But realistically I think we are in an eternal summer: A links round-up

You will be shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that the FBI was spying on James Baldwin.

The psychological toll of reporting on black deaths in America. Do newsrooms have social workers? I feel like they should. Or some sort of institutionalized debriefing situation.

What defines the Gothic (with examples from some of my literally most favorite ever in this world authors).

I maybe liked The Man from UNCLE an eensy smidge more than Wesley Morris did, but I can’t argue with his review of it. Except for the criticisms of Henry Cavill. I really liked Henry Cavill in this movie. Also, yes, he and Armie Hammer should make out.

Let’s let mental health professionals run jails. Agree?

An update on what’s happening with the Sad Puppies, by a woman who seems to share my exact feelings about Orson Scott Card.

And for those of you who were horrified that Russians don’t have any cheddar cheese, an update on the cheese situation in Russia.

The fall is coming (please God let it be true), and Vulture has a recommendations generator for those of you not sure what you want to read, watch, and listen to in the upcoming months.

Emma Donoghue writes about the experience of being on a movie set while your book is turned into a film.

Dipping my toe in the mystery novel waters

By chance last month I found myself reading two mystery novels at once, although I rarely even read one mystery novel at once. The first was Parker Bilal’s The Golden Scales, set in the criminal underworld of 1990s Cairo; and the second was Deborah Crombie’s A Share in Death, in which a Scotland Yard superintendent has rather a busman’s holiday at his cousin’s time share.

Golden Scales sees Sudanese investigator Makana engaged by Egyptian mogul Saad Hanafi to find the missing Adil Romario, the star player of Hanafi’s football (soccer) team. As Makana digs deeper into Romario’s dealings, he finds a world of seedy filmmakers, Russian gangsters, and an Englishwoman searching for her lost daughter. Meanwhile, he is haunted by his own wife and daughter, who died as the family attempted to flee Sudan for Egypt.

Golden Scales

As Eva mentioned in her review a few years ago (which I guess I missed seeing until now!), The Golden Scales leans into thriller territory a little, which is not always my jam. Bilal’s depiction of Cairo — both the fantastic wealth of the corrupt men who run it, and the desperate poverty in its underworld — was enough to keep me interested, though, and I’ll probably try at least one more in this series.

The second mystery, A Share in Death, was part of my effort to clear old books off my TBR spreadsheet: Eva (again!) recommended this series in early 2014, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. I meant to read the first few chapters to get a feel for it, and I very quickly found myself halfway through the book! It has a very classic, Agatha-Christie feel to it that I loved, with a murder that happens at a holiday timeshare, and every boarder has something to hide.

For the first time since I can’t remember when, I didn’t read the end to discover who did the murder. I thought it would be fun to try and guess! I was a little behind the detective, I admit, but I had narrowed it down to two suspects, one of whom did indeed turn out to be the guilty party. Anyway, Deborah Crombie writes exactly the kind of mystery I like to read, where nobody does autopsies there’s no gritty realism and everyone has secrets and it’s a nice little puzzle for the reader. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

Readers, incriminate yourselves! If you were going to do a murder, how would you do it?

Speak, Louisa Hall

Note: In the course of writing this blog post, I arrived at semantic satiation for the word speak, and maybe you will too.

In Speak Louisa Hall plays around with concepts of speech and personhood and artificial intelligence. In alternating chapters, the reader hears from Alan Turing, one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence; Mary Bradford, a seventeenth-century diarist on her way to a new life in the New World; Ruth and Karl Dettman, who together (but separately) created the first iteration of an AI called MARY; Stephen Chinn, who built MARY into something dangerous and is now writing his memoirs from prison; and a traumatized girl called Gaby who is trying to make sense of what her engagement with AI has made her.

Speak Louisa Hall

Cosmetically, Speak is ruhlly baller and deserving of every rave it’s received so far (including one from Emily St. John Mandel, the author of last year’s sci-fi-with-aspirations-to-greatness novel). Her writing is lovely, and in general the different point-of-view characters have distinct voices. And y’all know I’m about an epistolary novel, which I’m going to say this counts as. For the first third or so of this book, I wanted to drop messages to all my sci-fi-loving friends to order them to read it.

(Can you sense the slow and inevitable arrival of the word but in this review?)

