there's nothing that feels like it adds much insight into him: basically he takes the whole matter pretty much exactly as you would expect. But there's some very nice stuff with Stephen towards the end, and one or two of O'Brian's typical moments of delightful humor. So not bad, in the end, but still not exactly a standout.

Rating: 3.5/5

38raton-liseur
Jan 17, 12:57 pm

>37 bragan: Too bad that this instalment in the series is not that good.
I've been meaning to read this series for soooo long. A few days ago, I was actually lurcking at the omnibus tome on my shelves that containts the 4 first books. Following your review (not so positive for the 12th book, but more encouraging for the previous ones), it's going up on my mental should-read-sooner-than-latter list!

39bragan
Jan 17, 1:07 pm

>38 raton-liseur: It wasn't bad, mind you. One thing it did do was remind me of some of the reasons why I do like that series, even if it wasn't actually the very best example of it. Anyway, I'm not sure this series is for everyone, and it did take me a little bit of an effort to get into it, but even with some of the books doing less for me than others, I've been glad I've been reading it.

I will say, if you do start it, give it at least until book 2, Post Captain, before you decide if it's for you or not. I was not at all sure about book 1, but if it's going to charm you at all, it'll probably happen in book 2.

40raton-liseur
Jan 17, 2:07 pm

>39 bragan: When I was in mu twenties, I was a sucker for seamen and pirate books (oops, I should not use the p-word when talking about Captain Aubrey), hence this classic being on my shelves. I hope when I'll finally get to it that I will like it.
I'll keep your advice in mind and give it some time.

41arubabookwoman
Jan 18, 9:32 am

I too have the first book in the series on my shelf, and I want to get to it, hopefully this year. I always like "sea-faring" books, both novels and nonfiction.

42labfs39
Jan 18, 11:30 am

I have the first one too, someday!

43bragan
Jan 18, 1:44 pm

>41 arubabookwoman: If you happen to have read and enjoyed the Horatio Hornblower, books I suspect you'll like these, too. I find the the action harder to follow, admittedly, but I think I like the characters even more.

>42 labfs39: It does seem to be one of those books lots of people hope to Get Around to Eventually. :)

44LolaWalser
Jan 18, 3:04 pm

It's a great series, as far as I lasted (I think I sank around Treason's Harbour? Or the next one?), and presumably longer. I remember practically inhaling the first 8-9-10... however many I got to, in maybe ten days or so, something ridiculous. (Then a move interfered.)

>40 raton-liseur:

I loved them from a kid! Verne's Un Capitaine de quinze ans was a formative book.

45bragan
Jan 18, 7:11 pm

>44 LolaWalser: It's 20 books, apparently! Which is a lot of books. They're lasting me quite a while, as I dip in and out of the series. I can't imagine reading that many of them in that short of an amount of time.

46bragan
Jan 22, 2:35 am

5. Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa



The third of Woodward's series of books about Trump, this time with co-author Robert Costa. Although this one is really half about Trump and half about Biden. It covers the campaign for the 2020 election, the events of Jan. 6, 2021 and their aftermath, and Biden's first actions in office. As with the previous volumes, there's not a whole lot in here the I feel I didn't already know about. The stuff about Jan. 6, in particular, is not especially in-depth. I did, however, very much appreciate how much the book gives us of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley's perspective on events. I remember getting more than a little desperately needed reassurance from his clear statements about where the military stood on matters, and it was satisfying to get some more background on the man and on where he was coming from.

Like the previous volumes, this does sometimes feel disjointed, perhaps even a little disorganized. But it's a pretty fast read, anyway, at least for as long as you can stomach the subject matter. (I admit, there were times when I couldn't quite face picking it up again, for reasons that had nothing to do with the writing.)

