Bookish for life

Anthropology graduate, anglophile, social justice activist, chocoholic, traveler and book lover from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, currently working in the renewable energy sector. Books have been my passion since before I could read.

 

Considering using this as a replacement for my Goodreads account, where I've been keeping track of what I read (audiobooks included). You can find a record of the dead-tree books I own on LibraryThing. As of now I haven't imported those yet.

SPOILER ALERT!

Oh, Bucky...

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March - Rick Remender, Roland Boschi

It's no secret that I have lots of feelings when it comes to Bucky Barnes. So naturally I had to buy this trade paperback telling a story of the time when he was an asset for the Soviet's, a brainwashed weapon following orders without question or conscience. Except that there's this man, this "American with a shield", whose voice the Winter Soldier hears at inopportune moments. Be still, my heart... :)

 

The story is pretty straightforward spy fare, following SHIELD agent Ran Shen as he tries to extract two Nazi scientists who have invented a dangerous formula from HYDRA's clutches, while the Soviets try to do the same, using the Winter Soldier. It's all very James Bond, including cool gadgets, a super-powered villain and a love story.

 

Although naturally I would have loved it if Bucky had actually been the main protagonist, I really enjoyed the whole thing. Shen, who has been undercover for ages, develops feelings for the scientist who developed the formula, which add to his existing doubts regarding SHIELD and the capitalist system it stands for. In a nice twist it's the woman, Mila, who's the really smart one, her mercenary husband simply taking advantage of her brains and people's expectations. (I only wish she'd been dressed a bit more and not been damsel'd so much - but it fits with the James Bond vibe of the story.) The main baddie, HYDRA's Drain, is a psychic who gets people to kill themselves, but his interference actually reveals some truths - and breaks the Winter Soldier's conditioning. This means that we actually get Bucky for part of the story, which I didn't expect and which almost broke my heart. Like I said, all the feels!

 

Drain: I can see into your mind, poor brainwashed toy soldier. Oh, to see what they did to you. It would break your Captain's heart.

Social Media Strategy: A Step-by-step Guide to Building Your Social Business - Kamales Lardi, Rainer Fuchs

Read this for work - a quick and easy introduction to creating a basic social media strategy (as opposed to a simple online marketing strategy) for businesses. The examples used are almost all from big international companies, but there's enough info to work on a smaller scale. (Incidentally, being from Switzerland I liked that they used a lot of Swiss examples as well as Swiss research, a nice change from the much more prevalent US-centric works on the subject.)

Watch How I Soar

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind - Zack Whedon

Firefly is one of my all-time favourite tv shows, mostly because Joss Whedon somehow managed to create characters I adore. Every single one of the band of misfits aboard the Serenity feels like a friend, which is why I treasure every chance I get to spend more time with them.

 

This comic, collecting six issues, picks up shortly after the movie Serenity and reads like a proper mini-series. The information about Miranda was released, but the Alliance is powerful and won't topple easily. As always, they have aces up their sleeves, some quite surprising. However, now there's a New Resistance movement (led by new character Bea, who I liked very much), hoping to fight back - if only they had a leader... Unfortunately Malcolm Reynolds, as always, is definitely not volunteering for the role. All he wants is some peace for his crew, not in the least because there's a new addition. As per usual, however, he might not have a choice, and soon our Firefly family is caught up in events and fighting to remain together.

 

The stakes are high all through the story, and I was unable to put it down until the end - which leaves enough open to make me very hopeful for another run. Of the four stories told in comic-format, this is easily my favourite. And I'm not saying that just because seeing Mal and Inara finally together made me smile big time. :)

A mirror of a fallen man

The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible - Robin Lane Fox

That's what Robin Lane Fox calls the Bible, whose mix of facts and fiction he traces in this densely written book, which he describes as "a historian's view of the Bible".

 

Covering everything from Genesis to Revelations, he makes it clear where the various authors get their history wrong (almost all of the time), but, despite being an atheist himself, he also stresses their goals and motivations in writing (and editing) the texts that comprise the Bible. He also goes further, highlighting that for centuries, even millennia, there was no such thing as a biblical canon, a fixed set of texts used by both Jews and Christians.

 

As a Christian myself, I found Fox' work fascinating - even when explaining where the Bible and history clash (always mentioning the room for error due to the very limited written and archeological sources) and how certain explicit contradictions came to be (for example the opposing stories of how David ended up at King Saul's court), he always remains respectful, both to the material and to the religions based on it. Especially interesting to me was his opinion that the Gospel of John is based on the eye-witness testimony of the "beloved disciple" (with the exception of the last chapter, which was added later).

