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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

what are you reading? (open thread)

By request of reader Bluejay, here’s an open thread to discuss what books you’re reading, have read recently, or have to in your to-read pile. Enjoy!

  • The Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin. It’s an emotionally difficult read sometimes, but it’s a satisfying one, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

  • althea

    Currently dashing toward the end of Stephen King’s new one, The Outsider. Had to interrupt Charlie Chan: The Untold Story – about the Chinese detective in Hawaii that Chan was based on. Finally finished King Arthur and the Grail Quest by John Matthews, took me a year, a little at a time. Hard to get the threads straight in my head, thrilled that I finally got it. Next up: City on Fire, 3rd or 4th time through – about the 1947 Texas City Disaster. Obsessed. Also just finished Gwendy’s Button Box, a short novel, King again, with a collaborator, very cool retelling of the “If you press this button, somebody will die” conundrum. Last year read all of Agatha Christie in chronological order, absolutely fantastic, super enlightening. And currently champing at the bit for more Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, with Peter Grant as a London cop training to be a sorcerer. HEAP o fun. Just found it last year and read everything published so far, now waiting impatiently. And then there’s my reserve list at the library (necessarily postdated), currently about 50 titles long.

  • Danielm80

    I thought The Outsider was fantastic, and I’m not even a King fan (though I’m very fond of his son, Joe Hill).

    I posted my current reading list on the other thread, but as soon as I did, I heard that the new short story collection by Catherynne Valente—which I ordered the second it was announced—has finally shipped, so I’m looking forward to that.

    I also received some nice birthday gifts from a couple of the folks who post here:

    Particulates, a science-fiction anthology edited by Nalo Hopkinson, with stories by Sofia Samatar, Samuel Delany, and Daniel Jose older, among others


    100 Hugs by Chris Riddell. It doesn’t have much text, but the pictures are gorgeous (and, in this political climate, kind of therapeutic).

  • Bluejay

    Thanks, MaryAnn!

    Currently enjoying Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues, recommended by a couple of folks here. Also reading Brothers of the Gun, a memoir by Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham with powerful ink illustrations by Molly Crabapple. You can see some of the images here; I was lucky enough to see some of the original artwork on display at the Brooklyn Public Library last month. And just today in the mail I received my copy of Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies, a pulp mystery novel starring Joe Biden and Barack Obama, because I need the laughs.

    I want to highly recommend a book I recently read, Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth. It’s very “cozy” science fiction — the two main characters are aliens of different species who enroll in a kind of galactic university, become roommates, and study to become “xenotherapists.” The plot is measured and leisurely; I fell in love with the characters and the evocation of college life, the patient worldbuilding, the celebration of diversity (on a grand scale), and the compassionate exploration of how the characters begin to understand each other, open up to emotional possibilities, and find their purpose. It’s the first of a series and I look forward to reading the rest.

  • althea

    Okay, gotta get Mindtouch now.

  • Bluejay


  • I loved those books! Just read them a few months ago. SOOO good. Enjoy.

  • Me, too! Definitely going on my list

  • I just started reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, which is the first book in his ongoing Stormlight Archive series.
    Too early to tell, but Ive enjoyed every Sanderson book Ive read so I’m sure this will be great. Loved the heck out of the Mistborn books.
    I tend to alternate between genres and fiction/non-fiction. Plus I read a lot of gardening and horticulture books to supplement my knowledge. I won’t bother listing those.
    I read The Terror recently. It was crazy long and took me a while. I enjoyed parts of it, but had some issues with it as well. I loved all the information about sailing, and the people. We actually get a bit TOO much information and it can get tedious at times.
    It’s a weird mix of historical fiction and horror. I imagine some here have probably seen the show, but I doubt I’ll watch it after reading the book.

  • LaSargenta

    I just re-read Tehanu by Ursula LeGuin. I was in a bookstore on Sunday and found a 1st edition in hardcover and Snatched That Up. Of course I have read it many times before, but sinking into LeGuin’s prose is so wonderful…

    Also am in the process of reading Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for months, re-reading some bits multiple times. She blogs at http://apihtawikosisan.com/ and I recommend her posts if you have any interest in Canada, politics, history of North America, language, language preservation, Indigenous issues, law, science fiction (she has a podcast called Métis in Space), parenting, academia, or bannock.

    Recently read the anthology edited by Nalo Hopkinson that Daniel has, Particulates. All the stories in it were commissioned for the installation “Particulates” by Rita McBride at DIA:Chelsea.

    Sitting on my desk at work is a side-by-side original and translation of Etelvina Astrada’s Autobiography at the Trigger [Autobiografía con Gatillo]. I came across a reference to her work a couple of years ago, wrote it down and finally got a copy of at least this. It is a late work and I really wanted something else, but, there’s so few foreign language bricks-and-mortar stores in this city anymore and getting things not in translation turned out to be harder than I expected.

    I am also reviewing a paper on suport-of-excavation for a journal and recently read an interesting article about magma under New England.

  • Dent

    I’m finally getting into the Dresden Files. It’s not what I thought it would be but I’m enjoying it so far. I really like how much trouble the main character is in and how he copes.

