Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Books Read in 2018


I didn’t make it to 52 books this year, not even close.  I’m not sure what to say other than my commute got shorter and I was busier than ever.  Nevertheless, here’s what I read in 2018.

Radio Waves:  Poems Celebrating the Wireless—ed. Seán Street

This is an amusing and interesting collection (all poets necessarily writing after the invention of the radio, quite an oddity in poetry anthologies).  Sometimes it feels a little narrow—so many poems about The Shipping Forecast!—but the addition of some Brecht and song lyrics doesn’t go amiss.  Not many younger poets, though.

Autumn – Ali Smith

After a slow and rather baffling start, I found Autumn had a great flow.  It has a lot to say about the current state of Britain in a rather understated, slightly mystified, humorous way.  The more I learned about the main characters, Elisabeth and Daniel, the more I liked them, and I ached for the unrequited romance at the heart of the tale.  I wasn’t sure how well Christine Keeler and Pauline Boty fitted in, but Elisabeth’s mother’s character was deftly and accurately filled in.  It both comforted me about Brexit and made me sigh. 

Peace of Mind – Thich Nhat Hanh

Hanh’s openness, humor, and genuinely welcoming writerly voice is convincing.  I tried to practice some of the Buddhist principles he outlines, with variable success, but I do feel calmer just reading his steady, easy-to-read prose. 

Pope Francis:  Untying the Knots – Paul Vallely

I was a bit disappointed by this book at first, as Vallely’s writing is not of the calibre of the sensitive, incisive, and historically-minded John Thavis.  It’s also evident that this book was rushed into production and as such has some quite appalling typos.  It’s off to a clunky start, but the Afterword is an excellent distillation of the entire argument of the book, charting a young Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whose mission and state of being were completely transformed after his actions during Argentina’s Dirty War so that when he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had embraced humility as an intellectual stance and the commitment to the poor (and Liberation Theology) that would ultimately make him Pope Francis.

How to Fight – Thic Nhat Hanh

I was expecting a book at least as thick as Fear or Peace of Mind; this was a tiny book. It fit in well with the previous books without being unduly repetitive.

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this was a very well-written book that beautifully telescoped one summer and how it feels to be a teenager and in love.  Not least in love with an older man in the early 1980s in a permissive household; nevertheless, Elio and Oliver’s romance is doomed from the start due to the fact they are Jewish and traditional.  The book is extremely sensual, about as sensual as a mainstream, non-erotica book can be, and it’s a wonderful exercise in living inside someone’s head, someone who is insecure, full of doubt, full of lust, and, although talented, very, very young, indeed.  I was concerned how the movie would dramatize the many interior monologues, and while it succeeded quite well in this, I was disappointed at where it left off—to me, the most poignant part of the book was later in Elio and Oliver’s lives when they met up again, still feeling much the same way for each other that they had in Italy. 

On Heaven and Earth:  Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the 21st Century – Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka

I found this book very interesting indeed, a project convened long before Bergoglio became Pope.  I learned a lot about (reasonably conservative) Judaism as well as Bergoglio’s interesting take on Catholicism (both of them falling down, in my opinion, in terms of sexist attitudes), but otherwise very open to dialogue. 

The How of Happiness:  A Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want – Sonja Lyubomirsky

I’m very glad that I read this book; I have been interested in the “how” of happiness since at least when I read Stumbling on Happiness some ten years ago.  It’s a well-written, humorous, honestly helpful take on happiness from a scientific perspective.  Stumbling on Happiness was fascinating and provided scientific insights, but it was also, ultimately, somewhat less positive than The How of Happiness and offered fewer practical suggestions for actually increasing your day-to-day happiness.  I scoffed at reading “self-help” books in my youth, and while I guess this might be considered an upscale version of a self-help book, I think what attracts me to its message is how deeply rooted in empirical science it is. 

The Mythology of Richard III – John Ashdown-Hill

This book was . . . something else.  Ashdown-Hill is extraordinarily bitter about the way the world has treated Richard III, and while his quarrel with the University of Leicester, the Anglican Church of Leicester, and Leicester Council seems to be justified, in part, he does himself no favors by harping on it in an excessive fashion.  Indeed, his writing would be much more effective if he could state his point succinctly and move on.  And he has many fascinating points!  He systematically dismantles all the myths and stories about Richard III, from significant to frivolous (is it such a bad thing that Richard III may or may not have ridden a horse called White Surrey?  It can hardly make much difference).  I do agree with Ashdown-Hill that Richard III most likely would have been appalled to have been buried in a cathedral that isn’t Catholic, and I enjoyed that his take on Richard and Anne left in the possibility of love (Josephine Wilkinson saw their marriage as entirely pragmatic). 

How to Stay Sane – Philippa Perry

An excellent and encouraging little book. 

Appetite for America:  Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West—One Meal at a Time – Stephen Fried

This was a fantastic history book which told a huge historical saga in a very accessible and engaging way. After finishing it and observing the story from Fred Harvey’s emigration to the US in the 1850s to the disintegration of the franchise by the 1970s, I was convinced the Harvey story should be told all the way through, rather than just in the Hollywood treatment given to it in the famous 1940s film.  Fried is an excellent historian, making his subjects both human and real as well as linking them to movements in greater society.  I am certain I will re-read this book. 

Star Wars: Phasma - Delilah S. Dawson

I found this to be surprisingly entertaining and quite well-written, generally.  I can’t say, of all the characters in Star Wars, that I was really yearning to know more about Phasma, but I’ve always been intrigued to know more about the day-to-day life of Stormtroopers.  While these were First Order Stormtroopers rather than the classic variety, it was still interesting.  I liked the structure of the book, and how there was no redemption for Phasma—but there was some for Cardinal. 

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion – Jenny T Colgan

I thought this was going to be an enjoyable bit of fluff, but it meant more to me than that:  it revived one of my favorite eras of Doctor Who, elevating a pleasant but flawed Christmas Special into something with more depth (as all good Targets should).

Adolf Hitler and My Part in His Downfall – Spike Milligan

Milligan was—perhaps not surprisingly, but disappointingly—not as a PC as the recent Radio 4 drama made him out to be, if this book is anything to go by.  While the book took awhile to get going for me, I did find many laugh-out-loud funny moments.  The absurdity of war made a deep impression upon Milligan, and this sense of absurdity informs all of his work, including this madcap history of his first years in the war.  It ends as he arrives in North Africa.