 

There is also a detailed bibliography for those that want to delve deeper into the scholarship behind the Bible, which is something I always look for in non-fiction works, because nothing infuriates the former student in me more than unsourced statements.

 

Overall, the book was neither easy nor quick to read, and it presents so much information that I fear I've already forgotten most of them. But for anyone interested in "Truth and Fiction in the Bible" (as the book's subtitle states), who can separate Faith and Fact, this is definitely recommended.

An almost really good book

Almost Famous Women: Stories - Lesa Lockford, Megan Mayhew Bergman

Basically, I loved the idea of this more than the actual book. It's a collection of short stories about women who have been mostly forgotten by history - very different women, ranging from a little girl (Lord Byron's daughter) to author and horse trainer Beryl Markham.

 

The stories vary greatly not only in subject matter, but also in length and style. This is also one of the book's weaknesses, as not all stories work and the overall effect is somewhat disjointed, making the book feel not so much like a complete work as a pastiche of individual bits. There is also one story set in a dystopian future, apparently randomly inserted. I actually liked the story itself, but it was completely out of place - if the author was so keen to include it, it might have worked better at the end.

 

However, the book definitely peeked my interest in women I'd never heard of before - I foresee some pleasant hours spent falling down various internet rabbit holes. I assume that was one of the things the author wanted to achieve, pointing the spotlight at women whose lives were fascinating, exciting, tragic and deserve to be remembered, and that she definitely managed!

 

A note on the audiobook: Excellent reader, I was very impressed.  She managed to capture the very different kinds of language used, sometimes through the use of dialects, others through subtle shifts in tone. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Disappointing

Captain America: The First Avenger [Movie Novelization] - Junior Novel - Walt Disney Company

I knew this was just a "junior novel", but still, I'd hoped for more. It's very bare bones, racing through the action and not bothering with things like characterisation or transitions. I'm not sure i makes sense if you haven't seen the movie, actually - it sure doesn't make you care about anyone except maybe (maybe!) Steve. It also constantly switches POVs, which I found rather irritating.

 

The only thing of interest is that in the script on which the novelisation is based Bucky apparently wasn't supposed to die. Steve simply finds him in a cage, no sign of experimentations, and he survives the train (which is much more explicitly set up as a trap). So there's that, I guess.

Getting to know Alexia & Connal's daughter

Prudence  - Gail Carriger

I love the <em>Parasol Protectorate</em> books - they were the first steampunk romances I really got into, and they had me laughing out loud while still caring very much for Gail Carriger's characters.

 

I didn't really get into the YA <em>Finishing School</em> prequels and got stuck in the middle of the second one, so I wasn't sure whether the magic was gone for good - but luckily, finishing wasn't a problem with this one. I listened to the audiobook, which is excellently read by Moira Quirk, and really enjoyed going on a big adventure along with Prudence Akeldama Maccon. 

 

Rue, an irrepressible young woman who grew up raised by vampires, werewolves and a preternatural mother, is somewhat spoiled and thinks she's cleverer than she is. The latter got somewhat annoying at times (seriously, how can she believe all that spy stuff is about <em>tea</em>?), but mostly she's a rather endearing protagonist who ends up way in over her head in India, of all places, and muddles through the best she can. Just like all of us - except that she has her own airship and can "steal" supernatural abilities, a gift from her preternatural mother and werewolf father.

 

But as with the Parasol Protectorate, it's the supporting cast that sells this book. Not only do we get to re-visit beloved characters from the previous books, with the added twist of seeing them through Rue's eyes (Biffy, for example is her uncle Rabiffano, who seems sad about being a werewolf sometimes, which Rue doesn't understand), but she has her own posse of quirky friends. Most notably these are Ivy Tunstell's daughter Primrose and Qesnel Lefou. With the former she shares a great friendship, the backbone of her life, and with the latter a teasing flirtation that might tip into something more serious - or not.

 

All these are good points - however, there's some bad as well. Rue's immaturity, as mentioned, gets a bit annoying, and while it's great to get out of England, there's too much time spent on detailing life aboard the <em>Spotted Custard</em>. And then there's the whole problem of viewing India through the eyes of imperialists. Carriger points out several times how this view colours the perspectives of the British characters, but there is still too much objectification and I felt a bit uncomfortable at times. I'm hoping in future books, with Miss Sekhmet a fixed part of the crew and hopefully a closer look at the mysterious Vanaras, might give us less of a "white people fix everything".

