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Even since Armchair Audies began in 2012 I’ve been and enthusiastic participant. Even during my blogging hiatus I listen to my category’s nominees (or at least the ones managed to get from outside the US).

I’ve always chosen History, but I’ve been increasingly bothered by the restriction in themes: large majority American history, and within that, mostly WW2. This year I even took a look at Non-fiction, but not much variety there either: American topics, all male writers, all male narrators.

Maybe I’m making too much of this, after all it is the American Audio Publishers Association!

Anywhoo, this year I’ve decided to armchair-judge the Mystery category. Unlike History, where I was always the only judge, Mystery is popular and I’m actually looking forward to seeing if all judges chose the same winner (right, Susie?).

So for the next couple of months I’ll listen to:

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  • The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo; Narrated by Kathleen McInerney; Macmillan Audio
  • Hounded by David Rosenfelt; Narrated by Grover Gardner; Listen & Live Audio, Inc.
  • Malice by Keigo Higashino; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Macmillan Audio
  • Missing You by Harlan Coben; Narrated by January LaVoy; Brilliance Publishing
  • Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Audible, Inc.
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith; Narrated by Robert Glenister; Hachette Audio

Will you also join Armchair Audies this year?

Stiff_Cover(Yes, I realize I’m about 10 years delayed in reading Stiff).

Unfortunately, Stiff didn’t quite rise to my expectations. Mostly because I was expecting a different book. I thought it was a detailed description of the decomposition of a single cadaver, possibly with chapters organized by time (Chapter 1: 30m After Death, Chapter 2: 24 Hours After Death, etc.). Still think it this would be a really cool book, but alas, it wasn’t this one.

With adjusted expectations I immediately started creating new expectations, but managed to really-really enjoy the first two thirds of the book. It was fascinating to learn more about the cadaver trade during Victorian times and the body farms that help students learn more about body decomposition. But Roach started to lose me on the long chapter about crash-test dummies and I was *this close* to skipping during the trip to China.

Basically, I wish she’d have spent more time on the history of humanity’s treatment of dead people (so much to cover, so many cultures, two world wars!) and less on contemporary cadaver-disposal options. I’m know this is all about what I wanted Roach to write, but there you have it, can’t be helped.

I was surprised by my lack of squeamishness. Actually, the parts that were harder to listen to (audiobook) were about the living, like the victims patients of early surgeries and placenta-eating moms.

So, in summary, fascinating stuff, and Roach has my respect for tackling an almost taboo topic, but ended up with mixed feelings due to strong opinions about what she should have written. #entitlement

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Other thoughts: Rebecca Reads, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Confessions of a Bibliophile, You’ve GOTTA read this, The Book Brothel, Savidge Reads, Bookshelves of Doom, Love, Laughter and a touch of Insanity, The Cheap Reader, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Lakeside Musing, Capricious Reader, She Treads Softly, an adventure in reading, reading comes from writing, Peace of Brain, Reading Through Life, eclectic/eccentric (yours?)

The_Martian_2014This is one of the most uplifting books I’ve ever read, the perfect antidote to last week’s events. Who knew that a book about an astronaut left for dead by his crew on Mars could be this fun?

It’s basically an ode to human intelligence and ingenuity, to the power of science, courage and team work. After Charlie Hebdo, this book left me thinking “we’ll be ok” and for that I’ll be forever grateful to Weir.

I just wish my knowledge of chemistry and physics would do it more justice. Although the science parts were well explained and concise, I’m sure I’d have been even more impressed if I knew more about space exploration.

Don’t have much more to say about it, really. It deserved to show up in so many bloggers’ best-of-2014 lists. And a big thank you to who recommended the audiobook version.

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Other thoughts: Dribble of Ink, The Guilded Earlobe, The Speculative Spaceman, That’s What She Read, Stainless Steel Droppings, Speculative Book Review, The Book Cove, Cheap Thrills, the Little Red Reviewer, Love, Laughter and a touch of Insanity, Rinn Reads, Book Chatter, Collateral Bloggage, Don’t be afraid of the Dork, Jenn’s Bookshelves (yours?)

BRRead for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge:
A sci-fi novel

ninetailorsThe Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers

One of my favorites books in the series so far AND there’s no Harriet or major insight into Wimsey’s character. What it did have was a great set of secondary characters and a perfect snap-shot of post-war village life. There was also extensive geeky conversations about bell ringing that were surprisingly fascinating. I didn’t understand most of it, but discovered a whole new world and found myself happily listening to bell concerts while reading the book.