The Life Project – Helen Pearson

Helen Pearson is an excellent writer—she makes complex concepts easy to understand.  There is never a sense of her intruding as an author or puffing herself up to eclipse the material.  It must have taken a lot of stamina to cover such a large subject as the British birth cohorts (which have a history from 1946 to this day), but Pearson evidently fell under their spell, like so many other people, scientists, laymen, and the babies themselves (the 1946 cohort is still beating all others for sheer loyalty, but they are in the 70s now).  Having worked in a research group that used some of the cohort studies and things of their ilk, I found the book fascinating—what had perhaps appeared to me opaque in my previous admin work now made a lot of sense.

Strandloper – Alan Garner

I can’t say I’ve read a book like Strandloper before.  I have to say, I found it very strange.  The class war is at the heart of this story, which sees mystic bricklayer William Buckland wrongly transported to Australia for no crime at all (other than wanting to read and write).  He then becomes an Aborigine for thirty years before returning to England, though what he finds there is bittersweet.  The colloquial language was often impenetrable, and the sections set in Aboriginal Australia I found almost incomprehensible.  But maybe that’s a sign of my parochial, Americentric mind.  I did feel quite moved by the ending and felt the story earned a degree of elegance by its conclusion. 

Vita Brevis – Ruth Downie

I’ve evidently skipped a book or two, but ancient Roman soldier-doctor Ruso and his wife Tilla of the Brigantes have moved to Rome after following Ruso’s patron Accius.  They now have an adopted daughter, Mara, and are living in a tenement slum as Ruso has not found the work he was expecting to get as Accius’ attendant.  Embroiled in Accius’ wooing exploits puts him in the center of an illegal dissection ring and gets him nearly poisoned.  I love Ruso, Tilla, and this whole series, because of the wonderful characters, the effortless historical settings, and the plots are pretty good, too.  By the book’s end, Ruso and Tilla have decided to move to Gaul with his family or possibly back to Britannia. 

The Etymologicon:  A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language – Mark Forsyth

I can imagine how Mark Forsyth would be very annoying to run into in person, if his conversation is anything like this book (I mean, simply because being a know-it-all is annoying).  However, the book was very interesting and an easy, enjoyable read (though I did wonder why he referred to Boudicca as Boadicea given he was talking all about the lack of words in English that come from Celtic, which is mysteriously small).  I’m a reasonably well-informed person on the English language, with a vocabulary much more florid and erudite that your average man-on-the-street, but I still learned a great deal from the book.  I suspect it also makes a pretty good blog.

The Convert – Elizabeth Robins

This was a very serendipitous read.  It reminded me a lot of Robins’ contemporary, May Sinclair, and while Sinclair was never really an out-and-out suffragette, she was a keen believer in gender equality.  The book feels very of its time, but I enjoyed its main character, Vida, who reminded me a bit of Irene Forsyte, and the way she had been seduced as a young woman by a man now entering the highest corridors of power.  It is also an invaluable book for its from-life scenes of hectoring and speeches made by suffragettes at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square; these are easily the most exciting scenes, and it is based on these scenes that I’d like to adapt this book for radio.

Dr James Barry:  A Woman Ahead of Her Time – Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield

I think I had been vaguely conscious of Dr James Barry for a long time, but in my young brain I think I got her a little mixed up with women who masqueraded as men in the American Civil War (because Barry died during that time period).  Instead, her life as a man began in the 1800s when she began studying medicine in Edinburgh.  I think the reason Dr Barry is also not as well-known as she should be is because there has been a lot of gaps and misinformation about her life which this book now (2016) corrects.  Her life is a mass of contradictions.  Clearly, Margaret Bulkley from Cork, a niece of once-famous painter James Barry, was ambitious and eager to leave the poverty that her father and brother had dragged the family into.  To do so, however, she had to live an uncomfortable and dangerous lie for her entire life.  She never had a chance to show her feminine side, to have fulfilling romantic relationships (so far as we know, though there is strong evidence she was in love with Lord Charles Somerset and the feelings may have been reciprocated) or children, and she cut off complete contact with her mother so that no one could discover her secret.  A visionary doctor and a greater reformer with compassion for the poor, Barry also had an explosive temper that rubbed officialdom all the wrong ways.  Yet, during her life, she got to live in far-flung places that almost no woman of her era would have had the opportunity to visit. I was a bit annoyed at the beginning of the book by the speculation the authors indulged in, although as the book proceeded and we were on firmer documentary ground, I was appreciative of the work that went into the book.  Usually I get very sad by the end of biographies when the person’s life ends, but the saddest moment of Barry’s life was when she was invalided out of the service in Canada shortly after she was due to receive her pension.  Without her work, her life was more or less over. 

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

I was, at first, disappointed to realize this was a novel, not a memoir.  Nevertheless, I found it unputdownable and quite different from the (ever-so-slightly sanitized) movie.  The voices of the protagonists were captured beautifully, with great verve, recreating in impressive verisimilitude Mississippi of the early 1960s. 

Storytelling Industries:  Narrative Production in the 21st Century—Anthony Smith

I managed to read books by both of my theory colleagues at my university and took a lot away from both of them.  I admired the conciseness of this book as well as its breadth of examples, from comics, film, television, and games.

Understanding Comics:  The Invisible Art—Scott McCloud

This study was a revelation, and you wonder what took it so long to get written.  It may not be flawless (as later criticism has revealed), but it’s a great, provocative read. 

Educated—Tara Westover

I was extremely impressed and gripped by this harrowing memoir.  It’s just as well that Westover notes at the beginning that her text is not meant to comment negatively or positively on Mormonism.  Her background is childhood off the grid with deluded, demented Mormon extremists; yet, the poor woman still loves her parents, even though she is angry with them, and of course devastated that they have cut her off after she ended the cycle of violence with one of her brothers.   Fortunately, she had the example of one of her other brothers, who helped her see that there was a way out of what she had grown up her entire life believing.  First it was college at Brigham Young University; eventually, it was England and her PhD.  It’s wonderfully written and never pretentious. 

Medieval Women:  A Social History of Women in England 450-1500—Henrietta Leyser

This was a little slow-going sometimes, but mostly it was very interesting, full of all kinds of facts about medieval English women that I didn’t know.  It was well-organized and well-written, with a generally lively voice that was never flippant.