 

Overall, the story was fun, but it left me a little cold, especially in comparison to the love I have for <em>Soulless</em>. However, I'll definitely be pre-ordering the next one!

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Anne Boleyn

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn - Eric Ives

And possibly more. This biography goes into great detail about everything related to Anne Boleyn's life, from her relationship with Henry VIII, the luxury items she owned to her views and influence on religion. 

 

At times the momentum of the story gets bogged down in these minutiae, and I have to admit to skimming at times, especially when it came to lists of items owned by Anne and Henry. On the other hand, although naturally everyone knows what was coming, the chapters dealing with Anne's downfall are positively thrilling, events culminating in one week during which she went from Queen and wife to accused adulteress awaiting trial for treason. As for the trial description, it wouldn't be out of place in a Law & Order episode. For this alone the book is worth reading, painting a much more interesting picture than that Henry was simply tired of her and looking for a way to get rid of her.

 

If I thought in advance that her role in history has been overblown, considering the short while she was Queen (even counting the long years before Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon), this book proved me wrong. Because Ives is always careful to cite his sources, it's hard to find fault with his overall reasonings, and it also makes it easy to see where his personal bias lies.

 

Considering the centuries separating us from her and the lack of first-hand accounts in the form of diaries or letters, we will never know what Anne Boleyn was really like as a person. Overall, I think this is the best biography we can expect - detailed, relatively balanced, creating a picture not just of her life but of the politics that ruled it. 

Mood Apart: The Thinker's Guide to Emotion and Its Disorders - Peter C. Whybrow

I've been reading this book on and off for a long, long time, the subject requiring a very specific state of mind and often hitting rather close to home (not so much the parts about mania, but the descriptions of depression definitely felt familiar). It feels somewhat dated, but I actually found it interesting to learn about the earlier days of modern psychiatry (i.e. since the 70s) and the book covers a wide range of topics around mood disorders. The author has been working the field for decades, and what made this book especially appealing was the genuine liking and respect for the people whose stories are told.

Time travel

Killing Time - Della Van Hise

Not just in the book, but I also time traveled reading it. I have owned the German translation of this TOS novel for two decades, and I clearly remember it being one of my favourites.

 

It was interesting re-reading it (or rather, reading it in the original English for the first time), as it made it really obvious that even back then what drew me to Star Trek were the relationships, most notably the one between Kirk and Spock. Because that's what this novel is about - as the internet has informed me, it was actually quite notorious as being one of the "slashiest" pro novels. (Side note. I find this rather amusing, considering that I had no notion that something like slash (same-sex fanfiction) existed, being rather busy imagining myself as Spock's girlfriend. *g*)

 

Even without this, I still enjoyed this book very much. Some of the writing is a bit weak, tending towards drawn-out exposition, and the plot is necessarily somewhat timey-whimey, but I liked the characterisations and enjoyed the supporting cast. Generally speaking, especially for a novel focusing so much on the two male protagonists and their relationship, the women we do see are treated well. For example there's a nice scene with Chapel that, although short, manages to make her seem like a real person. There's a somewhat superfluous pon farr sub-plot and an overabundance of mind-melds, but I can totally forgive that, and only wish we'd have gotten more time with the Kirk of the other timeline, since his incredibly angsty backstory is only hinted at. (Like, what the heck was up with that murder charge?)

 

So yes, I consider the hours reading this well-spent indeed.

A trip down memory lane...

Star Trek: Voyager: Full Circle - Kirsten Beyer

In light of Leonard Nimoy's passing last week I'd been cruising Youtube for Spock fanvids - and along the way I stumbled across a couple of Janeway/Chakotay vids. I only watched the first couple of seasons of Voyager, but theirs was one of the first pairings I looked up when I discovered online fandom, so it holds nostalgia.

 

I'd spoiled myself for the ending of the series, so I knew they never got it together (even worse, Chakotay was paired with Seven in what most fans seemed to deem a horrible mis-match), but today in a comment I read that apparently someone had written a novel (non-canon though it may be) that gave them some closure. So I did what people do these days, I googled it and was happy to find it on Scribd, which meant I could read it with their free trial - which I did this afternoon.

 

And while the novel clearly is meant to be read as part of an arc, with many important events only alluded to, I enjoyed it. The actual plot didn't really hook me (although wow, the stakes sure are high for the Federation, especially in the second half of the book - most of the action takes place off-stage), and I don't think I'll seek out the other novels, but the relationships worked rather well. The characters felt like old friends I hadn't seen in a long time, and it was lovely to see what had become of them, even if some things made me sad.