The book blogsphere gave me really high expectation about the next in the series, Gaudy Night. It better be good, you guys!
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13481275Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

The latest by comfort writer extraordinaire Sarah Allen Addison, which half the world has read months ago, I’m sure. It’s likely that I’ll always have a good time with everything she writes, but within this, Lost Lake felt a bit watered down. It needed to be longer and more focused.

There are many main characters and even more back-stories, too many to go through effectively in only 8 hours of audiobook. A little bit more romance and magic realism wouldn’t hurt the book either – that’s why we pick up SAA in the first place, right?
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nicCaprice and Rondo (The House of Niccolo, #7) by Dorothy Dunnett

Very à propos, this book is mostly set in a Crimea on the verge of invasion. It’s exciting, complex, brilliant and everything else you’d expect from Dorothy Dunnett. I agree with Helen that the sense of place is more tamed this time around, but on the other hand there’s a satisfying focus on character development (Gelis managing the Bank, Julius reaction to the revelation) and a bunch of great action scenes (murder by bees!).

There was also The Letter. Actually, it was just a couple of sentences but I’ll put it up there on Captain Wentworth’s level.

My-Kid-Lies-Nurture-Shock-book-coverNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Together with Caprice and Rondo, this is the only 5-star of the year so far. A sort of Bad Science just about children. It’s written by two journalists in the child psychology field who specialize in reporting on studies that have gone unnoticed. In the different chapters they slowing and steadily dismantled my dogmas about kids and intelligence, lying, praising, race, sleep, only childs and, my favorite, language acquisition.

“Children key off their parents’ reaction more than the argument or physical discipline itself.”
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Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Let’s just say that if you want something light for a sunny summer day at the beach you might want to skip this one. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon-ish artwork, there is nothing lighthearted about these short stories. It’s a look at the Japan of the 60s and 70s, full of lonely men trapped in bleak lives, self-hatred, family duty, perverse desires and social expectations.

Some stories are like nothing I’ve read before, and just for that I’m glad I’ve read it. Whatever this book may do, it will not leave you indifferent.

armchairaudies

It’s that time of the year again: the Audible nominations are out and the Armchair Audies are open for business! Jennifer and Bob launched it in 2012 and it rapidly became one of my favorite book bloggers events. Glad to see the Audies gaining track in general, so much so that Audible even has a dedicated page.

The last two years I’ve tackled the History category, but this year I’m changing to Non-fiction. Two reasons: this category is almost always overwhelmingly US-centered and once again Audible doesn’t offer some of the nominees to non-US-based costumers (so frustrating!).

On the other hand, lots of good arguments in favor on Non-fiction this year: all books are available, Malcolm Gladwell, cheese, environmental classics and no book too long.

Are you participating? Which category are you “judging”?

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Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill, narrated by Sandy Rustin
Was always curious about Scientology, it’s good opportunity to know more.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants written and narrated by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m a Gladwell fan, so this book sealed the deal for me.

The End of Nature 
by Bill McKibben, narrated by Jeff Woodman
A 10th Anniversary Edition of an environmental classic. I’ve heard good things about McKibben.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese
 by Michael Paterniti, narrated by L.J. Ganser
CHEESE! This is the one I’m more looking forward to.

Thank You for Your Service
 by David Finkel, narrated by Arthur Bishop
A journalistic-style book about life after coming home from a war.

Republic of Thieves

Oh noes. I was afraid of this. The Lies of Locked Lamora was one of my favorite books of 2011: fresh and with a border-line hyperactive plot. My mind wandered off several times during book 2, Red Seas Under Red Skies, but the clever writing was still there, as well as a kick-ass female character. Unfortunately, The Republic of Thieves continued the downwards tendency.

To be fair, I was disappointed but it was still enjoyable, or not even Michael Page would get me to listen to 24 hours of audiobook. I’ll give it a solid 3.

Two things I enjoyed, and two I didn’t: 

I continued to love the Lynch’s humor. Like the earlier in the series, The Republic is peppered with hilarious conversations and one-liners that Michael Page once again delivers to perfection. Lynch is one of the best when it comes to coarse cursing, right up there with Shakespeare. Also, just by themselves the foul-mouthed Sanza twins were worth the time I invested and I wish they’d be around in the future.