The Incredulity of Father Brown—G.K. Chesterton

This had such a slow start, I was beginning to wonder if it had been a good gamble after all.  I found I much more enjoyed the stories with a real Gothic flavor, particularly “The Curse of the Golden Cross” and “The Doom of the Darnaways,” even if Father Brown exploded all the dark romance and hauntings as mere corporeal murders (you have to wonder at Chesterton’s skill for blood-and-daggers, even if he is debunking all the fun stuff).  The rest of it is “ooh look how modern we are in 1926” and mostly set in America.  While I won’t deny it’s shrewdly written satire of Americans, by my own caveat, I didn’t really come to Father Brown for satire on Americans, I came for locked room mysteries set in Middle England.  So, as I say, a rather uneven bunch of stories, but quite ingenious. 

The Sisters Brothers—Patrick DeWitt

I had been intrigued by this book ever since it was published (mainly because of the striking cover).  Now, having finished it, I have to confess I don’t quite know why it was nominated for the Booker Prize.  I enjoyed it, I found it entertaining (if depressing) as I read it, but it felt completely mundane, despite the somewhat fantastic turn of events.  Eli and Charlie Sisters are assassins in the West of the 1850s, who are maimed and reduced to penury all for teaming up with one of their targets to try to pan gold by using an alchemical substance.  I’m sure it probably has some great allegorical meaning, but it wasn’t obvious to me.

Broken Homes—Ben Aaronovitch

I don’t think the Peter Grant mysteries will ever top the debut novel, Rivers of London.  I was looking forward to one of the novels set, this time, sauf’ of the river in Elephant and Castle, but I didn’t feel like it gave you a real sense of what that actually means.  It was mainly set in a condemned estate, much like there is/was at the heart of Elephant and Castle, but much of it made little sense to me, and I found the first half to be rather doddering.  Nevertheless, in the second half it really got going, with some exciting twists and turns and the set pieces that have characterized every volume in the series. 

The Halloween Mask and Other Strange Tales—David Stuart Davies

It beggars belief that he arranged the weakest stories as his first four stories—especially as they ALL HAVE THE SAME TWIST.  I was really about to give up reading, but I’m glad I stuck with it, as there were actually several well-written stories, such as “Sherlock Holmes and the Ghost of Christmas Past,” “I Know What You Did,” “The Stigmata Skull,” and “The Oldest Ghost-Story Writer in the Land.”  The worst stories sounded just like fan fic. 

The Changing Spaces of Television Acting—Richard Hewett

While in many ways this book was utterly different from Storytelling Industries, it was an interesting, detailed analysis of British TV case studies across time, from the live, technically primitive productions of the 1950s to the 2000s, when rehearsal time has become almost a thing of the past.  Most impressive are Richard’s in depth analyses of performance styles and changes in acceptable standards of these styles.

The Exorcist—William Peter Blatty

This book seemed very dated, and yet the last third was rather exciting.  It was difficult to find much depth in the characters. 

The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories—Ed. Peter Haining

This was an excellent collection with considerable range.  I found very little cross over of stories that I had read before, though perhaps inevitably it began with stories that are very Edwardian in flavor, even if they are considered classics. 

They Came for Freedom:  The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims—Jay Milbrandt

I was quite skeptical as I began this book, as the author comes from a law background and is not a professional historian.  I also found his bibliography slightly troubling, as he relied somewhat more extensively on online sources than I would have thought advisable for a serious (if popular) history book.  Nevertheless, he did provide useful footnotes to where he made self-admitted leaps into subjectivity and conducted some primary research as well.  Indeed, the idea behind the book—an attempt to show that the founders of what became the United States of America were escaping from religious intolerance and indeed what an absolute risk they took at every step in their process from living marginalized in England and Holland to the total unknown on a distant shore—carries through beautifully.  In fact, having read it (it’s somewhat short), I would recommend this book to anyone.  It provides an honest tally of why the Pilgrims came to the east coast of North America to settle and what they had to go through in order to make their community a success.

The Pickwick Papers—Charles Dickens

I began this book late in 2017 and then was unable to pick it up again until late in 2018.  Nevertheless, I did finish it at last.  While, at over 700 pages, it is not a book to be attempted lightly, it is an extremely rewarding read.  You cannot help but be bowled over at Dickens’ youthful exuberance, providing comedic, picaresque incidents for his wonderful characters.  Certainly, you could argue the sprawling, serialized story lacks the cohesion and maturity of his later works, but, for crying out loud, he was still in his early 20s when it was written.  Therefore, I think it’s hats off to Dickens for one of his funniest ever works.  Also, you can see many seeds for later works sown in Pickwick.   

Little Women—Louisa May Alcott

I mistakenly only read the first novel in the series that comprises “Little Women,” which continues on into Good Wives and Little Men.  I found it very charming, with beautifully drawn characters and a strong sense of the seasonality of American life mid-19th century.  The morality is a little bit more difficult to absorb, bald as it is, though in its original function as a novel for young women to read, I’m sure it more than succeeded in influencing generations of selfless, compassionate, loving, yet morally upright and uncompromising girls.  I was surprised by how funny I found it. 

Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters—Paul Hawkins

I enjoyed this popular history book and cultural survey of the multitude of wintertime figures who have, to some extent, coalesced into the modern Santa Claus whom, Hawkins argues, is a bit of a palimpsest—though for how much longer he will occupy this role is a matter for speculation.  I thought I knew a lot about Santa Claus and Christmas lore, but I hadn’t appreciated how little factual evidence we have for St Nicholas himself, nor the many fascinating reminders of a savage past that are extent in figures like not only the Krampus, but the Christmas Cat and many others.  I learned a lot about the origins of Sinterklaas and figures like Christkindl.  In short, I was rather impressed by this book.  Half-baked histories of Christmas are a-dime a-dozen, but Bad Santas is ahead of the crowd.   

Wade in the Water—Tracy K. Smith

Having never before read anything by Tracy K. Smith (the Poet Laureate of the United States), I was impressed with her range—not only in subject matter, which is always politically and socially conscious, but in form.  This is an excellent collection of modern poetry. 
I read more graphic novels this year than I remembered.

Doctor Who:  Weapons of Past Destruction—by Cavan Scott—art by Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott, Anang Setyawan (Titan, the Ninth Doctor, Vol. 1)

While I can easily slip back into the world of the Ninth Doctor on TV, jumping back into the world of Captain Jack (pre-immortality) and Rose Tyler (pre-Bad Wolf) is a bit harder than I expected.  The Ninth Doctor is written consistently, though his turn-on-the-edge-of-a-knife split between goofy humor and angst seems somehow more labored in print than on screen.  There was something about the story that reminded me very much of the epic yet home-in-time-for-tea scope of The Tides of Time.  The art is very good, the likenesses of Rose in particular very faithful, though the tendency to use silhouettes becomes noticeable after awhile. 