Rating: 3.5/5

47bragan
Jan 22, 6:33 am

6. Adventure Time, Vol 5 by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, & Braden Lamb



The fifth collection of comics based on the great Adventure Time cartoon series. This one features a one-shot that's basically a comic written in second person, which is a mildly cute gimmick, but not an especially memorable story. The main story, featuring a mind-controlling gum monster, is pretty darned entertaining, though, mostly because it's got some great stuff with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, including PB getting to be especially mad sciency and loudly bossing physics around.

Rating: 4/5

48dukedom_enough
Jan 22, 8:38 am

>46 bragan: There will be no Mark Milleys in Trump's second term, of course.

49bragan
Jan 22, 8:48 am

>48 dukedom_enough: I cannot even think about that sentence. It makes my stomach clench very unpleasantly.

50dchaikin
Editado: Jan 22, 1:33 pm

>46 bragan: i’m not ready for these books…

51baswood
Jan 22, 2:20 pm

Probably a good idea to Read Adventure time vol 5 after Peril

52bragan
Jan 22, 5:21 pm

>50 dchaikin: I read three of them, and I don't think I was ready for any of them. Sad thing is, I sort of forced myself to do it out of a sense that it was good citizenship to be more informed on this stuff, but I don't necessarily think it helped with that all that much.

>51 baswood: That was 100% the idea! Boy, did my brain need something happy and wholesome and fun after that.

53bragan
Jan 28, 9:57 pm

7. Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah



Set in a not-too-distant (and, distressingly, not-too-implausible-feeling) future, this novel depicts a revival of gladiatorial combat as a combination of blood sport and reality television, featuring convicted prisoners fighting to the death.

I'd previously read Adjei-Brenyah's short story collection, Friday Black, and there's a piece in there that absolutely devastated me. Just one of the most painful, most pointed, most viscerally effective pieces of angry social commentary I've ever read. This novel is trying very hard to be much the same sort of thing, and by god the anger and the pain are absolutely here. But I think that's harder to keep up at novel-length, and the extent to which this succeeds as a novel, for me, was rather more variable. There are chapters and moments that absolutely nail the horror and injustice that Adjei-Brenyah wants us to feel, and others where he makes it nauseatingly clear how ordinary people might embrace such things. But then, there were also some contrived-seeming details and some unconvincing bits of characterization that pushed me out of things a little, made my connection with what the author was trying to show me and say to me feel like more of an intellectual exercise than a horrible reality. And the footnotes pointing out just how much of what happens in the novel is already horrible reality in US prison systems sometimes hit like a punch, but sometimes just left me sort of thinking, "yes, yes, okay, I get it already."

Basically, as a cri de coeur, as an expression of righteous, passionate, and well-aimed anger, as a plea for us as humans to do better by each other, I admire this a lot. As a work of art, I find it intermittently powerful, but also somewhat flawed.

Rating: Geez, how do you even rate something this? I'm going to call it a 3.5/5, but I don't think that tells you much of anything at all.

54rv1988
Jan 28, 10:21 pm

>53 bragan: Great review of Chain Gang All Stars. I had bookmarked this last year, I'm looking forward to reading it.

55bragan
Jan 28, 11:47 pm

>54 rv1988: Despite my mixed feelings, I do think it's definitely worth reading.

56Jim53
Jan 28, 11:58 pm

>28 FlorenceArt: >30 bragan: >35 rhian_of_oz: I've definitely taken a hit on A Deadly Education. I thank you all.

57bragan
Jan 29, 12:00 am

>56 Jim53: Now I just need to take my own hint on it!

58arubabookwoman
Jan 29, 8:32 am

>53 bragan: Great review! I recently had this one out of the library, but had to send it back when the due date came and I hadn't started it. (I am trying to read fewer library books this year.) But your review has convinced me I need to check it out again.

59naman0
Jan 29, 11:38 am

Group admin has removed this message.

60RidgewayGirl
Jan 29, 12:05 pm

>53 bragan: I'm waiting for my library hold on this to come in and your review agrees with much of what I've heard about it. It may be that Adjei-Brenyah is a far better short story writer than novelist and I will continue to complain about how being good at writing short stories is no longer a talent that can support someone. Fifty years ago, there were enough publications regularly publishing short stories in their magazines and paying well, that someone could live comfortably off of a career writing short stories.

