The Monday Check-In ~ 12/10/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Quuen by Tamora Pierce: I read both books in the Daughter of the Lioness duology. Sadly, a fairly weak story in the world of Tortall, which I really struggled to get through. My thoughts are here.

 

 

 

I also posted wrap-ups of two series that I loved:

Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi


Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce

In audiobooks, I listened to two terrific Audible Originals:

Check out my review of both, here.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for the 4th episode is here.
Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.
Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood” (aired 12/9/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode is on the way! I was too tired to stay up late enough to finish… so watch for my post later Monday or early Tuesday.

Fresh Catch:

Two new science fiction books arrived this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: I’d been wanting this book… and then a wonderful family member gave it to me for Hanukkah! I swear, I did NOT drop any hints. I’m just getting started, but loving it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: I got this from the library on a whim, while waiting for something else to come in. I’m just starting it today — wish me luck!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — just a few chapters still to go!

So many books, so little time…

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Wrapping up the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi (books 4 – 6)

Finally, after threatening to read these books for oodles of year, I’ve done it! As of this past week, I’ve finished the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. I’m definitely feeling a sense of satisfaction over seeing this through — but what will I put on my reading resolution list for 2019, now that this perennial favorite has moved to the “already read” shelf?

After finishing the first three books in the six-book series, I wrote a wrap-up post (here) to share my thoughts from the halfway point. So now, I’ll dive back in and focus on books 4 – 6, which take the series in a decidedly different direction.

Book #4, Zoe’s Tale is THE EXACT SAME STORY as the one told in The Last Colony. The catch is, this time around we see events through the eyes of Zoe, adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, and biological daughter of a man who came close to destroying all of humanity. (Spoiler alert: he failed.) Once again, we journey with the family to the new colony of Roanoke, where things go spectacularly badly for the human colonists.

Zoe is a fun point-of-view character, giving us the teen girl take on being dragged across the universe by her parents, being forced to leave her friends and technology behind, and engage in the dirty, difficult business of building a new home out of practically nothing.

Zoe is smart, and a smart-ass, and it’s exhilarating to see her come into her own and make a difference in intergalactic politics and intrigue. Plus, Zoe — by virtue of her birth father’s contributions — is a hero to an entire alien race, and seeing Zoe interact with her Obin bodyguards is worth the price of admission all on its own.

As a side note, throughout the series, Scalzi excels at creating multitudes of alien races and making them distinct and endlessly entertaining. Some are weird, some are scary, some are practically beyond description… and it all just adds to the fun of the Old Man’s War books.

You might think it would be dull to read about the same events in a second book, but trust me, it’s not. It’s kind of a blast to hear Zoe’s take on what happened, and to see how her version dovetails (or not) with her parents’ side of the story. Really, Zoe’s Tale is a great read — and I think best appreciated if read immediately following The Last Colony.

Zoe’s Tale is, in a way, an end of the main piece of the story, at least if you consider the series to be specifically about John Perry and his family. The next two books continue with events in the Old Man’s War universe, but have a very different format and focus.

Books #4 and 5, The Human Division and The End of All Things, are written (and were originally published as) a series of interconnected stories. John Perry’s actions at the end of the previous books pretty much blew up the uneasy coexistence of the Colonial Union (representing humanity) and the Conclave (an alliance of 400+ alien species). In these two books, we see what happens next.

Previously, Earth was kept isolated from the Colonial Union. Earth humans had the option of joining the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) when they turned 75, but it was a one-way relationship. Earth was kept mostly in the dark about the goings-on out in space, and had no say in how humans interacted with the various other species they encountered.

John Perry broke through that barrier, and in The Human Division and The End of All Things, we see the fall-out. Earth is no longer willing to be merely a supplier of people and goods to the Colonial Union, and wants its own voice heard. In these two books, we meet diplomats — lots and lots of diplomats — from Earth, from the Colonial Union, and from the Conclave, each of whom represent their people’s interest, but carry layer upon layer of secret agendas as well.

Of course, these are John Scalzi books we’re talking about, so in addition to diplomatic negotiations, we have daring space rescues, lots of things blowing up, a brain in a box (yup!), wise-ass soldiers wielding mighty weapons while discussing ancient pop culture, descriptions of very interesting and sometimes scary alien beings, and more snark than might seem possible to fit into two paperback books.

As I said in my wrap-up of the first three books in the series:

Ever since discovering John Scalzi’s amazing books, I’ve know that I needed to make time for this series, but after talking about it for so long, it started feeling like a huge undertaking — and I’m not quite sure why. Now that I’ve dived in (and read three books in the space of a week), I can tell you that this series contains all the trademark Scalzi wit and smart-assery (is that a word? it should be a word) that we know and love from books like The Android’s Dream, Redshirts, and Lock In. I was afraid that Old Man’s War would be all hard sci-fi, serious and full of space battles, and I’m happy to say that that’s not the case. I mean, yes, there are space battles and the eradication of planets and species… but these books are funny, dammit, even while containing moments of deep emotion and moral dilemmas.

Now that I’ve reached the end of Old Man’s War, I can say that I’m 100% happy to have read the series! John Scalzi is consistently smart and funny in everything he writes, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan for life. I haven’t started his newest series, The Interdependency (which consists of two books so far, The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire) — so I guess I do have something Scalzi for my goals list for 2019 after all.