  • LaSargenta

    That is on my mental reading list. I hope to get time soon.

  • LaSargenta

    Ok, I’m looking for Charlie Chan: The Untold Story. Thank you.

  • LaSargenta

    I saw some of those on a shelf…so, they’re good, eh?

    Will take a look.

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, that looks interesting.

  • Hallah

    Had to interrupt Charlie Chan: The Untold Story – about the Chinese detective in Hawaii that Chan was based on.

    Hey, I read that. Very interesting book, even with almost no prior knowledge of the subject (I know of Charlie Chan, but I’ve never sought out one of the books or movies). Chang Apana seems like he was a most impressive guy.

  • Owen1120

    Finished the Southern Reach trilogy; I’m going to watch the Annihilation movie tonight. They’re my favorite books I’ve read in a while and depict such a perfectly realized world.

  • BraveGamgee

    I’m currently re-reading the Witches sub-series of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I just adore Granny Weatherwax as a character. She’s rude, selfish, proud, arrogant, self-righteous, nearly illiterate, and far more terrifying than any of the villains she comes against, and yet she’s a good witch (only because she’s too proud to be any other kind). This doesn’t sound like I’m selling her very well, but she’s a treasure. Here’s a couple of my favourite Granny Weatherwax quotes (either by or about her)

    She’d never mastered the art of apologizing, but she appreciated it in other people

    She strode across the moors as if distance was a personal insult

    Granny, meanwhile was two streets away. She was also, by the standards of other people, lost. She would not see it like that. She knew where she was, it was just everywhere else that didn’t.

    For the first time in her life Granny wondered whether there might be something important in all these books people were setting such store by these days, although she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy

    Granny “They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance”

    Granny “You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world. Otherwise it’s just a cage.”

  • BraveGamgee

    I haven’t heard of 100 Hugs, but I am such a fan of Chris Riddell’s artistic style, so I definitely need to check that out

  • LaSargenta

    Back when I learned I was pregnant, someone asked me who I wanted as my OB or midwife. I immediately answered Esmerelda Weatherwax. (They weren’t expecting a fictional character.)

  • Hallah

    I’ve just started Ghosts of the Tsunami, by Richard Lloyd Parry, but I’m thinking I might need to intersperse it with something a bit lighter.

  • Danielm80

    You really do.

    I was feeling a tiny bit guilty for not working harder to talk up the books on my reading list, or writing the sort of loving, detailed descriptions other people have been posting.

    But, oddly, any time I mention Riddell’s name, people say, “Oh, I have to get that!” I hadn’t thought many people even knew who he was, at least in the U.S. I think a few people also bought the book because it came out right after the elections, and they liked the idea of so many people hugging each other.

    But for anyone I haven’t convinced to pick up the book:


  • althea

    Yep, did those last year too. Kept wondering why I was so compelled, gave it up in the end. There have been other books like that. You don’t really want to say you enjoy them because that’s not quite right, but you have to have to… The kind of book you read with your forehead creased the whole time.

    Please chime back in after you see the movie, I’m wary of it but prepared to be convinced.

  • althea

    Nuts. I will have to go looking. None of the local libraries that I have access to have it – or any of her stuff.

  • Bluejay

    My understanding is that she’s self-published, so libraries may not carry her. (Don’t let “self-published” scare you off — it’s really good.) Lots of buying options on her website, though:


  • PJK

    I’m currently re-reading Peter F. Hamiltons “A Night Without Stars”. It’s part two of “The Chronicle of the Fallers” series, which in itself is part of a larger series of books called “The Commonwealth Universe”.

  • Owen1120

    I enjoyed it, but be warned that going in it’s EXTREMELY different from the book. In the first hour, I was thinking about the wasted potential created by cutting and changing characters and plot lines (several big twists from the book are breezed through in seconds.) I really didn’t like the frequent “in medias res” flashbacks, but once the film comes up with its own interesting idea in the second hour, it’s firing on all cylinders. There’s one scene alone that ends the second act and is exhilarating- worth the price of admission.

  • althea

    Oh. Um. Well, forewarned is forearmed. Very much appreciate this. I expect I’ll have a similar reaction.

  • Amazon has it in both Kindle and paperback if you can go that route

  • I tried a couple of these and never bothered reading anymore. It was just a bit too corny for me. Weird characters and silly dialogue. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be that way, but I prefer straight up serious mystery detective stories over goofy ones. Just my opinion.

  • I loved the movie, but have never read the books

  • Sounds right up my alley. I love big time space opera.

    I read the Great North Road. Huge book, but very good.

  • PJK

    I’d recommend to read the other books in the Commonwealth Universe series first, because The Chronicles of the Fallers does spoil things from the earlier books. Start with Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, then do the Void trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void) and then go to The Chronicles of The Fallers (The Abyss Beyond Dreams and A Night Without Stars).

    I loved The Great North Road as well. PS and JU are the closest in feel to that book, so starting there is definitely the way to go.