61bragan
Jan 29, 3:06 pm

>58 arubabookwoman: I'm very glad the review isn't putting people off, even if I couldn't be 100% positive about it, because I actually don't at all want to discourage anyone from reading it.

>59 naman0: So.... Not sure if this was meant to be posted elsewhere, or if it's some sort of weird spam?

>60 RidgewayGirl: Yeah, I was definitely thinking that Adjei-Brenyah might just be a better short story writer, and the two aren't necessarily at all the same kind of skill. Then again, maybe novel-writing is a skill he just needs to hone a bit, as this is his first novel, and it's already doing a lot of things right, just not all of them, IMO. And I definitely hear you on that complaint. I suspect a lot of people write so-so novels instead of fantastic short stories because that's where the money is, or even the chances of being published at all.

62labfs39
Jan 29, 5:33 pm

>61 bragan: I'm leaning to naman0 as being very weird spam. The posts are popping up everywhere, and while not obviously commercial, are... weird. Do you want me to remove the message?

63bragan
Jan 29, 5:54 pm

>62 labfs39: Based on the fact that they've only joined a few days ago and have nothing cataloged, it does seem like it. Not sure if I should actually mark it as spam or not, but if you can and want to zap it, go for it! Personally, I'm not much for positive thinking, anyway.

64dchaikin
Jan 29, 8:30 pm

>53 bragan: one I’ve been wondering about, and now in a different light. Great review

65bragan
Jan 29, 8:38 pm

>64 dchaikin: Thanks! Glad it's been of interest to people.

66bragan
Jan 29, 8:51 pm

8. Images of America: White Sands National Monument by Joseph T. Page II



A collection of black-and-white photographs taken at New Mexico's White Sands National Park (which was still White Sands National Monument when this was published in 2013), spanning the 1930s to the 2010s. Oh, and some from neighboring White Sands Missile Range, too, even though photography there is, shall we say, somewhat limited. There's also some text about the history of the park, but, as is usual for this kind of book, it's not particularly great or in-depth. The pictures are reasonably interesting, though, and at least the dunes photograph pretty well in black-and-white, even if they are much more striking in color. If you're ever at White Sands -- which I recommend! -- this is a decent souvenir to pick up at the Visitors' Center. Although probably the only way to make the cover price feel acceptable, given the number of pages, is to remind yourself that you're supporting the park by buying it.

Rating: 3.5/5

67dchaikin
Jan 29, 9:02 pm

>66 bragan: i have great memories of White Sands from…1994. I was on a geology field trip.

68bragan
Jan 30, 11:46 am

>67 dchaikin: It seems like a terrific place for a geology field trip!

Living in New Mexico, I've been many times, and I always enjoy it, especially when I get to bring people who haven't been before.

69Julie_in_the_Library
Jan 30, 12:40 pm

>60 RidgewayGirl: >61 bragan: Even novel writing doesn't pay enough to live on for most writers these days. Almost all novelists except the very, very big names - and even some of them - have some other source of income (day job, spouse's job, inheritance or other non-work income). It's a pretty common topic in writing circles, and it's been getting worse for years.

70bragan
Jan 30, 12:53 pm

>69 Julie_in_the_Library: Oh, I know. Well, I don't think it ever did, for most people, but I'm not remotely surprised if it's getting worse.

So, yeah, don't blame anyone for writing whatever will do the best for them, financially, but it's a damned shame if it means they're not following their talents or their passions. (Not that I know anything about the author's motivations in this case, I hasten to add as a disclaimer.)