Roller Girl—Victoria Jamieson

I really enjoyed this book and the story of Astrid Vasquez, a non-gender-conforming pre-teen who decides to take up roller derby despite being a terrible skater.  At the same time, her friendship with more typically girly-girl Nicole is failing due to the pressures of growing up.  Astrid has to learn to manage her anger, not lie to her mother, be a true friend, and accept that it takes all sorts to make a world.  That doesn’t mean she has to give up her favorite color (black) or take ballet lessons (like Nicole). It’s also very amusing that Astrid’s new friend Zoey loves musicals and Hugh Jackman.  I got very personally involved in Astrid because of her gender-nonconformity, but I felt a bit cheated because, to all intents and purposes, this is a fictional story instead of a memoir (which somehow made it feel less real to me?). 

Scalped Vol. 6 The Gnawing – by Jason Aaron, art by R.M. Guéra, Guilia Brusco

In 2018, I finally began my Scalped re-read/conclusion, after having acquired all 10 volumes in 2017.  I was as astonished as ever at the first four volumes, which were stunning in their assured approach to character and narrative.  The Gnawing is extremely violent.  I realize that may seem an oxymoronic thing to say when Scalped throughout is more violent than your worst action films.  However, I felt this volume of TP took it beyond serving the needs of the story and was just reveling in it . . . because Jason Aaron wanted to?  I appreciate the insights it gave us into Red Cloud, who I did think was fast becoming the most interesting character in Scalped (more so than Bad Horse, who as a drug addict was not very interesting).  I was impressed with the way Bad Horse managed to extricate himself from an impossible situation, showing that cleaned up he has what it takes to be a double agent (which I was starting to wonder). 

Scalped Vol. 7 Rez Blues – by Jason Aaron, art by R.M. Guéra, Danijel Zezelj, Davide Furnò, Guilia Brusco, Trish Mulvihill

Rez Blues picked up a little for me, where The Gnawing had been such a downer.  First of all, we finally got to the Shunka-is-gay storyline that I had accidentally spoilered myself on, which gave us one of the greatest cliffhangers of the whole series (and Scalped dazzles with its cliffhangers) at the end of part 1 of “A Fine Action of an Honorable and Catholic Spaniard.”  This was an interesting and clever storyline, playing with narrative, again, in a way that showed Aaron was still at the top of his game.  “Family Tradition” dropped another bombshell, bringing in Wade, Dash’s father, who had been absent from most of Scalped.  It was a bit like Miss Saigon told from a slightly different point of view.  I was harping on about wanting some legitimate female characters in Scalped, and while we didn’t really get any in Rez Blues, Carol, at last, is developing beyond a nymphomaniac drug addict.  I am hoping that Granny Poor Bear’s influence on her will help her to become an even more individualized character rather than just a poster girl for abortions.  Wade returns, further complicating everyone’s lives.  At the end of The Gnawing, Catcher had a bullet for someone, but who?

Founding Fathers Funnies – by Peter Bagge

In honor of 4th of July, I picked up this short and amusing collection by Peter Bagge, which tells (almost 100% historically accurate) tales of George Washington, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and a host of other figures (including several who are less well-known).  I was impressed with the level of historical accuracy as well as the goofy style. 

Scalped Vol. 8 You Gotta Sin to Be Saved—by Jason Aaron, art by R.M. Guéra, Jason LaTour, and Davide Furnò

I use the term “jumped the shark” advisedly, but I’m a little concerned that Scalped jumped the shark in volume 8.  Nothing about the tone or necessarily the characters changed; I just started to feel like the situations were contrived, something I’ve not felt even a hint of before.  I guess you can shrug everything Catcher has done off as “well, he’s crazy,” but that doesn’t really satisfy here.  I feel a bit like vol. 8 is treading water instead of bringing us any new story. 

Scalped Vol. 9 Knuckle Up—by Jason Aaron, art by R.M. Guéra, Igor Kordey, Tim Truman, Jill Thompson, Jordi Bernet, Denys Cowan, Dean Haspiel, Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon

Scalped Vol. 10 Trail’s End—by Jason Aaron, art by R.M. Guéra

I didn’t record my thoughts at the time on the final two volumes of Scalped, but I do remember feelings satisfied with the series’ conclusion.  

Of the 45 books I read this year, 36% were fiction, 42% were nonfiction, a paltry 4% were poetry, and 18% were graphic novels. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Books Read 2017




In 2017, I just about scraped by with my goal of 52 books read, although most of this was achieved in March and April when I was Artist in Residence and was working intensively on research-based projects.  I got three-quarters of the way into The Pickwick Papers so I hope to finish that in 2018.   

Moon Over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

The second book in the generally entertaining series that started with Rives of London.  It was a bit of a disappointment.  The hero Peter Grant was too busy having sex to be the charming, hilarious, sarcastic, individual character he was in the first book.  There wasn’t enough of Nightingale, and I didn’t at all like the ending revelation regarding Lesley (see Whispers Underground below).  That said, the plot was for the most part very intriguing and there were potent images and characters—Larry the Lark being discovered in the basement was a memorable one.  There were a few good laughs to be found here and there . . . it was not a book that would be picked up without having read the first one. 

A Grim Almanac of Georgian London – Graham Jackson and Cate Ludlow

This was a fascinating book and written with humanity and humor, despite the sometimes disgusting, sometimes saddening, sometimes maddening material.  The 18th century was rife with infanticide, (fatal) domestic abuse, temper tantrums, cruelty and starvation, not to mention its share of maniacs and sheer unfortunate accidents.  It was still, of course, the era of public executions, grave-robbing, and rather barbaric punishment that seldom fitted the crime (branding on the hand for manslaughter, death for stealing handkerchiefs).  Still, human nature has remained virtually the same.

Gothic Tales – Elizabeth Gaskell

Many of these I quite enjoyed.  “The Nurse’s Tale” is probably the scariest ghost story, though there was definitely a strong sense of the uncanny in “The Poor Clare.”  I enjoyed how “Lois the Witch” filled in between The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible.  Gaskell’s female characters are much more lifelike than their equivalents in Wilkie Collins.  I was surprised that religious evangelization played very little part; they seemed generally stories to entertain rather than edify. 

The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide – Dana LaRue

Interesting and potentially useful.