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The details:

Zoe’s Tale – published 2008; 325 pages
The Human Division – published 2013; 431 pages
The End of All Things – published 2015; 380 pages

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Five reasons to read the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger

finishing-school-collage

MADEMOISELLE GERALDINE’S FINISHING ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES OF QUALITY was established 1820 as an institution of finer learning, higher manners, and social graces for young women who wish to present their best selves to society. Our young women learn modern languages, dance, music, household management, etiquette, and finishing from the finest instructors on land or in aether. And each morning, after breakfast, every student recites, with religious solemnity, the school motto, ut acerbus terminus: TO THE BITTER END.

Our students don’t just learn to curtsy—they learn to finish—both the right kind and the wrong kind of finishing. But please note that our alumni are not simply assassins. A graduate of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s would never complete an engagement in a way that was messy, unbecoming of a lady, or attracting of attention. They are discrete, they are subtle: they are ladies of quality.

(from the Finishing School website, http://finishingschoolbooks.com/the-academy)

Want to have a heap of fun? Step one: Get your hands on Etiquette & Espionage. Step two: Keep reading until you’ve read all four book in the series.

And better yet: Get the audiobooks! These books deserve a nice, relaxed listen.

I read Etiquette & Espionage years ago, when it first came out (review), and had a deliciously lovely time with it. So why did I stop? I’m not exactly sure, except (a) my dreaded aversion to series-reading raised its ugly head and caused me a fatal lack of interest by the time book #2 was released, and (b) somehow in the interim, I’d convinced myself that the series had too juvenile a tone to appeal to me in the long run.

Wrong on both counts. What was I thinking?

All these years, I’ve managed to believe that I wouldn’t enjoy the Finishing School series, and as a result, I ended up depriving myself — until now! — of the pleasure of reading these super silly yet totally wonderful books.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, if any of you either haven’t heard of the series, or heard of the books but aren’t convinced that you should give them a try, here are five reasons why they need to be at the top of your MUST READ or MUST LISTEN lists, ASAP.

1) Fantastic world-building: The world of the Finishing School is full of Victorian manners, proper English ladies and gentlemen, lots of tea, and all sorts of supernatural beings — who are an accepted and honored part of society, thank you very much. Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist, mingle with humans, and are received in the finest of homes. A steampunk sensibility is in the forefront throughout, so expect lots of gears, dirigibles, mechanical servants and soldiers, valves, frequensors, and the like.

2) Strong female characters: The finishing school of the series title is a floating school housed in a dirigible, in which “young ladies of quality” become finished — in the dangerous arts of espionage, artifice, and assassination, among other important subjects. The most talented of the girls may have careers ahead of them as intelligencers, or may be destined to marriage to high ranking gentlemen so they can work their wiles behind the scenes. In any case, the young women we meet have backbones and brains, are handy with all manner of weaponry (I love Sophronia’s bladed fan), and can out-think any and all bad guys on a moments’ notice. Main character Sophronia and her best friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag aren’t afraid to fight, scheme, flirt, and lie in order to protect each other and the people they care about. What’s more, Sophronia especially doesn’t particularly care about the rules of society, and is determined to set her own course and grab her own destiny, no matter whether others want to take her choices away.

3) Sense of humor: From the smallest of touches to the sublimely ridiculous, Gail Carriger’s writing has just enough arch humor to make every moment fun without crossing the line into dumb jokes. The conversations and descriptions all add to the overall sense of never taking things seriously, broken only when there are moments of true sorrow or tragedy, which the author is equally good at conveying. For snippets of the awesome writing and dialogue, check out some of my Thursday Quotables selections — here and here,

4) Terrific narrator: This is why I so highly recommend the audiobooks. The narrator is amazing! Moira Quirk captures the wickedly funny nature of the dialogue through her sharp-edged delivery, phrasing, and rhythms. She lends distinct voices to Sophronia and her friends, as well as to the oh-so-amusing vampire Professor Braithwope and the countless other unique characters, capturing the class differences with ease… and making me laugh out loud on a regular basis. (Note to self: Stop listening to funny  audiobooks in public.)

5) Visits from familiar friends: Prior to writing the Finishing School books, Gail Carriger had already collected a devoted following of her Parasol Protectorate series (which I adore). Although Finishing School is set approximately 25 years before the start of Soulless, book #1 in the Parasol Proctorate, there are quite a few familiar characters who appear in both series. Conveniently, since we’re talking about supernatural beings, there’s no reason why everyone’s favorite vampire, Lord Akeldama, can’t be a major player in Sophronia’s world too — looking as fashionable and fabulous as always, of course. Some of the others making appearances, large or small, in the Finishing School books are Sidheag Maccon and Genevieve Lefoux, plus a few others we see more or less in the shadows, going unnamed, but awfully familiar, like an inscrutable butler and a sandy-haired Beta werewolf.

Convinced yet?

In each book, the storyline builds on itself, adding to our knowledge of the characters’ inner lives and personal strengths, and then showing them in action as they team up to stop the bad guys and pretty much save the world, or at least, the British Empire. As this series is YA-targeted, the main steam in the story comes from the boiler rooms, not from sexytimes — if you’re looking for adult sexual encounters, check out the Parasol Protectorate books. Still, the Finishing School books contain some truly spectacular romantic moments, a love triangle that’s more than your typical YA three-sided geometry, and a crossing of class and race lines that make Sophronia a woman far ahead of her own time.

But let’s not get too serious about all this. The Finishing School books are good, silly, fun  — amazing characters, dynamic plot, loads of steampunk detailing, and dramatic, hair-raising escapes and adventures.

Please, please, please go check this series out! You’ll thank me. I promise.

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