71lisapeet
Jan 30, 3:25 pm

>53 bragan: Agree with you about Chain Gang All-Stars. I felt like it really packed a punch (no pun intended) but kept dipping into these oddly disaffected passages. Then again, maybe that was his writing strategy to pull back a bit from so much intensity. I appreciated what he was after with the setup, to the point where I was ready to let some of my stylistic criticisms go (also because I read it to interview him on a panel, which wasn't the place to bring any kind of attitude on my part).

72bragan
Jan 30, 3:53 pm

>71 lisapeet: I think there were some chapters where pulling back from the intensity actually worked well (especially when we got to see things from the POV of, say, the people watching as spectators, which was its own kind of effective and uncomfortable), but moments where it felt like the main characters really should have been having more of a reaction to certain things than they did tripped me up some.

73lisapeet
Jan 30, 4:38 pm

>72 bragan: Yeah, I can definitely see that. It's been a while since I read it, so it's not super immediate in my mind. (Let's face it, yesterday isn't super-immediate in my mind...)

74kidzdoc
Jan 30, 7:30 pm

Great review of Chain-Gang All-Stars, Betty. I started reading it last year but had to return it to the library before I got very far. I also loved Friday Black.

75bragan
Jan 30, 8:33 pm

>74 kidzdoc: Despite my mixed feelings about it, I'd say it's worth another shot when you have time for it.

76bragan
Fev 2, 11:04 pm

9. I Am the Master: Legends of the Renegade Time Lord by Peter Anghelides, Mark Wright, Jacqueline Rayner, Mick Tucker, Beverly Sanford and Matthew Sweet



A collection of six stories about Doctor Who's arch-villain, the Master. Each one features a different incarnation, including the often-neglected post-Roger Delgado version, when he was all gross and crispy and mostly dead. More precisely, there are five shorter pieces and one that I think is (or at least closely approaches) novella length. The shorter ones were all readable enough, and generally they each featured at least one reasonably interesting idea: the answer to the question of where the Master gets all his amazingly lifelike masks, for instance, or a plot in which the aforementioned undead-ish version partly inspired the novel Dracula. But I can't say any of them stood out, particularly. The longer piece, on the other hand -- "The Master and Margarita" by Matthew Sweet -- was just weird. Even by Doctor Who standards. There's, like, a capitalist mushroom, and the Master appears to be dating a Silurian, and... I don't even know, honestly. I also don't know whether it's ultimately good-weird or bad-weird, but it was certainly interesting, and in its own way entertaining. (I do imagine it's parodying the novel of the same name to some extent, but I couldn't really say. That one's been sitting on my TBR shelves for years, but I still haven't gotten around to reading it, so all I can do is judge the story on its own trippy merits... if I could quite figure out how!)

Rating: 3.5/5

77BLBera
Fev 3, 11:50 am

>53 bragan: I started Chain-Gang All Stars and then stopped, afraid it would be too gory for me. But, your comments have made me rethink it, and I may give it another try.

>47 bragan: Adventure Time looks entertaining. Would it be appropriate for a middle schooler?

78bragan
Fev 3, 6:43 pm

>77 BLBera: Well, it definitely does not get any less gory. :)

Adventure Time, on the other hand, is suitable for everyone from fairly young elementary school kids on up. (The spinoff series, Fiona and Cake has a higher rating, though, and is more aimed at teens.)

79rv1988
Fev 4, 5:10 am

>76 bragan: I loved your review. "A capitalist mushroom" - even for Doctor Who, this sounds wild!

80bragan
Fev 4, 10:13 am

>79 rv1988: It was a humanoid sort of mushroom. I'm honestly not sure whether that makes it more or less weird. :)

81LolaWalser
Fev 9, 9:22 pm

>66 bragan:

That looks so gorgeous. That's my biggest regret about the time I spent in the US: didn't visit enough of the nature preserves.

>76 bragan:

Matthew Sweet does a lot of the extra features (interviews, histories...) in the Doctor Who Collection on blu-ray, I've come to like him a lot. And referencing Bulgakov--nice.