SPOILER ALERT!

Alexander the Great: Murder in Babylon

Alexander the Great: Murder in Babylon - Graham David Phillips,  Stanisław Lack,  Horace George Lorimer (In the interest of full disclosure: I wrote this before finishing it, because I felt so annoyed. But having now done so, my opinion remains unchanged.)

I liked the conceit of telling Alexander's life using eight "murder suspects" and the narrowing down to who it might have been in the first chapter is done very well, feeling very thought out and using the few historical sources we have very well. Unfortunately afterwards sometimes this careful weighing of the sources feels neglected in favour of the author's agenda and are treated like gospel truth. Using modern crime experts to solve a (suspected) murder committed over 2000 years ago is something I'm also a bit wary of, considering how little we actually know. But that might have been alright and still made for an interesting read, had the author not used the cheapest of detective fiction tricks: he glosses deliberately over important details in order to pull off a "big reveal" as motive for the murderer he ends up with. That's just seems wrong for a book that claims to be historical non-fiction.

---SPOILERS---

Those details? Anything to do with Hephaistion, making me at times rather angry while reading over the glaring omissions. The reveal? That Alexander and Hephaistion were *queue drumrolls* lovers. Um, yeah, that's news to who exactly? Certainly not to anyone who has ever read or watched anything about Alexander EVER.

On an amusing side-note, Roxane as a possible murderess was also mentioned in another quasi-historical Alexander biography - my beloved "The Nature of Alexander" by Mary Renault, who at least never pretends not to be biased. (I am most certainly biased, too - had the cheap plot device not involved Hephaistion, who so often gets short-changed by historians anyway and who I always want to read more of, I might have felt more forgiving.)

Mauvais Genre

Mauvais Genre - Chloé Cruchaudet Completely unimportant, but wow, my French is rusty! :) Anyways, a fascinating book - both in words and images. The drawing is beautifully sparse and the story of Paul/Suzy and Louise poignantly and touchingly told. A lot is left unsaid, has to be inferred, which suits the style very well.

Broken Homes

Broken Homes  - Ben Aaronovitch Oh, Peter Grant... I have such a crush on him! :) This is his fourth adventure, and it was just as enjoyable as the previous ones. I love that he's a regular copper, a geek and a follower of the scientific method, even when it comes to magic. I love that his world is so real (magic and all), the way London jumps off the page, as do the various characters he comes into contact with.

So I was enjoying myself quite a bit already in the first two thirds of the novel - and then suddenly events take off, until they hit you right where it hurts. I'd had my suspicions early on in the book, but hadn't wanted to believe it - so when it happened, I literally stopped in my tracks (I'd been reading while walking, unable to put down my eReader when I had to get off the tram) with a gasp. I can't wait to read Foxglove Summer, the next in the series (released yesterday!), and see what happens next with Peter!

A Choice of Destinies

A Choice of Destinies - Melissa Scott This was a rec from someone, and I have to say, I truly enjoyed it and read it in the course of one day. Being an Alexander fan along the lines of Mary Renault it was a pleasure to read a sympathetic characterization of him. Plus, Hephaistion gets the place he deserves - by Alexander's side. :)

I'm also a big fan of alternate histories, so I enjoyed this aspect of the book as well. Alexander fighting the Romans was especially interesting, I thought, as were the tidbits of "future" that showed how history might have changed if he had succeeded in creating a stable empire. As far as I was concerned, the book could have gone on much longer!

There was so much detail in everything, from the battles to the "future" stories, I easily forgave the slightly uneven writing and the few facts that were changed before the point of divergence and left unexplained (i.e. the Sacred Band and Alexander's son). I do think already having some background knowledge of Alexander's life is helpful in order to fully appreciate the novel. But yes, definitely a pleasant surprise!

Strength of the Pack

Strength of the Pack - Kendall McKenna I love this story to bits. Since my first read a few months ago, I keep reading it over and over. In short, I've totally fallen in love with Lucas and Noah.

I normally have problems with the power imbalance inherent in most werewolf relationships, so it's not a genre I read or enjoy as a general rule. But oh, those two don't conform to any of the cliches, their developing relationship never feels anything but equal (and emotionally very satisfying). And then McKenna puts them into an incredibly indepth and realistic military setting, embedding her brand of werewolf culture seemlessly into it. Hence the constant re-reading on my part. :)