A Monstrous Commotion:  The Mysteries of Loch Ness – Gareth Williams

I have always wanted to believe in something living in Loch Ness—I am interested in cryptids, after all.  However, having been presented with all the evidence in this non-polemical book, I (painfully ) have to agree with Williams and disbelieve that anything resembling the “Loch Ness monster” exists.  Waves, optical illusions, families of otters, and perhaps sturgeons are evidently the only things that can reliably said to account for the sightings.  Most damning of all, Williams—a former believer and medical professional—argues that a newspaper man concocted the whole thing in the early 1930s, based on a few sights of “something” from St Columba on.  That doesn’t wipe away how enticing the plesiosaur idea was and is, nor the fact that Loch Ness is still a very interesting place.

Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography – Kathleen Norris

Although evidently dated now—the Internet has probably had a huge impact on the residents of the Dakotas as much as it has had for other rural people; and the author has since moved to Hawaii!—this was an important book to read before integrating, however briefly, into South Dakotan society.  I believe its observations about the emptiness of the land, the pride and parochialism of the people, the tension of extremes, and why some people really love to live there hold true to this day. 

Lakota Woman — Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes

An engrossing book; hardly a piece of great literature but important and revealing for its absolutely honest depiction of Native America in the second half of the 20th century.  In the second decade of the 21st century, you could get that from Scalped but back in 1991, Mary Crow Dog (also known as Mary Brave Bird, a Lakota Sioux) was where you went for uncomfortable truths about female AIM activists being raped, mutilated and murdered, about forced sterilization of Indian women, and “we were happy because we didn’t know we were poor” childhoods on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. The narrative high point was during the AIM siege, after which the narrative petered out slightly as the story became more about her husband, peyote priest and medicine man Leonard Crow Dog.  She wrote a second memoir of her older years which would be interesting to read.  

Tatanka-Iyotanka:  A Biography of Sitting Bull— Michael Crummett

This was brief, readable, to the point, and often remarkable; I found it fascinating that this man’s first name as a child was Slow as he was slow and steady but eventually began counting coup and gaining widespread recognition as a wise man.

Big Bat Pourier — Hila Gilbert

Like so many of the books I read in the Badlands, family history and memoir tales don’t necessarily equal great literature.  Yet they tend to tell a remarkable story, as this one did, about the very interesting Baptiste Pourier, second generation French-Canadian fur trader, trapper, “squaw man,” and denizen of the Badlands area during the second half of the 19th century.  This one was definitely a cut above the rest for its plentiful and relevant photographs and genuinely interesting details from grandchildren and contemporaries.

Reflections of the Badlands — Philip S. Hall

Although carefully edited this was not (and sometimes confusing in its chronology), this was the go-to source for general history of the Badlands, with a reasonably strong bibliography of primary sources to back it up.

Legends of the Lakota — James LaPointe

A well-written, generous, imaginative, and sometimes quite funny collection of tales in English translated from Lakota oral tradition; I found it immensely rewarding.

Scotty Philip:  The Man Who Saved the Buffalo — Wayne C. Lee

Similar to the previously-mentioned small-press family histories, this book was no riveting gamechanger.  Nevertheless, it was a solid study of a fascinating man whose origins in rural Scotland seemed very far away indeed from his eventual destiny as inheritor of Bat Pourier’s legacy in the Badlands area:  a freighter, gold-hunter, “squaw man,” Army courier, and eventual cattle baron supreme (with the added twist that his respect for the dwindling bison actually saved them from extinction).

Frontier Woman:  The Life of a Woman Homesteader on the Dakota Frontier — Walker D. Wyman 

This was a rather peculiar book, only in the sense that Grace Fairchild’s personality was a hard nut to crack. It was her relationship with her husband, “Shy” Shiloh, that seemed really difficult to fathom, as he seemed a totally incompetent ne’er-do-well (and she admitted as much), and she had to support the entire family in the unforgiving Dakota frontier.  What homesteading experience had she had?  Mainly as a schoolteacher and from her farm upbringing.  Despite the psychological questions which are never answered, it’s a book full of excellent details about real homesteading life, filled with tragedies as well as Grace’s general beating the odds.

Painting the Dakota:  Seth Eastman at Fort Snelling — Marybeth Lorbiecki

The Eastman story has all the aspects of an opera:  Seth Eastman, an ambitious West Point graduate, brings his art skills to a backwoods trading post in Minnesota.  He captures the Dakota Indians in beautifully observed watercolors, takes an Indian wife, and has a child; yet, “in the custom of the country,” he leaves the fort and his wife.  When he returns some years later, an elevated artist, he has a white wife and white children; who can tell what his first Dakota wife thought of them.  Intriguingly, his descendent was Charles Eastman, an articulate doctor proud of his Dakota heritage.  This short book was merely an introduction to all of this, heavy on the beautiful artwork, but a compelling introduction nonetheless.

Women of the West — Cathy Luchetti and Carol Olwell 

This lavishly illustrated book (including many archival photos which had never been published before) took considerable effort to get through, though its scope was admirable.  The editors’ introduction was superb, authoritative and also intriguing.  The bulk of the book was diaries from women pioneers of every possible stripe, which made a fascinating counterpoint to the many homesteader accounts I’d been reading (mainly those women were from similar socio-economic/cultural backgrounds), and to the exciting but slightly more circumscribed accounts of Chris Enss.  They included Miriam Davis Colt who joined an ill-fated vegetarian colony experiment in the 1840s; Mary Richardson who left Massachusetts for Oregon in 1838; Pauline Lyons Williamson, an independent Black single mother who moved to California in 1885; Priscilla Merriman Evans, a Welsh convert to Mormonism who arrived in Zion in the 1850s; and the extraordinary Bethenia Owens-Adair, surely one of the most bad-ass women to have ever lived.

Daughters of Dakota:  Volume II Stories from the Attic —Sally Roesch Wagner, (ed.)

In its own way, this more modest tome was just as revelatory as the bigger-budget Women of the West, as it ferreted out astonishing stories of Dakota women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  These included urban women of eastern Dakota (many of whom had very complicated love lives) and ethnic minorities such as Norwegian immigrants in Dueuel County and Italian immigrants in the Black Hills.  Particularly affecting was the story of Nellie Fulker whose isolation and depression stuck on her homestead threatened to drive her insane, as recounted by one of her daughters. The Todds have the most extraordinary story of all, as Scottish immigrants whose story rivals Scotty Philip’s. 

