Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.40: Secondary Characters, Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, and a Summer Book Preview

It’s time for podcast once again! (Sorry we’re late, technical difficulties.) We discuss secondary characters, which gives me the chance to praise Diana Wynne Jones. We review Kate Atkinson’s new novel A God in Ruins (we received copies from the publisher for review consideration), and we preview some books we’re excited for this summer. 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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1:32 – Secondary characters
17:09 – Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins
32:22 – Summer book preview!

The books we mentioned in the summer book preview are listed below, so that you too can get psyched for them.

Whiskey Jenny

  1. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen – Released by Random Penguin earlier this month (note: that is not their real name)
  2. The Complete Eightball, by Daniel Clowes – To be released in June by Fantagraphics
  3. The Sage of Waterloo, by Leona Francombe – To be released in June by Norton
  4. In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume – To be released in June by Knopf
  5. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan – To be released in July by Penguin Press

Gin Jenny

  1. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson – Released by HarperTeen earlier this month
  2. Flood and Fire, by Amitav Ghosh – To be released in August by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
  3. About a Girl, by Sarah McCarry – To be released in July by St. Martin’s Press
  4. Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans – To be released in July by Harper
  5. Purity, by Jonathan Franzen – To be released for the internet’s unbridled mockery in early September by FSG

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.

My most anticipated books of 2015 (so far)

I love publisher catalogs, y’all. I can’t describe how much I love them. It’s because I judge books by their covers, and publishers’ catalogs offer me the opportunity to do that on a grand scale. So here are a few of the books from 2015 for which I am excited, in no particular order.

Flood of Fire

Flood of Fire, the last in Amitav Ghosh’s wonderful Ibis trilogy, appears in August, and then I can at last set about getting matching copies of all three. Sea of Poppies was one of my favorite books of its year, and while River of Smoke was not what I expected the second book in the trilogy to be, it was still a really excellent read. I’ve revised my expectations that the trilogy will be classically trilogyish, and I think it will maximize my enjoyment of Flood of Fire.

Re Jane

I choose to be optimistic about Re Jane, by Patricia Park, a modern-day retelling of Jane Eyre that comes out in May. I’m choosing optimism because so far there are no good retellings of Jane Eyre, and that situation needs to end. Let’s see if Patricia Park can pull it off. The whole world’s counting on you, Patricia Park! No pressure!

A God in Ruins

If you liked Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life but felt it would have been improved by the addition of more Teddy, you are in glorious good luck. A God in Ruins, due out in May of next year, will be a companion story to Life after Life, starring Teddy Todd. Huzzah! As far as I can tell, nobody has said whether or not this book will take place in a world where Ursula shot Hitler (it’s not a spoiler, she does it on the first page).

Harrison Squared

As I may have mentioned one or two times, Daryl Gregory is my favorite author discovery of 2014. Harrison Squared tells the backstory of the protagonist of We Are All Completely Fine, which is to say, the story of a boy hero in a world of monsters. This one’s out in March from Tor.

Game of Queens

When I was a kid, I had this wonderful book about Esther (as in the Book of) called Behold Your Queen. I therefore offer no apologies for being childishly excited about Game of Queens, by India Edghill, a novel about Vashti and Esther that’s slated to be released in August. Do I expect it to be awesome? Like, no. Not really. I expect it to be overwrought and to use the word “sex” as a euphemism for genitals, as many overwrought stories do. But if it did happen to turn out to be good, I would be elated.

Lovelace and Babbage

By contrast, I have only the highest hopes for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, a comic by Sydney Padua in which Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage fight crime together. Apparently this has been a webcomic for ages, a fact that demonstrates a parlous lack of internet awareness by me. Anyway, in April I’ll be able to read the whole thing for myself.

The Fifth Season

N. K. Jemisin, master worldbuilder and ferocious advocate for diversity in publishing, has a new book out in August from Orbit, called The Fifth Season. I need to do an NK Jemisin binge in early 2015. She has got several books out that I haven’t read yet, because I’ve been saving them slash I have to be really in the mood before I’ll read high fantasy. But her worldbuilding is just top-notch. Gotta get on that.

The Just City

The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton, are both coming out in 2015 (one in January, one in June), which feels like an embarrassment of riches. The premise of the world in which these two books are set is almost too bonkers to explain here, but suffice it to say that they feature Greek gods living among humans in an experimentally utopian city. Sounds great. Sounds like exactly what I never knew I was missing in my life.

I’m not mentioning the fourth Raven Cycle book because in my heart of hearts, I think it’s going to get kicked back to 2016. Likewise I am not mentioning Zachary Mason’s follow-up to the matchless The Lost Books of the Odyssey, because in my heart of hearts, I think it’s going to be 2017 at the earliest. And the people on Goodreads who put 2015 as an expected publication date for Robin McKinley’s Ebon are living on a prayer.

Life after Life, Kate Atkinson

The beginning: In Life after Life, a woman called Ursula takes out a gun to shoot Hitler. At once we are flashed back to the day of her birth, when she dies from having the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. But Ursula is not a regular child. She gets to try again. The second time around, the doctor arrives in time to save her with a pair of surgical scissors, and she survives to live a regular life. Again and again throughout her childhood, Ursula dies, and dies, and dies again. Always she gets another try at life. She does not remember her earlier go-rounds, and neither does anybody; but she does, sometimes, become afflicted with vivid deja vu.