82bragan
Fev 10, 12:49 am

>81 LolaWalser: I think no matter how much you see of the US's national parks, it's never actually enough. And White Sands is unique among them, I'd say. I don't think it looks quite like anywhere else on Earth.

I keep being tempted by those Blu-Ray collections, but there are so many of them, and I have access to all the episodes streaming now, so I haven't talked myself into any of them yet.

83leamos
Fev 11, 1:45 pm

>76 bragan: I became rather enamoured of the last two characterizations of the Master, and honestly, I often rooted for Delgado over Pertwee - I may just have to read this.

>82 bragan: BBC has finally made the whole collection available, including plenty of commentaries, audio adventures, confidential and all sorts of good stuff.

84bragan
Editado: Fev 11, 2:55 pm

>83 leamos: Yeah, the most recent ones have been great! Gomez, in particular, is solidly cemented in my mind as the best version since Delgado, and that's high praise indeed. If you're interested in this collection and also a fan of Missy, you might want to check out The Missy Chronicles, too.

>84 bragan: I've seen them post some of the DVD extra stuff on YouTube (including the lovely introductions featuring past companions), and I knew they'd made classic Who stuff available online (at least in the UK? not sure?), but I hadn't realized they had commentaries up as well. Although possibly I shouldn't go looking for them, I'm likely to fall into a rabbit hole of Who and never emerge. :)

85bragan
Fev 11, 2:54 pm

10. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu



Well, I have to say, my main thought about this novel, or at least the one I can most easily articulate, boils down to "I should have known better than to expect he could pull it off twice." The Three-Body Problem, the first book in this series, left me shaking my head in wonder and repeatedly saying, "this just should not work, but somehow it does." Which was sort of delightful. That thing was so full of just absolutely insane, ridiculous, weirdly written stuff, but it held my attention, even fascinated me, and I happily let myself get swept along. Whereas this one... Well, it's over 500 pages long, and for the first 250 of those pages, the main thought running through my mind, over and over, was "this is stupid." This idea is stupid, this plot point is stupid, this character is stupid, OMG this romance is offensively stupid, and, and, and... Thankfully, in the second half, while that voice never exactly shut off and my suspension of disbelief for any of it never really came back, there was also just enough stuff that was sort of cool and interesting, or thought-provoking, or surprising in a good way to make me feel like it was worth reading. Well, until the weirdly abrupt and unsatisfying ending, that is. It's not even abrupt and unsatisfying because the real conclusion won't happen until the sequel, although there is still one more book in the series. It's genuinely wrapping up this whole giant insoluble problem we've just spend five hundred pages on in a few anticlimactic pages.

Rating: Man, this one is hard. For the first half, I was certain I was going to give it a 2.5/5 (solidly meh). The second half at least kept me engaged enough that I think I'll bump that up to 3/5 (which, in this case, can be translated as: deeply flawed, but interesting enough to be worthwhile). Although I do wonder if that's just the result of me liking the first book so much that I really don't want this one to rate any lower.

86leamos
Fev 11, 9:45 pm

>84 bragan: Thanks! I'll check it out for sure. I was in that very rabbit hole a good chunk of last year, doing a fairly full re-watch from the very first episode. It can get rather... engrossing!

87dchaikin
Fev 12, 1:32 pm

>85 bragan: well, too bad Betty. Will you pursue book 3?

88bragan
Fev 12, 2:44 pm

>87 dchaikin: Yeah, I already have it, and I also have a) at least a minor curiosity about what the heck the author is going to do with it, and b) an annoyingly completist soul, so I'm almost certainly going to read it at some point. Plus, I am sort of interested in the upcoming TV show based on the series, but I do feel like I should finish it before I watch. Even if I'm feeling a lot less eager about the prospect now.

89avaland
Fev 12, 4:21 pm

Just popping to see what you have been reading (a very nice mix!)

90bragan
Fev 12, 8:28 pm

91rv1988
Fev 12, 11:13 pm

>85 bragan: Great review, and you're spot on about the romance subplot (if we can even call it that) being 'offensively stupid'. Such a let down after the first book.

