Peter Pan

by J. M. Barrie

I love to be reminded that some books are classics because they are full of magic and surprise and delight so that they are still enjoyable even after 100+ years. (Unlike many other classics which are a slog and only enjoyable on reflection after the fact, largely because most other readers gave up before the end so you’ve got one over on them.)

Peter Pan (originally Peter and Wendy) is such a classic. I’ve read it many times and in between readings I always forget it isn’t a stuffy book. Then a few years later I pick it up again and before I have finished the first page I’m delighted and smiling all over again.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

by Scott Lynch

A caper set in Renaissance Venice if it were controlled as much by the Mafia as the merchants, where magic is real but very expensive, and someone is hunting down gang leaders one by one.

I found this caper pretty predictable most of the way through. For the first half of the book or so, this is deliberate. We get the conclusion first, then a flashback with the story leading up to it. I didn’t enjoy that style of storytelling. If I already know how a story ends, the story itself had better be full of surprising twists and turns. Not in this book. Even after the flashbacks end the story keeps spoiling its own plot. The reader is a little too in on the caper.

It was just OK. There are more books in the series but I don’t plan to read them.

The Saint of Bright Doors

by Vajra Chandrasekera

This boy without a shadow is definitely not Peter Pan. His mother trains him to kill her, then his father, and then he leaves her and moves to the city to escape his fate. It finds him anyway, of course, this being a novel and all.

On the way to a kind of oh-by-the-way conclusion this book has some pretty awesome moments. It even manages to work in some good stuff about colonialism, patriarchy, messiahs, and productivity gurus.

It was OK. Three stars, I think.

The Last Days of Night

by Graham Moore

A patent-law procedural turned legal caper. Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and Paul Cravath walk into J.P. Morgan’s bar, where Agnes Huntington is singing.

I usually stay away from books featuring lawyers. I’ve had all the legal drama I can take from existing in that world for the last twenty-odd years. Despite this, I mostly enjoyed this book—especially part 3, where the legal procedural turns into a legal caper.

Mom’s House, Dad’s House

by Isolina Ricci

This book feels dated, and not just because it still emphasizes the importance of land lines, beepers, and snail mail for communication and doesn’t know anything about websites, cell phones, text messaging, video calls, or social media.

It feels like it was written for traditional suburban families with a dad who works full time, a mom who stays at home, and both of them can’t wait to get remarried because only a mom and a dad make a real family. (This book doesn’t know same-sex couples exist, either.) It doesn’t give examples of any custody arrangements where each parent has the kids for an equal amount of time.

I didn’t recognize myself or my own divorce in any of the examples.

In fairness, it was published in 1980 and last updated in 1997. But it still claims to be the “definitive” guide for divorcing parents. Which seems a little ambitious given all the above.

I admit I skimmed quite a lot of it.

Still, I found some useful information in this book. The road map from separation to separate healthy homes helped me locate my own divorce in the process. And the explanation of “negative intimacy” and why it is important to strive for a businesslike relationship with a former spouse resonated strongly with me.

All the same, there must be better, more up-to-date books for divorcing parents. Since that’s now me, I’d be grateful for recommendations.

Dead Man’s Hand

by James J. Butcher

In a modern world where witches and non-witches live together, a washed-up witch hunter’s old partner is killed for a magical artifact. Based on her last words, the Hunstman finds Grimsby, a witch who washed out of the Department’s training program and now works at a Chuck-E-Cheese ripoff restaurant entertaining awful children. Together they go searching for the killer and the artifact—and Grimsby’s spine.

Good read. It didn’t suck me in, though. I’m not sure if the story was lacking something, or if hard-boiled detective fantasy just doesn’t do it for me any more. But this is the first book in a series and I’ll probably pick up the next one at some point to see where the story goes.

For what it’s worth, the author is the son of Jim Butcher, who writes The Dresden Chronicles, and this book is a chip off the old block.

The Ferryman

by Justin Cronin

A utopian dystopia (dystopian utopia—and aren’t they all?) starts unraveling when Proctor Bennett starts dreaming.

On the one hand, it’s a much-used formula. On the other hand it’s a pretty good formula as long as you haven’t read The Giver or The Hunger Games or Red Rising or watched Elysium or Æon Flux or Pleasantville or played BioShock too recently. And as long as the formula comes with a good twist, which The Ferryman does. I could hardly put it down.

Dangerous Women

by Brandon Sanderson, Caroline Spector, Carrie Vaughn, Cecelia Holland, Diana Gabaldon, Diana Rowland, Gardner Dozois, George R. R. Martin, Jim Butcher, Joe Abercrombie, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawrence Block, Lev Grossman, Megan Abbott, Megan Lindholm, Melinda Snodgrass, Nancy Kress, Pat Cadigan, S. M. Stirling, Sam Sykes, Sharon Kay Penman & Sherrilyn Kenyon

A collection of short stories about women, selected by two men, George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I had my doubts going in.

Most of the stories in this book are fantasy or fantasy-adjacent. About half are good, with a few standouts. I thought Sharon Kay Penman’s “A Queen in Exile” and Lev Grossman’s “The Girl in the Mirror” were excellent. Brandon Sanderson’s “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell,” Nancy Kress’s “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly,” and George R. R. Martin’s novella, “The Princess and the Queen,” were very good.

The other half save one were forgettable. That one, “I Know How to Pick ‘Em,” by Lawrence Block, was memorably awful. I will spare you the details but it is a gratuitously disturbing pornographic story I wish I hadn’t read. If you find yourself reading this collection I would advise you to skip it.

Block’s odious story was almost enough to get me to quit reading entirely, but I didn’t and good thing, because most of the good stories came right after that one.

The Dragon Republic

by R. F. Kuang

The middle part of a trilogy can be hard. The first part is usually written so it can stand alone. But when an author starts the second part of a trilogy they are already thinking about the third, so it has to be a connector. It continues the story and sets up the finale, but it, too, has to stand alone to keep people interested.

It can work. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Dragon Republic might not be the best of R. F. Kuang’s trilogy, but it more than delivers. And it does what the second part of any trilogy must do: it makes me want to pick up the third book immediately.

The Poppy War

by R. F. Kuang

I read The Poppy War for the first time a couple of years ago, but I did not realize it was a series. As soon as I found out I bought the other books and re-read the first one to remind myself of the story.

Rin, an orphan who survived the genocide of her people, tests into the Sinegard military academy where she discovers her unique ability to summon fire before the Third Poppy War breaks out. This book is so very good, and I’m looking forward to continuing the story in The Dragon Republic.