Lynch’s amazing world-building is also still alive and kicking. Every book is set in a different country and you can tell that a lot of thought went into developing separate political systems, manners and habits, architecture, gastronomy, etc. A good world-building goes a long way to make me loyal to a fantasy series.

Now for the down side. The plot interweaves two stories: in one Locke and Jean and hired by the bondmagi to rig an election in Karthain, with the (in)famous Sabetha as their opponent. The interludes are about Locke’s and the Gentleman Bastards’ early years, in particular a play they staged in their teens as a sort of team-building exercise. This supposedly secondary story is given as much time as the main one and even takes over the title of the book (the play is called The Republic of Thieves), which confused me a bit.

I though the details about Locke’s childhood were interesting, but the play became lumbering after a while. I was hoping it would bring an insight into the main story, but it wasn’t the case. In the end it felt like Lynch was just using this book as a platform to realize his dream of writing Shakespeare-style theater (there are pages of the actual play being declaimed, all very meta). This plot line should have been a separate book, like the upcoming The Bastards and the Knives (Gentleman Bastard, #0).

Regarding the “present” adventure in Karthain, I was expecting an Ocean’s 11 or Mission Impossible type of plot. Rigging an election has huge potential for a plot full of baroque twists and turns, but instead Lynch focused on the romance side of the story. I wouldn’t usually defend plot over character development, but here I longed the relentlessness action of the first book. Also, in Camorr Locke and Jean had control over events and the narrative, even when plans apparently didn’t come together. In Karthain they only had a hand full of halfhearted pranks up their sleeves and were mostly puppets in the hands of their employees. I was hoping for a big a-ha! moment at the end, but was again disappointment.

Still, my biggest problem with the book was Sabetha. During the two earlier book Lynch built her up so much that in the end her entrance was just felt anticlimactic. There was no chemistry between the two, and her personality never goes beyond being a repository for Locke’s obsession and emasculation. I understand that falling in love with the leader of your gang must be hard, but it’s still no excuse for just how whinny and annoying Sabetha turned out to be. 

A final aside: at some point I wondered if this book would pass The Bechdel test. Conclusion: the play part would, Karthain, not so much.

On-wards to The Thorn of Emberlain, better times will come I’m sure 🙂

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Other thoughts: BookLustFantasy Book CriticPat’s Fantasy HotlistThe WertzoneNeth SpaceA Dribble of InkThe Little Red ReviewerScience-Fiction and Fantasy Book ReviewsSpeculative Book ReviewVal’s Random CommentsIn Bed with Books (yours?)

One of my favorite blogging events of 2013 was the first edition of The Armchair Audies, organized by the Literary Housewife and the Guilded Earlobe. The idea is that bloggers choose at least one category of the Audies Awards, listen to all the nominated titles, and then make their predictions.

Last year I chose the History category, had lots of fun, but failed miserably in my prediction. After seeing the 2013 nominees I’ve decided to stick to History, even though, as last year, there’s an overwhelming focus given to American History (and the world so big!).

Here they are:

 

Da-Vincis-Ghost-2781964Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image
Toby Lester
Read by Stephen Hoye (Tantor Media)

The story behind the Vitruvian Man – the nominee I’m most curious about.

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hash-9e50e4ffcbd9f8ddfe3385fe3295495b6a57f04cSeason of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love
David Talbot
Arthur Morey (Brilliance Audio)

A history of San Francisco in the crazy years between 1967 and 1982, “when the city radically changed itself—and then revolutionized the world“.

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UntitledL.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City
John Buntin
Read by Kirby Heyborne (Tantor Media)

After San Fran in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, enter LA in the 50s. Portrayed as “the white spot of America“, it hid “crooked cops, ruthless newspaper tycoons, corrupt politicians, and East Coast gangsters“.

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Twelve-Desperate-Miles-2804587Twelve Desperate Miles: The Epic World War II Voyage of the SS Contessa
Tim Brady
Read by Joe Barrett (AudioGO)

How cool does this sound? It’s a movie in the making:

“The Dirty Dozen meets Band of Brothers in this true story of how a rusty old New Orleans banana boat staffed with an unlikely crew of international merchant seamen, a gang of inmates from a local jail, and a French harbor pilot spirited out of Morocco by O.S.S. agents in the trunk of a Chevy, were drafted into service in WWII — and heroically succeeded in setting the stage for Patton’s epic invasion of North Africa.”

UntitledThe Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret
Kent Harman
Read by Dan John Miller (Tantor Media)

A book about the West Coast’s recording studio scene of the ’60s. A bit too similar to Season of the Witch, but it still sounds… groovy.

