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What I’ve Been Reading – Pneumonia Edition

For those of you who have yet to experience the delights of pneumonia, never fear–I’ve done it for you.  Cross it off the list of ailments you’d like to contract.  It’s not fun.  It did give me about two weeks of reading time, however, while I thrashed and coughed in bed, wondering where it all went wrong.

So here’s an updated reading list.  Hopefully I can steer you towards something new that you’ll love:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

It’s hard for me to believe, but Wolf Hall is better than its hype.  And by the time I picked it up, it had two years of wild-eyed, breathless hype behind it.  It deserves it all and then some.

It’s the story of Thomas Cromwell, an all-purpose Mr. Fix-It during the era when Henry VIII was scheming to get his hands on Anne Boleyn.  It’s a history lesson without feeling like you’re reading a history textbook.  If you enjoyed anything Machiavelli wrote, I think you’ll get a kick out of Cromwell, a resourceful man who gets things done.  Unpleasant, tricky things. The followup, Bring Up The Bodies, is just as good.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon, having lost his techie job in the recession, walks into a bookstore and suddenly finds himself with a job.  However…the bookstore is Not What It Seems!  The owner, Mr. Penumbra, just might be caught up in a secret society.  This book is part love letter to technology (Google in particular), affectionate ode to hipster culture (some will argue with me, but I’m sticking with it), and an investigation on how books and technology will merge in the not-too-distant future.

Most of the complaints I hear about this book didn’t bother me in the slightest.  You’ll know within five pages if you want to continue.

Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Another merging of technology and the Old Ways (in this case the traditions of an authoritarian Middle Eastern state without a name).  Alif is a hacker.  People hire him to hide them from the government’s cyber-censors online while they traffic in web activities that could them in trouble.

Without telling you how or why, I’ll say that Alif falls in with someone named Vikram the Vampire, who turns out to be one of the jinn (kind of like a genie, but not the obnoxious Aladdin kind). Vikram is dangerous, but Alif will need his help–I’m not going to give the particulars of that either.  This book reminded me in many ways of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series.  Fans of the Arabian Nights stories will find much to love here.

The Black Count: Glory, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

If you’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, or The Man In The Iron Mask, you’ve read about some truly larger-than-life characters. Turns out, the father of Alexandre Dumas was the basis for his son’s epic novels.

If you’re a fan of Edmond Dantes, you’ll love the story of the man he was based on.  It’s hard to imagine, but the story of Dumas’s father (a contemporary of Napoleon) is even bigger, more swashbuckling, and is all the more intriguing because he was a black man in a world dominated by whites.  His rise to fame was improbable. Everything that came afterwards sounds flat-out impossible, but this meticulously researched book made a believer out of me.

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Bloody, crass, funny, and long, this trilogy remains my favorite fantasy series after Tolkien.  I needed something light.  This was it.  Read my review of the trilogy here.  I’d forgotten how much I loved these.  It’s enough to make a man change his name to The Bloody Nine.

Assorted French stuff

I read Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Around The World in 80 Days on my Kindle, in French.  They’re right at my level.  If you’re trying to learn a language, reading in it is a huge help.

That’s it for now.  If I come down with the mumps, measles, and malaria this afternoon, I’ll have another lengthy update on books soon.






Comments on this entry are closed.

  • spencer January 22, 2013, 10:59 am

    Kudos for the casual use of swashbuckling. Also, you’ve added some to my list.

    • Josh Hanagarne January 22, 2013, 11:44 am

      You’re going to love the Black Count. Sooooooo good.

  • Jodi Kaplan January 23, 2013, 3:37 pm

    Ooooh, swashbuckling! My library has Penumbra, but they won’t let anyone have it (doesn’t circulate). Sob!

    And, without seeing this, I was just looking at First Law last night.

    Feel better!!!

    • Josh Hanagarne January 23, 2013, 4:56 pm

      What? Do you have many books there that don’t circulate?

  • Chris B January 24, 2013, 1:36 pm

    Mr Penumbra’s is one of those books that puts me in a slightly weird place. I absolutely LOVED it when I was reading it, am very glad I read it … and I have NO desire to read it again.

    But, yes, it is an intriguing, well-written, kinda fun book and I would certainly recommend it. Some of the writing – like the initial physical description of the bookstore – just soars (no pun intended if you have read it already). And I think that’s within the first 5 pages you mentioned, so yeah, what he said.

    • Josh Hanagarne January 24, 2013, 2:04 pm

      I can’t imagine ever reading it again. I think we’re in the same place on this one.