Hatfields and the McCoys, Ancillary Justice, Tourist Season, Etiquette and Espionage, Half a King, Dumplin', The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers
I have been reading so many books recently that if I tried to include them all this column would be about a mile long. I finished the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, which I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. It's a peculiar novel in that it is full of anecdotes that are essentially short stories. It's Mr. Dickens' first novel, originally published under the name Boz, and it foreshadows the themes he will write about for the rest of his life; mainly the horrors of poverty and debtors prison.

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Dumplin'
I also read a YA novel about a fat girl who doesn't want to let her body define her called Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. Dumplin's mother is a former beauty queen and still fits into her pageant dress. As Dumplin' feels more and more alienated from her friends, her mother, her former coworkers and her sort of ex boyfriend, she decides she is going to enter this year's beauty pageant, which begins a journey she finds very surprising. Perhaps she didn't know herself as well as she thought she did. Or perhaps societal expectations are much stronger than she gave them credit for. You can read the first 13 (!) chapters here: http://www.epicreads.com/blog/sneak-peek-dumplin-by-julie-murphy/

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Half a King
I finished Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, which is about a young man with a deformed hand who becomes king when his father and brother are murdered. He has been planning on becoming a minister and is a terrible fighter, in a culture where being a warrior is the definition of being a man. Once he becomes king things go downhill, until he is pretty much as low as you can get in his culture. This was a fairly interesting read in general, but the part I liked the best was the middle of the book, when he and several other characters are trying to survive both fire and ice, while being chased by a bunch of murderous lunatics. The rest of the story with the betrayals and revenges was okay, but as I have stated numerous times revenge fantasies are not my thing. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/books/half-a-king/an-extract-from-half-a-k...

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Etiquette and Espionage
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger unfortunately failed to truly engage me. I thought the concept was adorable and I was excited to read it, but the story and the writing itself left me feeling rather tepid. A young girl, called Sophronia, is bundled off to finishing school. She's the youngest in her family and she's a bit of a tomboy and a hoyden. So of she goes to finishing school where her mother thinks that she's going to become a polished model of good manners. But instead this finishing school teaches you how to finish people off, how to spy on people, how to gather information and all sorts of other useful things bad most 19th century young ladies were definitely not expected to be able to do. The plot of this first book revolves around a device that someone is hiding and that bad guys are looking for. There is a cute little clockwork dog and plenty of exploration and adventure but somehow the parts that I liked never cohesed into something I could love. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.tor.com/2013/01/31/etiquette-a-espionage-excerpt/

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Tourist Season
I believe that Tourist Season is Carl Hiassen's first novel. The novel is about a group of people who want to drive everyone out of Florida and return it to its natural state. Pitted against them are a reporter turned investigative detective, his former editor, a police officer, and a few others. Mr. Hiassen has a knack for teaching his readers about problems while still entertaining them. While the methods of these eco-terrorists are terrible, it's very easy to sympathize with their cause. This novel isn't as good as some of his later work but it's definitely worth a read. I particularly enjoyed a beauty queen character who isn't the sort of fluffy headed dingbat with that much of Pop Culture would have us believe she should be.

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Ancillary Justice
I'm rereading Ann Lecke's outstanding trilogy Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. I read the first two for Hugo Awards voting last year and then I got the third one the day it came out. This series is the best thing that I read in 2015. I just got them for my son for his birthday and I'm rereading his copies. I wish I could read them again for the first time. I love them that much.

Set in a vast, ancient space empire, Ancillary Justice is the story of a woman named Breq who has lost everything and is looking for either revenge or justice, depending on how you look at it. I'm not usually a fan of revenge stories but this one is so intricate and so well told that it didn't matter to me that it was about a topic I usually find kind of distasteful.

I've heard a couple of complaints from people who had a hard time with this book because the Radchaai, the main race we encounter, don't differentiate between genders. They call everyone she. So some people don't like this and some people have complained that it's too hard for them to try to keep track in their mind if he's actually male and who is female. I'm puzzled by this. It literally does not matter what gender they are. This is a society that just doesn't care. If it doesn't care to them it shouldn't care to the reader. In that sense it has a little bit in common with the Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, in which the characters can change gender. Our society is really hung up on people acting feminine or masculine depending on their genders, so it's refreshing to read stories where it's not important at all. I really could not recommend this series anymore strongly. It's a must read. You can read an excerpt from Ancillary Justice here: http://www.orbitbooks.net/excerpt/ancillary-justice/

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Bonus Treat
This week's bonus treat should be interesting to history buffs and those who watched the Hatfield and McCoy mini series that ran a couple of years ago. It is a collection of items pertaining to one of the people chosen to hunt down one of the members of this blood feud, Johnse Hatfield, following the murder of Alifair McCoy during the New Years Night massacre. There is some paperwork, a detective's badge and a photo of the detective.

https://historical.ha.com/itm/autographs/military-figures/-hatfield-and-...