BUT, The book petered out in the second half. It was still an enjoyable read, because Louisa Hall’s a fluent and impressive writer but OH DEAR I fear this is a very cutting criticism so let’s hope Louisa Hall never comes to hear of it: I am not sure she has anything actually to say about all the questions she raised so eloquently in the first half. The book ends in a sort of, Yes, these are questions, maybe they are important, who knows, kind of way. It felt timid, when I wanted it to be audacious, which is the word everyone has used to describe this book.

Another thing it does not do, and what a missed opportunity, is gather all of its threads together in a satisfying structural manner. Louisa Hall makes a couple of stabs — including a painfully explainy one at the end — at clarifying to the reader why all these people are connected, and it feels awkward. The author shouldn’t have to explain it; the book should make its own case, and Speak really doesn’t.

For as negative as all this sounded, I liked the book a lot. Did I want more from it? Yes. Was it an absorbing and wonderful reading experience? Yes. A very conflicted three stars.

Friend Teresa, your attention please! I think this is more of a you book than a me book, so perhaps give it a try if you get a chance. You have more patience for beautiful prose at the expense of other book elements than I have.

Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

Conspicuous consumption.

That could actually be my full post about Crazy Rich Asians, a book I read because Roxane Gay told me to. It is a book that depicts conspicuous consumption. If you like Jackie Collins and preferred Veronica to Betty because Veronica had all the cool stuff, Crazy Rich Asians might be for you. One of the characters literally has an outfit-picking computer program like in Clueless.

What a great movie.

Nick Young, scion of a derangedly wealthy Singaporean family, is bringing his girlfriend, Rachel Chu, home to meet his family, while his cousin Astrid Yeong faces the possible collapse of her marriage. And what feels like the whole of Singapore watches every move they are making.

I’d have said I don’t care for reading about conspicuous consumption, because really, the money these people are spending on a single dress could be feeding villages. But then — when I got to the end of Crazy Rich Asians and remembered that Kevin Kwan has a new book out called China Rich Girlfriend, I thought: “HM. I could probably stand to read more about silk batiste dresses hand-painted by a Javanese designer. IF I HAD TO.”

The characters and dialogue aren’t tremendously inspired, but they don’t need to be. Kevin Kwan is writing about things. If you’re having a week where you feel broke, Crazy Rich Asians can bring you back. In its world, you can have SERIOUSLY LITERALLY ALL THE THINGS.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.46: Libraries, a Lurlene McDaniel Game, and Lisa Lutz’s How to Start a Fire

This week, we welcome Ashley back to the podcast to discuss what makes a library good (or bad). Then Ashley administers a game entitled: Real Lurlene McDaniel Book, or Nah?, in which you may witness the Jennys gradually losing track of reality and descending into madness. Finally, the Jennys review Lisa Lutz’s book How to Start a Fire. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall

Ascension, Jacqueline Koyanagi

For whatever reason, it’s shaping up to be a specfic kind of summer for me here at Reading the End. A glance at my reading spreadsheet reports that I did a sci-fi binge at the start of this year, and here I am having another one, what with Touch and Elysium and The Player of Games and some other books I didn’t tell you about because YOU DO NOT KNOW MY WHOLE LIFE. And now Ascension.

Like The Player of Games, there’s a very “I am science fiction!” quality to Ascension, which I admit is not always my jam. I like my science fiction to be of the type the Sad Puppies truly despise: spaceship-free and full of ladies. (Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty, for instance. Touch for instance.) And don’t get me wrong: The Sad Puppies would despise Ascension. It’s full of feelings! And people of color! And ladies kissing ladies! And families of choice and what it means to build one and be a part of one! But also, spaceships; and when it comes to spaceships, I have to be gently led (by bloggers!). It is not my natural diet.

Our heroine, Alana Quick, is a sky surgeon. When she sees an opportunity to stow away on a ship called the Tangled Axon, she seizes it; and the next thing she knows, she and her sister Nova, with whom she has a very fraught relationship, find themselves fugitives on the run along with the crew of the Tangled Axon.