  • Tonio Kruger

    As I noted on another thread, I’ve been reading the non-fiction book All the Agents and Saints, a book written by Stephanie Elizondo Griest about the Mexican and Canadian borderlands. The only problem I’ve detected with the book so far is that it’s hard to read without getting really angry at the people who caused the social problems she described in her book, but I suppose there are worse reactions one could have.

    I’ve also read Stranger by Jorge Ramos and You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano, plus Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary, an anthology of essays edited by Susan Morrison, all of which are about — you guessed it — Hillary Clinton.

  • RogerBW

    I read a lot, and review everything at blog.firedrake.org. Recently I’ve started on the works of P. D. James; I’d also strongly recommend Ann Leckie’s Provenance.

  • Is Provenance better than the Justice trilogy? I really enjoyed the latter series.

  • The *Ancillary* books are incredible. I’ll read anything by Leckie after those.

  • RogerBW

    I recently read and reviewed Provenance at blog.firedrake.org – highly recommended.

  • Thanks! Just bought it for my Kobo.

  • Danielm80

    Y’know, if I just started making up new technology, I bet no one would be able to tell.

    “Have you seen that new series on FriLine?”

    “No, I’ve been reading the new SpotFics by Kathy Acker on WeeJee.”

    “What’s WeeJee?”

    “It’s kind of like Kindle, only it lets you talk to the dead.”

  • Bluejay

    Back with another recommendation: Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series (I’ve just finished the third, most recent, book). Like my previous recommendation of MCA Hogarth’s books, this is a series where the focus isn’t on a huge action-packed good-vs.-evil plot but on the everyday interactions, mundane challenges, and interior lives of characters set against a backdrop of a universe of human and alien societies figuring out how to get along. (The first book is basically Firefly if Firefly were about daily life on the ship, with the crew getting to know and understand and support each other.) The titles are:

    A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
    A Closed and Common Orbit
    Record of a Spaceborn Few

    They’re pretty much stand-alone, though Book 2 benefits from the context of reading Book 1 first.

    I love that these novels all have a core theme of decency and compassion; of figuring out who you are within the context of family and community; of the need to listen and to recognize the dignity and personhood of others, no matter how strange their biological (or mechanical) makeup and their ways of life. I’ve been needing to read more of that these days.

    You can find reviews of them on Tor.com, and I believe RogerBW has written about the first two books in his blog as well. :-)

  • LaSargenta

    I recently read The Witches by Roald Dahl. Yes, this is O-L-D, but, I hadn’t ever read it. I really liked how it didn’t wrap everything up neatly AND how there wasn’t a sequel (although in today’s style of publishing, it easily could have had at least one.) There were some things that felt misogynistic, but, it also seemed that pretty much all the adults (except for the hero’s grandmother) were the evil or stupid ones, not just women.

  • Dent

    Just got through the first novel, they’re… ok. Very standard noir with all the tropes that entails. The magic is pretty fun though.

  • Yeah, I thought the same. A bit too corny and contrived for me. Too bad since I DO like the main character.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I don’t suppose it helps to point out that the series does get better. I don’t remember being too impressed with the first Dresden novel, either, but as I read more of the series, I noticed more and more of an improvement in the writing and I became more and more of a fan.

    However, this is a YMMV issue. After all, I can think of many similar authors — for example, Laurel I Hamilton — who have hundreds of fans but whose books just weren’t my cup of tea.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I don’t suppose Ms. Vowell is any relation to Sara Vowel, the writer/voice actress?

  • Tonio Kruger

    Apparently not. My bad.

  • amanohyo

    I just finished You Play the Girl too – it’s an insightful trip down memory lane for any GenX, feminist movie fan. I wish there was more glue binding the essays together (maybe a couple transition paragraphs including some details from her life) and a tad less plot regurgitation, but I’m confident that most of the regular readers of this site would enjoy it.

  • Danielm80

    I keep meaning to recommend a very strange book, The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine. The author’s mother had a stroke and, not quite knowing how to help or how to cope, Fontaine joined a traveling freakshow and learned how to eat fire and how to swallow swords. There are some very moving passages about what it means to call yourself a freak in the 21st century. She often juxtaposes events that seem to have nothing to do with each other. In one section, she writes about her mother’s medical treatments; her experiences filming a very tame fetish video in which she’s eaten by a papier-mache monster (she may be a feminist but not a traditional one); and the time she spent sitting in an electric chair, being electrocuted in front of an audience and shooting sparks out of her body. I was bewildered, at first, and then the connection seemed obvious. The chapter was about–among many other things–the ways women are always in front of an audience, and that audience always wants a vote about what they do with their bodies.

  • amanohyo

    Sounds fantastic. Thanks for the recommendation! I’m slowly pushing through Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev – it’s one of those books with fantastic writing that spirals laboriously around a single oppressive setting without much of a plot, full of superficially described characters that are completely devoid of genuine human emotion (Gormenghast comes to mind). Lebedev also leaps from one image to another, making connections that are often only apparent after a bit of introspection. I admire the skill, but after about ten pages, I wish he’d stop showboating and get to the point.

    I’ll check out The Electric Woman next. Your plot summary makes the book sound almost impossibly strange enough to be reviewed in Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum.

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