What I’ve been reading/listening to

- Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel.  I listened to this one on audiobook.  I loved it.  It’s a historical fiction based in Henry VIII’s court focusing on Thomas Cromwell.  For the less historically-inclined, Cromwell was one of Henry’s advisors, raising to the post of Chancellor.  In most representations of Henry’s court, Cromwell comes off as a bad guy.  But not in this one: Cromwell is definitely the good guy, a humanist in a time when most people were anything but.  Interestingly, the bad guy is Thomas Moore, who is usually presented as a good guy.  Here he comes off as religiously intolerant, to the point of favoring the burning of heretics.

Mantel does an excellent job of drawing the major figures of Henry’s court, including Henry himself, Cromwell, Moore, the Bolelyn clan, Cardinal Woolsey, and several others.  I can’t recommend this one enough.

- Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame Smith.  Then there’s this one, that I also listened to on audiobook.  If I had been reading it, I would have thrown it across the room in disgust after a couple of chapters.  I only managed to listen to it because I had several long drives, and it doesn’t take much effort to listen to an audiobook.  But really, don’t bother.

The book is an interesting concept: what if Abraham Lincoln had been a vampire slayer, fighting against those dread beasts?  What if many of the major historical events of the 19th century were driven by vampires, who were strong supporters of slavery (which allowed them to purchase their meals)?  But the execution is just plain awful.  The biggest problem is that Lincoln is almost entirely passive, the tool of a group of “good” vampires in a war against the bad vampires.  But that’s just cracking the coffin on the awfulness of this book: this one even had me feeling sympathetic to the record of Jefferson Davis, which is going some.

Avoid at all costs.

- Horms by Joe Hill, another audiobook.  Now that’s more like it.  Iggy Parrish, who is generally suspected of brutally raping and murdering his girlfriend a year earlier, wakes up one morning to find he is growing horns.  Soon he finds that people are confessing their worst sins to him, and asking his permission to act out their worst impulses.  (Sometimes he says yes, sometimes no.)  In time, he and we start to realize that he’s turning into the devil, with other satanic powers to follow.

The book does a nice job of exploring this idea before turning into a solid thriller as Iggy starts using his powers to discover who really killed his girlfriend.  Yes, it’s a revenge thriller (a genre that I’m rather fond of, actually) with a supernatural touch.  But there’s also lots of sweet romance and childhood scenes, largely told in flashback.  And it’s interesting to see how Iggy learns the strengths and limitations of his powers.

My only reservation is that everything is just a little too pat.  This is the kind of book where, if a cat wanders across the walk in chapter 2, you know it’s going to be important in chapter 20.  Everything fits together a little too neatly, but that’s not much of a literary sin.  So I can happily recommend this one.

- The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold.  An old friend, a comfort book.  I’m a big fan of Bujold: she’s one of the authors whose books I buy on initial publication no matter the topic.  This is one of my favorites of hers, and I reread it, not for the first time.  It’s a fantasy set in a well-thought-out world, full of excellent characters and fine plot twists, with an interesting set of gods of involve themselves with the characters’ in interesting ways.  Strongly recommended.

Hmm… I’m surprised there isn’t more on this list.  I could swear I read something else in the last few months.  (Well, I have been reading a few other things, but didn’t finish any of them yet.  Look to future installments for details.)  I guess it was a busy and challenging few months, though, so I guess it’s no surprise that everything is a bit blank for me.

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