Whenever I get on a scifi binge, it helps me clarify what kind of scifi I actually like, versus what I read in the hopes of making myself like it. I do truly not care for spaceships. Ascension overcomes that to the best of its ability, creating a spaceship that has a properly Firefly-like feel to it, with a ragtag group of vagabonds whose only home is each other. I dug that. What I truly love in sci-fi, however, is a killer idea, played out with exquisite specificity. In Ascension, I loved the milieu, with its casual diversity, sister bonds, open relationships, characters being chill about other characters’ disabilities, etc. etc. But I wanted the plot to be more of an IDEA. I wanted it to be what-if.

All of that to say: If you love spaceships, and diversity in sci-fi, and plots that spin you along, Ascension is a really fun ride, even if it’s not the exactly perfect book for me.

If I may brag: I have been trying to get to some of the books that are higher up on my TBR list (i.e., the books that have been sitting on my list for a while without me reading them), and Ascension was maybe number 4 on the list. When I went looking for the review that inspired me to add it to the TBR list, which was Clare’s, I discovered it was only from 2014! Only last year! Yay me! I am an efficient reader of TBR pile books!

The Season for Franzen Mockery Has Begun: A links round-up

Franzen’s new book is out soon, and every joke the internet makes at its expense is music to my ears, yet also I sort of wonder if Franzen and his publisher and The Atlantic and The New Republic are pranking us. They must be, right? This can’t really be real? Anyway, for now let’s just enjoy making fun of Jonathan Franzen, as the founding fathers intended.

Fantasy author NK Jemisin on disrupting the status quo. Note that the author of the interview refers to “stereotypical fantasy series like Lord of the Rings,” which is sort of insane because Lord of the Rings didn’t partake of those stereotypes, it invented them, so settle down with that.

And also, a good thing to know about about tragic queerness in NK Jemisin’s latest book, The Fifth Season, before you start reading it (featuring spoilers).

Same-sex desire in African fiction.

A female author sent out manuscript queries under a male pseudonym, and you’ll never guess what happened next! (Except, yes you will. You’re not naive.)

It turns out that writing a romance novel in which a Jew in Nazi Germany falls in love with the commandant of her concentration camp is not the world’s greatest idea. But Anne Rice is fine with it because of course she is.

Mary Engelbreit is doing a thing to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and that’s going to have to mark the official end of the days in which it was fine for me to mix her up with Lisa Frank.

Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation.

Relatedly: A thoughtful response to that David Brooks review of Between the World and Me.

When we talk about trigger warnings, I feel like we do not often enough point out that people mostly want them as a heads-up, not an excuse note. But let’s do keep that in mind.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I will be reading the latest books from Amitav Ghosh and Meredith Duran, which I think sums me up as a reader pretty thoroughly.

The Night Sister, Jennifer McMahon

Note: I received The Night Sister from the publisher, Doubleday, for review consideration.


I mean, let’s be cool about it, but: Haunted. Motel.

Sisters Piper and Margot have done their best to forget the childhood summer they spent exploring their friend Amy’s home, the Tower Motel (now closed and in disrepair). But when Amy is accused of a horrific crime, their memories of that time come pouring back, and they must grapple with what they uncovered at the Tower Motel as teenagers.

Night Sister

The Night Sister unfolds in three separate timelines: the present, as Piper and Margot try to discover what would make Amy commit the crime she’s believed to have committed; 1989, as Piper, Margot, and Amy explore abandoned parts of the tower motel and discover what was left behind by Amy’s aunt Sylvie when she went away to be a Hollywood star; and 1955, as Amy’s mother, Rose, begins to suspect something terrible about her sister Sylvie.

In the storylines of the past, McMahon weaves together the girls’ coming of age with their dawning realization that they have become involved in something terrible, which is perfect. The present-era storyline can sometimes feel that it’s spinning its wheels while the (more compelling) flashbacks work their creepy magic on the reader’s brain. And creepy it damn well is.

McMahon smartly anticipates the problem of the suspense of her horror novel dissipating when the reader finds out What Is Going On, and she rapidly shifts all of that suspense from the 1950s and 1980s into the lives of Piper and Margot (Margot is, incidentally, pregnant). So the 2013 storyline gets its moment in the sun as well, even if you feel pretty certain that McMahon’s not going to (probably?) (right?) kill Margot and/or her unborn child in the service of being creepy.

As usual, the blogosphere was right when y’all urged me to read Jennifer McMahon, which you did as far back as Dismantled in 2009. There is no excuse for my continued delay, except that none of her previous books featured a haunted house, and I really love haunted houses.