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UntitledPacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942
Ian W. Toll
Read by Grover Gardner (Audible, Inc.)

Pacific Crucible tells the story of the first months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history (Pearl Harbor) and seized the strategic initiative.

I though military war, especially naval, was not my cuppa until I started reading Patrick O’Brian. I’m hoping this book will have the same effect.

Yet another proof that this re-reading thing really pays off and the confirmation that Tigana is still my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel, 10 years after the first read. This time around the experience was further improved by Simon Vance‘s most excellent narration.

(By the way, to all fantasy authors who still write stand-alones: thank you!)

There’s a lot for the grateful reader to sink his teeth on in Tigana, but the central topic is the subjugation of a people. The Peninsula of the Palm was invaded at the same time by two tyrants and sorcerers. The lack of unity among the Palm’s provinces made them easy targets and all were soon conquered and their territory divided among the two invaders.

One province stood out – Tigana. They were the last to fight back and in a decisive battle the son of the most powerful of the two tyrants was killed. He promised and delivered a terrible revenge: first he crushed them in the final battle and then, using his magic, he ensured that only people who were born in the province before the invasion could remember Tigana, its name, culture or history. Buildings were destroyed, music forgotten, books burned. Proud Tigana was now Lower Corte, a poor and minor province in the shadow of its neighbor (and former rival) Corte.

Now, twenty years after the invasions, a group of rebels led by Tigana’s heir have a plan to bring down the tyrants and break the spell. It is the province’s last chance before its name is forever wiped from history.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is one hell of a premise. The use of language during dictatorships and invasions has always fascinated me. Its direct link to identity, culture and sense of belonging makes it an extremely effective tool of subjugation, humiliation and consolidation. As Gavriel Kay explains in the Afterword:

When you want to subjugate a people – to erase their sense of themselves as separate and distinctive – one place to start (and it is sometimes enough) is with their language and names. Names link to history, and we need a sense of our history to define ourselves.

This book is a good argument against the nay-sayers convinced that fantasy books are detached from the real world. It’s impossible not to make parallels with past and present events.Lots of food for thought in

Tigana, but delivered in a way far from preachy or obvious. There’s lots of suspense, adventure, intrigue and romance. The characters, as I’ve come to expect from Gavriel Kay, are masterly built (he paid attention in the “show don’t tell” class), from the tyrants, to the rebel leader to the inn-keeper we meet only in one short scene.

It’s also very rewarding in its complexity: nothing is black-and-white, characters are never just the Heroes or the Villains and are often put in scenarios that seem like psychology case-studies where there’s never a clear win-win decision.

I plan to re-read The Fionavar Tapestry ( and maybe The Sarantine Mosaic) next year.

One of my favorite quotes:

He carried, like baggage, like a cart yoked to his shoulders, like a round stone in his heart, images of his people, their world destroyed, their name obliterated. Truly obliterated: a sound that was drifting, year by year, further away from the shores of the world of men, like some tide withdrawing in the grey hour of a winter dawn. Very like such a tide, but different as well, because tides came back.

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Other thoughts: The Literay Omnivore, The Speculative Scotsmanjust add books, Fantasy Cafe, Only the Best Fantasy & Sci-fi, Ela’s Book Blog, Speculative Book Review, The Readventurer, Necromancy Never Pays, Doing Dewey (yours?)

American Gods goes into my mental list of “it’s not you, it’s me” books. (I feel I’m loosing some imaginary “coolness factor” by not having loving it, like there’s social pressure involved. Some books have that aura.)

After all, it seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to win me over, including the epic scope and the appealing plot – old and new Gods fighting for the hearts and minds of Americans without them knowing? Sign me up! Also, I loved my two previous Gaimans (The Graveyard Book and Good Omens), always a good sign.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what didn’t do it for me, because the writing is clearly brilliant and none of the narrators in my audiobook was particularly annoying.

Although the plot sounded great, throughout the 20 hours of audiobook I had to tell myself to suspend my disbelief (unusual for me in fantasy novels) and stop over-analyzing, like:

  • Why should I be on the side of Shadow and Odin and not with the new Gods of Television, Internet and Money? Didn’t Odin instigate wars, rape and murder? Why are we safer with the Old Gods? If I had a choice, I’d probably go with the new ones.
  • Are we really more obsessed with money today than, say, 200 years ago?
  • Isn’t there be a better way for Odin and his buddies to gain power? Maybe try to gather more human followers by doing a few tricks. Show off a bit. There are birds of thunder flying around and Shadow can control the weather, for crying out loud.
  • Where are the current, strong Gods like Jesus Christ and Allah? Wasn’t it a cop-out not to include them?