92rhian_of_oz
Fev 12, 11:51 pm

>85 bragan: Apparently I read this in January 2021 but I have zero memory of it and my review for it in my thread says "Placeholder" - not helpful past Rhian!

I have number three on my TBR shelves but I think I will need to reread the first two before tackling it. Might be a job for the second half of the year.

93bragan
Fev 13, 2:06 am

>91 rv1988: Yeah, I sort of didn't want to call it that, but couldn't think of a better description, and coming up with one would have required thinking about it more than I wanted to.

>92 rhian_of_oz: That's a lot to re-read!

94bragan
Fev 16, 3:26 am

11. Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell



The second collection of Shaun Bythell's diaries about the day-to-day running of his secondhand bookshop in Scotland. It's very much the same stuff as in Diary of a Bookseller: lots of mundane details about what books he's bought or sold interspersed with relatable complaints about customers, descriptions of quirky employees, and glimpses of life in small bookish town. I didn't find it quite as inexplicably absorbing as the first volume; possibly there's a limit to just how many times I'm happy to read an account of how many books he bought from who for how much, or a note that the online ordering system has crashed again, or whatever. But it's still somehow a much more pleasant read than it seems like it should be, and strangely restful on the brain (even none of it may have been particularly restful to Mr. Bythell).

Rating: 3.5/5

95bragan
Fev 17, 7:40 am

12. The Narrow Road Between Desires by Patrick Rothfuss



A short spinoff of Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles series centering on the character Bast, seen here trading in favors and secrets with the local children. It's a decent enough story (as well as a very nicely illustrated one), with an appropriately magical feel and an ending with its heart in the right place, although perhaps not quite as clever or moving as it felt like it wanted to be. It was revised and adapted from an earlier story, "The Lightning Tree," and while I haven't read that one to compare them, I do sort of wonder if it actually needed the 15,000 words the author says he added to it, or if it might have been better off without them.

Rating: 3.5/5

96BLBera
Fev 17, 11:05 am

>85 bragan: Second books in a trilogy? never seem to fare well... I will look for the first one. Although I don't generally read a lot of Sci-fi, it does sound interesting.

>94 bragan: I'll look for the first one. I do like reading about running a bookshop.

97bragan
Fev 17, 7:50 pm

>96 BLBera: "Interesting" is 100% the word for that one! And it is possible, by the way, to read it on its own and think of it as self-contained, if you don't care to read the second one and if you don't mind a downer ending.

How it might read for someone who isn't in the habit of reading much SF, though, I don't know, as I wouldn't exactly put it in the Science Fiction for Beginners category.

98OscarWilde87
Fev 18, 7:32 am

>94 bragan: I like your phrasing here a lot: "still somehow a much more pleasant read than it seems like it should be, and strangely restful on the brain". Sounds like something I need.

99bragan
Fev 18, 12:20 pm

>98 OscarWilde87: Sometimes that's exactly what you need, really!

100bragan
Fev 19, 7:30 pm

13. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad



Here's one of those works traditionally considered a classic that I'd managed to not read until fairly late in life. I was surprised, by the way, at how short it is: only 72 pages in the Dover Thrift edition I have.

I can see where the supposed classic status comes from. Conrad's writing is incredibly evocative. As for what it's evocative of... Well, it's certainly an interesting thing to read this here in the 21st century, on the other side of the colonial era. It is, as they say, very much Of Its Time, but in a complicated way that I find worth pondering. Conrad is writing about the absurdity, the inhumanity, and, yes, the horror of Europeans' exploitation of Africa. He's also writing that criticism very much from inside the cultural framework that produced those horrors, which means that there's an incredibly limited effort and an even more limited ability to imagine what things look like from other perspectives. It also means a preoccupation with ideas of "civilization" and "savagery" that seem, now, to be quite simplistic and wrongheaded, but which are explored here in a complex way that gives a genuinely interesting window onto the thoughts and fears surrounding these ideas at the time. And, yeah, let's not mince words: it's super racist. I mean, by the standards of the time, even the repeated insistence that the Africans in the story are completely human may have been unusual, but, y'know, one kinda wants to set the bar higher than that. In my mind, though, the value of reading this doesn't lie in the way it lets us pat ourselves on the back for being more enlightened, but in getting this rather dark and tortured glimpse into that past and into what it looked like to someone who, despite all that comparative lack of enlightenment, was still horrified by it.