Cover report: British cover wins. American cover is not turning in a good effort. Are there even any roses in this book?

The end (spoilers in this section only, so skip it if you don’t want them): I read the end because I was curious how — if she shoots Hitler in the end, and the SS officers around her shoot her right away (as they would) — how she manages to stay dead. Surely she would just end up zapped back a few years in her timeline, with Hitler not dead at all? The end was not enlightening. The penultimate chapter is the shooting-Hitler chapter a second time, and in the final chapter, Ursula is alive after all, and so is her brother Teddy, who in earlier chapters (I flipped backwards to see) died in World War II. I flipped backwards a good bit to see what was what, to no avail.

The whole: My last foray into Kate Atkinson’s work was not a resounding success. I am delighted, because I prefer agreeing with Teresa to not agreeing with her, and because I prefer liking things to not liking things, to have enjoyed Life after Life very much. I read — and am glad I did — a physical copy of it, borrowed from the lovely Julia, which permitted me as much back-and-forth flipping as my heart desired. Even if you are a linear reader, I recommend going this route. The book is not linear, and there’s no reason you should be.

Teresa reports that the writing in Life after Life lacked the quirk she’s accustomed to experiencing in a Kate Atkinson book. Maybe I just don’t know the glory that awaits me in Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but I thought the writing here was a delight: easily, lightly funny throughout. It was all exactly like this:

Could you drink the water in the Serpentine? Shelley’s first wife had drowned herself here but Ursula supposed that on a day like this — crowds of people enjoying the sunshine — it would be almost impossible to avoid another Mr. Winton jumping in and saving her.

and this:

Hugh [Ursula’s father] was relieved that she would be spending her time “in the provinces,” where “people are, on the whole, better behaved.” (“He means duller,” Ursula said to Millie.) Hugh had completely vetoed Paris, he had a particular aversion to the city, and was hardly more keen on Nancy, which was still uncompromisingly French. (“Because it’s in France,” Ursula pointed out.) He had seen enough of the continent during the Great War, he said, he couldn’t see what all the hullabaloo was about.

It was just fun to read.

Atkinson excels at depicting the dynamics in Ursula’s family. She is the middle one of five children, and not unnaturally she is closest with the sister right above her (Pamela), and the brother right below (Teddy). The family’s closeness rang very true to me, how they knew each other’s flaws and talked to each other about them, but ultimately loved each other tremendously and bothered about being near each other. (Interestingly, although Ursula’s path in life goes a dozen different ways, Teddy and Pamela tend to shake out about the same most every time.)

“Practice makes perfect!” Ursula’s mother is wont to chirrup at intervals throughout the book. She’s referring to playing instruments, usually, but Life after Life wonderfully shows Ursula getting better at living her life through many successive tries at it. It isn’t just that Ursula gets better at producing more favorable outcomes for herself (that’s touch-and-go). The main thing is that she gets better at being herself, being a version of herself who is brave and good and in control. It was a lovely thing to see.

Highly, highly recommended!

Reviews: Case Histories, Kate Atkinson / The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney

Okay, my enthusiasm for my TBR shelf has cooled observably. The problem is that when I finish a book on my TBR shelf, I don’t have anywhere else to put it. It just goes back on my TBR shelf because that’s the only available storage. I need to move on selling discarded books to the Strand. I am hoping the Strand will agree to give me store credit instead of cash — they should want to, right? That would be beneficial to them as well as to me? Anyway, a TBR shelf is fun insofar as reading books off of it empties it. Once I start emptying it properly, I will be enthusiastic about it again.

In that vein, I read Case Histories at last! Kate Atkinson! It finally happened! And shortly thereafter I read Stef Penney’s new book, The Invisible Ones, kindly provided to me by the lovely Lydia of Penguin, and y’all, these are not the same book but they felt like the same book. They’re both about divorced private investigators looking into The Case of the Missing Girl, they both (spoilers ahoy) have incest, they both feature the poor old private investigator being damaged in ways that they think relate to the case but they are not sure.

If I may be permitted a small rant: What on earth is this chokehold that divorced private investigators have on our collective unconscious? Why do they pop up over and over again, alternately still being in love with their ex-wives and calling them bitches? What is with that? I don’t even like private investigators! Let alone ones with weird, uncomfortable attitudes towards women, which is the case in Case Histories and The Invisible Ones. It wasn’t so much a problem in The Invisible Ones, but I wished someone had called Jackson Brodie on some of his bullshitty thoughts about the women in the case.

Both of these books were, you know, fine. I went through them quickly and enjoyed reading them, but once I got done, I didn’t think, God damn, I really must search out more books by these authors! I don’t mind about Stef Penney, but I know that people whose taste I respect, including Teresa and Ana, have really really enjoyed Kate Atkinson. Teresa and Ana, did you have the same reaction to Case Histories? Or do you consider Case Histories to be the pinnacle of Kate Atkinson’s achievements, in which case we possibly just have different opinions about her as an author?

P.S. Since writing the first draft of this post, I most gloriously took a massive ton of books to the Strand and sold them there. The bag o’ books was awkwardly huge and heavy for the subway, but I persisted. To avoid disappointment, I told myself to expect the Strand to accept fewer than half of them, and to receive maybe $5. Instead they took all but one and gave me $40. It was wonderful. It was both cleansing (my mother sensibly brainwashed Little Jenny into enjoying getting rid of stuff) and financially beneficial.