The South Dakota Road Guide to Haunted Locations — Chad Lewis & Terry Fisk

The quality of prose was about what you’d expect from self-publishing with its fair share of typos, inaccuracies, repetition and superficiality.  Moreover, with no bibliography, it’s difficult to believe the authors put in much historical research.  Nevertheless, two sections of the book stand out:  the well-researched section on the Easton Castle (Aberdeen) and the investigation of Sica Hollow (Lake City), which includes a lot of thoughtful information on will’o’-the-wisps and their pseudo-scientific explanations.

Sea Dragons:  Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans - Richard Ellis  

This book was odd in that it seemed to be a literature review from a non-scientist for laymen (as an illustrator of oceanic life, Ellis’ clear forte is in visually depicting ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, and mosasaurs). What I got from it was how many questions about these reptiles remain unanswered, including whether plesiosaurs gave birth to live young or returned to shore to lay eggs like turtles; what exactly the reptiles ate; and other behavioral issues. 

After the West Was Won:  Homesteaders and Town Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900-1917 - Paula A. Nelson



This book was succinct and academic in tone, and while it focused mainly on Kadoka, it was well-researched and perfectly justified in the arguments it made.  Namely, that newspaper writers and editors had a dubious and powerful role in advertising western South Dakota as “the last great frontier” and chastising disappointed settlers as lazy when they dared to suggest that they had been ill-equipped (as much mentally and emotionally as physically) to live in such an unforgiving land.

Homesteading in the South Dakota Badlands, 1912 - Ernest C. Bormann



Even though second-generation German immigrant Bormann only spent about 18 months on his Badlands claim (south of Wall), it left a strong impression on him, and he kept his land for nearly 40 years subsequently.  He is a hilarious and entertaining raconteur, self-effacing and with a good eye for comic detail.  I very much enjoyed reading his account.

Bedside Book of Bad Girls: Outlaw Women of the Midwest – Chris Enss
Enss is the doyenne of popular women’s history of the West, and this short, enjoyable collection of biographies of a diverse range of “bad girls” is a good example of her style.  Her research is sound and her writing well-paced. 

Whispers Underground  - Ben Aaronovitch

I’m sorry to say book 3 in the series still has not lived up to the sheer virtuoso skill and enjoyable quality of Rivers of London.  Although longer than both previous books and with a premise that seems ripe for storytelling— the endless urban legends of mole people who live in the London Underground tunnels—the novel takes a long time to get started.  The presence of the FBI officer stretches credulity, and none of the other new characters have the authenticity and flair of previous books.  On the other hand, I have warmed to Lesley’s new role, and there were some good set pieces.  Plus, it was set at an improbably snowy Christmas.

Interior, the Badland Town and Stories of Badland Homesteaders – Mary Solon Lewis

The organizational principles of this book left something to be desired, but it was a trove of interesting information about the area gathered from primary sources.  Some of the biographical sketches of early settlers compiled by Lewis herself were definite highlights.

Banjo - Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

Sometimes I do wish she’d write some notes as her work can be very enigmatic.  But overall she was on form with some interesting poems from the POV of men on Antarctic expeditions.

Nothing Like Love – Jenny Joseph

I had never read any of her poems before, but some of her controlled rhymes were really moving.

Angels of Music – Kim Newman

The Doctor Wore Petticoats:  Women Physicians of the Old West  - Chris Enss

Although full of interesting stories, I found this to be the least well-written of Enss’ works that I’ve read, as if it were dashed off in a hurry without proper proofreading.  Nevertheless, her bibliography always turns up helpful leads should one wish to read further.

For the Love of Radio 4 – Caroline Hodgson

A rather dreadful book.  Anyone who has the nerve to say that Val Gielgud was an iconoclast because he discovered Joe Orton is clearly no historian.  To be fair, it did have some interesting facts about Radio 4 that I might not have been able to find elsewhere.

Disturbance – Ivy Alvarez

This collection had a fabulous wheeze—voices reacting to the senseless crime of a father killing his wife and son and then himself—though I wasn’t 100% sure that every poem lived up to its potential.

Sweetly Sings Delaney:  A Study of Sheelagh Delaney’s Work 1958-1968 – John Harding

I’ve had a very strange and meandering association with Delaney over the years, from Country Life, her very popular radio drama written toward the end of her life, to reading about her influence in social histories of the 1950s and 1960s.  This book was neither biography nor strictly speaking a history and was rather poorly edited.  However, it was very interesting and probably overdue.

Making History – Brian Friel

A great example of how to write non-grandiose historical drama, but no quite as mind-blowing as Translations.

Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Reading this somehow made me feel like I was in high school again, perhaps because of superficial similarities with Song of Solomon. Despite being a little bit one-note (a classic cathartic first novel, I suppose), it was well-written.  I would definitely like to read more by Baldwin. 

The Disappearance of Maria Glenn – Naomi Clifford

I very much enjoyed this.  Clifford was scrupulous in accurately relating a historical trial whose enigma was actually much like Serial’s—instead of who is lying, Jay or Adnan, we had to ask, who is lying, the Tucketts and Maria or the Bowditches?  Despite the fact the case was very different than what I thought it would be, it was nevertheless an excellent story and well-told.

A Skull in Connemara – Martin McDonagh

I enjoyed this morbidly humorous play (the humor is very much that of The Cripple of Inishmaan which I saw on stage several years ago).  The grave-digging scenes were sharp and unusual for a stage play—I still felt none the wiser about the satirized community at the end, though.

Of Mutability – Jo Shapcott

This collection was mostly about the author finding out something bad about her health—her cells were erroneously subdividing so likely it was some kind of cancer—but in the end the threat seems to have passed.  There are some good poems.

British Museum - Daljit Nagra

This poetry is very literary in style, though, as the publisher blurb says, Nagra is also a transparently political writer (it’s one of the few poetry collections I’ve actually read the year it came out, making everything even more topical). 

The Hired Man - Aminatta Forma

I enjoyed elements of this book, but I still felt like something was missing when I finished it.  It was told from the POV of a Croatian who has lived through the events of the last 30 years, and much like McDonagh’s characters, is keeping uneasy alliances with his fellow townsfolk after unspeakable crimes were done.  I don’t know what the point of the English family was—if they were a trigger for Duro to remember the horrors of the war years, then I wish Forma had used another trigger as they were so aggravating and thin on characterization.  However, I guess its value lies in covering similar territory to McDonagh, the extreme instability of small, rural communities, hiding behind a façade of normality.  