I'm not sure if I've expressed any of that very well. I also feel like I ought to have a lot more intelligent things to say about the story and the writing, and especially about the character of Mr. Kurtz. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the character of Mr. Kurtz. He's not exactly what I was expecting from what I'd osmosed about this piece of writing, either. If nothing else, I was expecting there to be... more of him.

Rating: I'm going to call this 4/5, for the writing, and for how worthwhile it is from a cultural and historical perspective, but, y'know, take that with all the appropriate caveats.

101labfs39
Fev 19, 10:37 pm

>100 bragan: Great review of a book that must be very hard to review. A sticky wicket for sure.

102bragan
Fev 19, 11:11 pm

>101 labfs39: So hard! Thanks. :)

103kjuliff
Fev 20, 11:08 am

>100 bragan: I liked your review. I haven’t read HoD either. Your view has prompted me …

104bragan
Fev 20, 1:52 pm

>103 kjuliff: It is weird and, let's say, dated, but it's interesting, has some really good writing, and is short. :)

105dchaikin
Fev 20, 7:45 pm

Nice to see your take. I can’t disagree with anything there. You don’t, however, sound ready to follow with Apocalypse Now or King Leopold’s Ghost.

106bragan
Fev 20, 9:14 pm

>105 dchaikin: I actually have a copy of Apocalypse Now on DVD that I ended up with when Netflix went out of the business of mailing DVDs and told everybody to keep what they had, but that I never actually got around to watching it.

107dchaikin
Fev 20, 10:12 pm

Well. Assuming you have a dvd player to go with it, enjoy! 🙂

108bragan
Fev 21, 9:35 am

>107 dchaikin: I do! They'll take it from me when they pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I have far too many DVDs I've accumulated over my lifetime. :)

109dchaikin
Fev 21, 4:58 pm

Next to the VHS player? 🙂 We still have a dvd player. And there’s my son’s xbox too. (No vhs player)

110bragan
Fev 21, 7:48 pm

>109 dchaikin: I finally threw my VHS player out a few years ago. :)

111baswood
Fev 22, 4:56 pm

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Heart of Darkness and the way you tackled the racism that could prevent modern readers from venturing there.

112bragan
Fev 22, 5:12 pm

>111 baswood: Thanks! I never blame anyone for not wanting to deal with that stuff in their reading, but in this case I really did find the experience of reading it... I almost said "enlightening," but that feels like a really weird pun, somehow. :) Anyway, it was very much Of Historical Interest, if you want to put it that way.

113bragan
Fev 24, 8:50 pm

14. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger



Jeffrey Kluger is the co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon (later renamed Apollo 13, after the movie based on it came out). Here, he returns to cover Lovell's previous mission, Apollo 8. It's a mission that lacks some of the cinematic drama of 13, but it's one that was thrilling in its own right, a remarkable achievement full of historic firsts: the first crewed mission to the moon, our first look at the far side of the moon, humans' first time orbiting another body in space, and the first time anyone was able to see the entire Earth as a tiny blue marble hanging in the darkness and, not incidentally, to snap its picture and bring that image home for the rest of us.