There are a lot of contradictions in the plot line and in the end (because of it?) the story becomes very secular: Man has the power and (I ask myself) if Man has the power, why do we need Gods at all?

“Jesus does pretty good over here,” (…) “But I met a guy who said he saw him hitchhiking by the side of the road in Afghanistan and nobody was stopping to give him a ride. You know? It all depends on where you are.

Maybe Gaiman’s whole point is to make the reader think about this. Either way, all this questioning made me disconnected from the characters and it’s always more difficult to love a book with characters you don’t care about and whose deaths you’d be indifferent to.

I did enjoy it in general, especially the resolution of the missing girls’ mystery in the sleepy small town. The road-trip was a great opportunity for Gaiman to display his humor, clever writing and even cleverer observations of people and culture.

I just wish that Shadow felt more like someone with an actual will and opinion, that I cared 2-Euro-cents about his zombie wife, that all the build-up and premonitions had an explosive finale, that the Gods we get to know in the “interludes” (probably my favorite parts) made an appearance somewhere in the main story. Lots of things felt too… loose.

Technically, American Gods is grand but unfortunately I can’t really say that it won me over.

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Other thoughts:
things mean a lotThe Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews, That’s What She Read, S. Krishna’s Books, Birdbrain(ed), Man of la Book, just add booksEntomology of a Bookworm, Life with Books, Melody & Words, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Reading with Tequila, a book a week, The Little Red Reviewer, ResoluteReader, A Lifetime of Books, The Labyrinth Library, Once Upon a Bookshelf,  Amy’s Book Obsession, 50 Books Project, biblioathlas, Postcards from Asia, Becky’s Book Reviews, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (yours?)

Life has been happening like crazy on this side of the line. Add holidays and heat and pure, unadulterated laziness and you get a blogging slump. It would also be a reading slump if it wasn’t for YA audiobooks and daily newspapers (a holiday tradition and zen moment).

I need a bit of incentive because my spirit breaks just by looking at the two months backlog. Anyone interested in doing a buddy-read or something? Any easy read-alongs going around? Interesting projects?

Meanwhile, and while inspiration doesn’t strike, I’m doing a meme. They’re not usually my thing, but these are desperate times and maybe thinking about the books I’ve planned for the upcoming months will help.

Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Harris’ The Observations didn’t do much for me, but everyone seems to be raving about Gillespie and I so I’ve decided to give it a try.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

My most anticipated re-read is Tigana, my favorite book by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve decided to tackle it in audio format this time around.

Chroniques de  Jérusalem by Guy Delisle

All books by Guy Delisle are an instant best-seller here in Brussels, European capital of the graphic novel. I’ve never read anything by him but heard lots about this one, a birthday present from my co-workers.

The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief, #3) by Megan Whalen Turner

I’ve recently re-read the first two in the series just so that when I’d pick this one up for the first time everything was fresh. I hear it’s the best one of the series so far?

The Unicorn Hunt (The House of Niccolo, #5) by Dorothy Dunnett

I’m trying to go through The House of Niccolo series reeeeeeally slowly because you only read Dunnet for the first time once. It was a Herculean effort not to lunge for this one right after Scales of Gold and its extraordinary ending. I’ve waited long enough.

Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Whenever I don’t have a formed opinion on a certain topic, I Google Fry’s thoughts on it and always find myself nodding in agreement. Moab is My Washpot is an autobiography covering his first 20 years of life. The Fry Chronicles is already in the TBR waiting its turn.

The Mauritius Command(Aubrey/Maturin Book 4) by Patrick O’Brian

Another series I want to make last, although its 21 volumes-long… The previous book, HMS Surprise, is set to become one of the best of 2012.

Mayombe by Pepetela

For Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge, this will be my first by one of Angola’s most famous writers. Everyone I know who reads in Portuguese seems to have read at least one of his books.

She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff by Annalee Newitz & Charlie Anders (Eds.)

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, on 16 October.

Un día de cólera by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

At the beginning of the year one of my goals was to read more books in their original languages. I’ve done well in Portuguese and French but haven’t picked up anything in Spanish yet. This hour by hour description of 1808’s Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid will put me back on track.

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