The Glass Castle – Jeanette Walls

This was compulsive reading, at first suggesting quirky reminisces of eccentric Americana, a bohemian upbringing from a nostalgic period when— I suppose, according to most of its readers—life wasn’t so needlessly PC.  On the other hand, it quickly becomes an indictment of irresponsible parenting brought to frightening extremes.  This is all depicted (generally) without rancour, in bald language, but the inciting causes for such selfish behavior are suggested to be alcoholism, sexual abuse, cowardice, and poverty.  Walls clearly loved both her parents but had attained the distance to tell the story with some objectivity.  So while I felt a little manipulated and a little sordid, it must be said it was a great story, very well told.

The Dark Wind – Tony Hillerman

The poorest of the Hillermans I’ve read so far, through with an impressive finale set piece and interesting meditations on Hopi/Navajo antagonism.  I didn’t feel the Jim Chee depicted here was that Jim Chee-like (he started a fire, for heaven’s sake!) though the ending would only have been believable coming from Chee.

Walking London’s Medical History – Nick Black

This was a really excellent book:  detailed, well-organized, conversational.  Unfortunately, it had nothing about the medical history of Southwark (why the heck not?!), which was the reason I bought the book.  Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautifully-edited book. 

Over Land, Over Sea – Poems for Those Seeking Refuge ed. Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan

I found this collection to be mostly quite affecting, though some poems were more adventurous, both content-wise and the verse form, than others.

The Letter of Marque – Patrick O’Brian

[SPOILERS]
The year was moving along, and while I had read a Patrick O’Brian novel last year, I hadn’t had time to write a review (an indefensible tragedy).  From what I remember, The Reverse of the Medal was well-written and paced but came with a heart-breaking conclusion.  Captain Jack Aubrey had been (falsely) implicated in a stock exchange scam (through his land-based ineptitude more than anything else, though also through the machinations of the sinister Mr Wray, Stephen Maturin’s opponent in the espionage cat-and-mouse.  As a consequence, Jack had been struck from the navy lists, meaning his career as a naval man was gone, and he had been publicly pilloried (though public opinion was on his side, so he was not harassed).  Stephen, through inheritance on his Catalan side, became a wealthy man, to the extent that he bought Jack’s old ship, HMS Surprise.
Inheritance is certainly a roundabout theme of The Letter of Marque as well.  The book opens with the Surprise outfitted as a private man-of-war, with Jack afforded a letter of marque—and due to Stephen’s acumen, a letter from the Admiralty excusing Jack’s sailors from impressment.  It is evident of how much the characters of O’Brian’s universe hold Jack in esteem, for sailors are fighting to be part of the crew of the Surprise, including naval sailors who were previously in Jack’s crew, and a new breed of privateers, the professional seafarers and smugglers of Shelmerston.  If you have gotten this far in the series, you, too, have a high opinion of Jack, and just as Stephen’s frequently fraught romantic situation pains you, Jack’s total unhappiness at the turn of events hurts like a mother. 
It was a matter of great personal joy that Rev. Martin, originally from a previous voyage, returned in The Letter of Marque, to accompany his friend Stephen and the Surprise—and to receive his due.  The Surprise’s action is a daring and successful one, which brings a great deal of prize money to Jack and his crew, including the penurious and recently married Martin.  For Jack, it’s helpful to his growing family, but he would “give his right arm” to be back on the navy lists.  The infrequent interludes at Ashgrove Cottage are always amusing, as Jack’s children have picked up their vocabulary from Killick and Bonden, who keep the house ship-shape (why didn’t more people hire sailors as cleaners?), but I feel myself missing Sophie’s interactions in the most recent books.   When Sophie finds herself in Shelmerston, that smugglers’ and whores’ haven, she rises to the occasion, her narrow upbringing notwithstanding.  Indeed, the whole town fascinated her. 
The next mission, to capture the Diane, is, even with diagrams, beyond my understanding, but it’s a tense action that sees Stephen take up a cutlass and pistols—apparently, among his many other talents, he can fence—making his boarding action in Master and Commander the movie seem less far-fetched.   This is the most exciting fighting of an otherwise rather placid book.  In the event, Jack is severely wounded by a pistol-ball to the sciatica, but due to Stephen and Martin’s good care, he recovers—the hero of the hour.  ‘Well, I am ashamed to say he took a pistol-ball out of the small of my back.  It must have been when I turned to hail for my hands—thank God I did not.  At the time I thought it was one of those vile screws [horses] that were capering about abaft the wheel.’
                ‘Oh sir,’ [said Babbington], ‘surely a horse would never have fired off a pistol?’