And now, dear readers, a question for you: If you suspected you were sharing a bedroom with someone who was secretly a monster, would you go ahead and blow town and hitch a ride to NYC? I WOULD.

Touch, Claire North

Let me start with this, and I’ll put it in caps so you can be clear on the message: Touch, by Claire North, is a VERY GOOD BOOK. Don’t be put off by whatever unidentified off-putting notion you may have about it that makes you leave it on your bedroom floor for three weeks before you condescend to pick it up. It’s a VERY GOOD BOOK.

Onward to premise: There are creatures called ghosts who have the power to move from one body to another simply by touching skin. Ghosts can only die if they are cannot get out of their dying body quickly enough. Our nameless, genderless protagonist, known to their enemies as Kepler, watches their host, a woman named Josephine, get gunned down in a Metro station by a killer who was plainly briefed on Kepler’s body-jumping talents. Though Kepler escapes alive, they are determined to find out who arranged for Josephine’s death, and why.

The brilliance of Touch is in the mechanics — and y’all know, if you spend much time around here, that I love a story that gets its hands dirty mucking around in the mechanics of its premise. Kepler has been jumping bodies for over two hundred years, and they know a thing or two. You can get lost permanently in rush hour traffic. Anyone chasing you will be looking for people who have lost time; you can mitigate the obviousness of that by pumping your bodies full of drugs and alcohol before taking off for the next one; campsite rule applies when you’re at your leisure, and other times your host body might just have to take a hit. (Or a bullet.)

If there was anything disappointing about this fast-paced, brilliantly conceived book, it’s that all the brilliance of premise and running and detecting and THEMES was in service of such a disappointing goal. There’s this ghost called Galileo who does massacres and is a psychopath. It’s fine, as a macguffin, the way it’s fine in Sunshine to be hunting this one big master evil vampire, but in Touch I wished that the characters’ goals were as unexpected and fascinating as their means of achieving them.

Read it please! And report back to me!

Jeanne! This seems like quite a you sort of book! (My feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t care for it, though.)

The Player of Games, Iain Banks

So the problem is that I don’t truly like hard science fiction. Or hard fantasy. Or I mean, I do sometimes, occasionally, but on those occasions it’s sort of despite the trappings of the genre, rather than because of them. So it may be that Iain Banks, whatever his virtues, is just not the author for me. (Which isn’t to say that I hated The Player of Games.)

the cover of a book I did not hate

And Banks has created a fascinating world here: A civilization called the Culture has asked one of their finest game-players, Gurgeh, to pop over to an alien Empire and have a stab at their primary game, Azad, which determines the status of the society — the emperor, therefore, attains his position by dint of being the most gifted game-player in the empire. Gurgeh isn’t expected to win; just to discover whether a member of the Culture can master the game-play at all.

The Player of Games feels like what people like to call classic science fiction, with the women subsidiary and the men unemotional. Which is not a strike against it, exactly, but it made an interesting contrast with the last two sci-fi books I read, Claire North’s Touch and Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium. Although The Player of Games, like those last two, does things with gender (there are three genders in the empire of Azad, while citizens of the Culture are able to switch between genders with very little trouble), the ideas it’s interested in exploring have nothing to do with gender and its impact on identity on personhood. Instead, it’s interested in power and its exercise.

Lessons in power differentials, with Tom Hiddleston

Again, nothing wrong with that. The book is slow to start, and I had to reeeeally plow through to get to the good bit, but once I did, I was hooked(ish). It’s just interesting what different people want to read about — and, crucially, what they think is worth reading about.

This has been my maiden effort with Iain Banks, and although it’s not what I’ll want to read every single day, it was certainly interesting enough — and sufficiently well put-together, which is something I care about — to keep me interested in trying more books by him in the future. When I’m in a sci-fi mood.

I had this book checked out from my library for a month and a half before I read it, because it was slow to start. Once Zuckerberg announced it was his next book club pick, though, I thought it would be the nice thing to do to return the library’s only copy so that other folks could read it if they want to. I figure people who are reading it for Facebook book club are probably going to want it badder than I do. THAT IS JUST THE KIND OF SAINTLY PERSON I AM.