This is a very readable account of the mission, and one that captures some of that thrill... or at least, it did for me, but I am admittedly an easy sell on this stuff. It is perhaps not quite as detailed as one might expect for a book devoted solely to this one mission, but in fact, it covers a lot more ground than just Apollo 8 itself, which doesn't begin until maybe a third of the way through the book, after a thorough biography of mission commander Frank Borman and a discussion of the most relevant of the Gemini and the previous Apollo missions. I'd also say there's considerably more emphasis on the people than on the hardware, keeping things relatively light on the technical details, although when it does come up, all of the scientific and technical stuff is certainly explained clearly enough.

If you're interested in reading about the Apollo program in general, I always recommend Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon first and foremost, and I very much recommend Lost Moon, as well. But it's nice to see the first of the moon shots getting some love, and I'd say even those with even a casual interest in the subject could do much worse than to pick this one up.

Rating: 4/5

114labfs39
Ontem, 9:25 am

>113 bragan: I've been learning astronomy this year alongside my nieces, and although it's been at their level, it's still interesting. For instance, Friday at the planetarium, I learned that Saturn's rings are only 30-300 feet deep, despite being over 175,000 miles wide! Thirty feet, imagine. Anywho, we've also read a few juvenile biographies of astronauts. A Man on the Moon might be a nice segue for me. I'll look for it.

115bragan
Ontem, 10:08 am

>114 labfs39: That sounds awesome! I think more kids should learn astronomy and read astronaut biographies. (Did they read Leland Melvin's? I know he has a version of his autobiography for kids.)

I recommend A Man on the Moon to anyone interested in Apollo at all. It's my favorite book on the subject I've read, and I've read... well, probably too many, if I'm honest. :)

116labfs39
Ontem, 11:20 am

>115 bragan: We haven't read that one, but we did read Leland Melvin by J. P. Miller, as well as these others on astronauts (as I know you have to know, wink):

Space Traveler Sally Brown by Ximena Hastings
I am Neil Armstrong by Brian Meltzer
Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Astronauts by Alicia Klepeis
Astronaut Training by Aneta Cruz
If I Were an Astronaut by Eric Mark Braun (videobook from space!)
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
The Astronaut with a Song for the Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa by Julia Finley Mosca
My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly
Buzz Aldrin: Pioneer Moon Explorer by Jessie Alkire
Mousetronaut by Mark E. Kelly
Who Was Neil Armstrong? by Roberta Edwards
Living in Space by Katie Daynes
50 Animals that Have Been to Space by Jennifer Read

I was able to request a copy of the Chaikin book through ILL.

117kjuliff
Ontem, 11:28 am

>114 labfs39: I haven’t read any of his books, but have been watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s YouTube videos which give me all the information on space and quantum physics that my mind can take.

118bragan
Ontem, 12:31 pm

>116 labfs39: Heh, I was curious, thank you! That looks like a fun list. Glad you're able to get the Chaikin book, and I hope you like it as much as I did!

>117 kjuliff: Tyson is pretty great about presenting that stuff for the general public.

119kjuliff
Ontem, 2:48 pm

>118 bragan: I am like his fall-guy with my questions. I’m so uneducated in physics.

120jjmcgaffey
Ontem, 3:30 pm

>114 labfs39: I went looking for Apollo 8 and discovered that Kluger wrote a children's version as well - To the Moon! (I had to find the work number to get that to show up). I don't know what level it is (yet - I got it from the library, along with Apollo 8). Your nieces might be interested.

Shotgun book bullet! Two Klugers and a Chaikin so far...

121labfs39
Ontem, 4:26 pm

>120 jjmcgaffey: Thanks, Jennifer, I'll add it to the list to check out.

122bragan
Ontem, 4:45 pm

>119 kjuliff: Well, that's precisely what people like him are for! If everyone were educated in physics, we wouldn't need him. :)

>120 jjmcgaffey: Ah, nice, I hadn't realized he had a kid's book. I also hadn't realized he had a novel -- it's set on the international space station -- until I randomly happened across it in an online book catalog just a couple of hours ago, entirely by coincidence. Of course I ordered it. I mean, it's clearly fate.

So, space Book Bullets for everyone today, I guess!