The success of this mission brings Jack great acclaim but still does not restore him to the navy lists.  His father, meanwhile, has contributed nothing positive to his life and has caused Jack a great deal of difficulty—which is repaired in this book, when he up and dies.  This brings us on shore to Jack’s childhood home in Woolhampton, a very interesting section of the book.  Relations are awkward with Mrs Aubrey, Jack’s stepmother, a former dairy maid whom everyone in the village, including Jack, has slept with.  Nevertheless, Jack is on good terms with his young step-brother, who in turn worships him.  At General Aubrey’s funeral is the almost deus ex machina character of Mr Norton, Jack’s distant relation who gives him an MP-ship in his county seat, propelling Jack back into respectability and the navy lists.  I say almost deus ex machina, because Mr Norton is an interesting enough character that he doesn’t feel as slight as a mere plot device.   
After this happy restoration, for the last sixth of the book, we have to resolve Stephen’s story.   Stephen’s adjustment to newfound wealth is comical; from a pinch-penny slovenly background, he has to reconcile himself to a few of life’s luxuries.  Ironically, his largesse seems to have inspired him into an addiction to laudanum—unlike Thomas De Quincey, he seems not to be able to admit even to himself that he is an opium-eater.  I hope that in the next book he may come to terms with this, given the disastrous effect it has on his Irish-speaking servant, the gentle giant Padeen, not to mention Stephen’s own brush with near-death (more on that anon).  Yet, this being O’Brian, I suspect Stephen’s sense of denial will remain one of his few blind spots.  Indeed, he admits as much regarding Padeen—Stephen’s addiction fuelled Padeen’s which in turn literally caused Stephen’s accident—a surprising lack of judgement from an incredibly lucid man (though, like his blind spot regarding trusting Wray, it’s understandable but disappointing).  I fear Stephen may in future risk his marriage over an incipient addiction to cocaine.
In the excellent Treason’s Harbour, several books back, Stephen had to appear to be dallying away from his new wife Diana, and they have been separated ever since.  Armed with Diana’s blue diamond, her most prized possession which she bartered believing Stephen’s life was in danger in The Surgeon’s Mate, he seeks her out in Sweden, where she has been living as a kept woman with Jagiello, the delightful Lithuanian adventurer from The Surgeon’s Mate.  My heart sunk when I thought of Diana and Jagiello together, simply because Diana belongs with Stephen (!), but Stephen is buoyed by rumors that Diana is under Jagiello’s protection—no more.  Indeed, when Stephen meets Diana, she says as much.  ‘Protection in the plain sense was what I wanted, not a bed-fellow.  He did not believe it—indeed, even while he was protesting all possible respect, brotherly sentiments and so on, he smirked, as men will smirk, I am afraid.
Along with inheritance, the powerful symbol of the hot air balloon has been haunting this novel and it’s finally in Sweden where this image takes flight.  One of the few criticisms I can have of the series is that we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with Sophie and Diana, the two female characters of any consequence, and it’s not because O’Brian can’t write convincing women—at least as far as Sophie goes.  I’ve always been ambivalent about Diana; sometimes her superficiality gets on my nerves.  But Stephen works out that her independence is more important than her love of luxury.  When Stephen returns the diamond to her, I believe she understands how much he loves her, just as when she gave it up to save his life, the readers understood that she loves him (despite them being a star-crossed couple if there ever was one). 
The book, then, ends on a wildly uplifting note.  Before Diana learns the truth, that Stephen was never untrue to her, and before he returns the diamond, he offers her companionship and financial security as his wife.  ‘I say this only because it means you could have room for your Arabians—you could have half the Curragh of Kildare—you could have a great stretch of English downland.’
                ‘Stephen, you know what I said to Jagiello:  I will not put myself in any man’s power.  But if ever I were to live with a man as his wife, it would be with you:  there is no one else at all.’  Stephen’s intention, despite Diana’s rejection, is to go up in a hot air balloon with her, but he unintentionally takes an almost fatal dose of laudanum, faints, falls down a set of stairs, breaks a leg, stabs himself, and is wild and raving for days (!).  Diana nurses him back to health (talk about hurt/comfort!) and decides to accompany him back to England and stay with her cousin Sophie while Stephen voyages to South America (!).  ‘What a sad mercenary creature I am—I find my heart is quite thumping with happiness.  I was quite pleased to have my husband back, but to find him covered with gold from head to foot as well fairly throws me into transports.  How vulgar.’  And thus we are left to wait for the next book, with Mrs Maturin being conveyed to Dr Maturin’s cabin aboard HMS Surprise.  It’s unlikely this happiness will last, but I thought the last sixth of the book was fantastic; well-worth the read.

The Witches – Peter Curtis

I was surprised how nail-biting and compelling I found this novel, originally from 1960 and made into the Hammer Horror film (which I’ve never seen).  I really appreciated Miss Mayfield as the heroine; much to everyone’s surprise, she had sussed the problem in the village of Walwyck in East Anglia by about 40 pages in, yet the book was about what she did with that knowledge.  It was definitely scary. It was refreshing to find a character like Miss Mayfield, and I feel like Norah Lofts (the real identity of the author) was able to make a much more convincing job of rural Satan-worship than any 1970s hysterical treatment (which were invariably written by men).   

Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories – M.R. James

I have to say, I wished I had read this collection first, as all the best stories were here.  I became more aware of James’ potential misogyny but also, conversely, of his sense of humor.  I got to see a bit more range from James (not just the prototypical, albeit disturbing, spook epitomized in the rather disappointing “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”). 

Antique Dust – Robert Westall

Westall’s first adult ghost story collection, it includes such gems as “The Devil and Clocky Watson,” “The Doll,” and the ones I’d previously read, “The Last Day of Miss Dorinda Molyneaux,” and “The Woolworth Spectacles.”

Ghosts:  A Haunted History – Lisa Morton

I picked this up because I enjoyed her (award-winning) history of Halloween.  While I learned quite a lot from the section on Asian ghosts, much of this felt lightweight.  It’s hovering between “popular” and “academic,” and I would have liked a bit more academic.

Raising the Dead – Andy Dougan

I wasn’t sure about the level of historical accuracy of this book at first, but I quickly grew to admire the level of detail characterizing this precise and circumscribed book.  It tells the story of a single incident in Glasgow in 1816, the electrification of the corpse of a hanged criminal, and how this event was linked both to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the whole history of galvanism.  As this was the perfect reference for my novel, I eagerly picked it up, not expecting to find it quite so readable nor so interesting. 

Why Was the Partridge in the Pear Tree?  The History of Christmas Carols – Rev. Mark Lawson-Jones

I was initially skeptical as I wasn’t sure what more I could learn about the origins of familiar Christmas carols.  However, I was wrong— this well-written and interesting little book refined and expanded my existing knowledge, particularly regarding the 17th  and 18th  centuries.

The Story of the Other Wise Man – Henry Van Dyke

This very short book is told in vignettes, which is rather frustrating at times.  Yet each vignette is extremely well-written, and in such a story, it does feel like brevity really helps its effectiveness. 

Batgirl:  Volume 1:  Batgirl of Burnside—by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher—art by Babs Tarr (issues #35-40)

I kept forgetting this was written in 2014, as it seemed more relevant than ever.  I don’t know how much I like the reinvention of Barbara Gordon as a slummin’ it college student who is seduced by fame and surprisingly immature at times (and has apparently recovered from being attacked by the Joker, negating all the previous storyline of Oracle; heck, it’s the New 52, isn’t it?).  Whether I like her or not is a bit of a moot point, because the writing here feels very fresh and real, at least as en pointe as Sherlock (and less annoying by far).  Barbara is a computer genius (retaining that much of Oracle, I suppose) working on her Masters thesis while spending way too much time fighting crime and doing the things her peers do (going to nightclubs, vegging out with coffee, not-quite-sleeping-around).  She also seems to have a cousin named Dinah (who I think is Black Canary?), and they fight frequently.  The storylines are clever, and the art is impressive.  I feel the volume is highly enriched by Babs Tarr having worked on it.  Is Barbara sustainable in this mode?  I don’t know, but it was fun while it lasted. 

 

 






Fiction – 12/51   24%
Nonfiction – 29/51   57%
Poetry – 6/51   12%
Plays – 2/51   4%
Graphic Novels 1/51    2%