What I Just Finished Reading
Goblins Attack – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
I very much enjoyed the first Spiderwick Chronicles volume, in which Black was at her creepy best describing the fey, but this one feels like that fanfic an author bangs out in 20 minutes and posts to AO3.
Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
The 10th anniversary edition concludes with Morrison's annotated script, which made me like the comic proper less and neatly illustrates the gamble inherent in publishing scripts. By all means, write an ambitious story full of symbolism, recurrent motifs, and psychological and occult references, but if you need nearly 70 pages of single-spaced text to explain all of these elements because readers can't pick up on them from the story itself, you haven't done your job. (To say nothing of the fact that there's nothing particularly subtle or nuanced about Morrison's use of these elements.) The annotations also remove any question as to whether Morrison sees the rape and murder of women as anything other than an amanuensis for his male (read, real) characters' internal development. The answer, in case you were wondering, is no.
Dave McKean's art is gorgeous, though.
Deathless – Catheryne Valente
Overall, I enjoyed this, although it was a little uneven. The quasi-fairytale form works well with two characters but once you throw in a third you really need to switch to a more realistic style of narration or stick to the short story format, because it's hard to sympathise with characters whose motivations never extend beyond 'because this is what they do in their preordained fairytale roles.' That said, the language is still gorgeous and the interweaving of folktale and Russian history quite well done indeed.
A Curious Mind – Brian Grazer
Overall, this was a decent read that avoided becoming an egotistical vanity project. It's not phenomenal—there's a fair amount of bloat and Grazer frequently contorts himself arguing that every trait on earth ultimately boils down to curiousity by another name. The book could have done without the 20-odd pages listing every single person Grazer's interviewed over the last decades, but since we're on the subject: I counted and Grazer's interviewed 77 women to 480-odd men, so I'm curious to know if Grazer's that much less curious about women.
What I Am Currently Reading
Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
Man, this book. Carpenter visited so many of the places (and few of them are tourist hot spots) where nearly a century later I lived, or sheltered from typhoons, or took long walks in the middle of the night. Sometimes I identify the streets from the pictures, or the temple from the description of the neighborhood, and it just makes me want to go back.
The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Boy I did not care for this one the first time I read it. It just was not plausible to me that Avery could maintain such naivety and unquestioning acceptance of society and its mores after the events of The Strangler Vine and five years in Afghanistan. I still think it's implausible, but post-Devil's Feast I'm much calmer about it, because I am more than happy to follow that glorious character development across multiple volumes.
Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
There's quite a bit of padding, and some blunders (as when it becomes painfully clear that Huggens has not read some of the books she lists in her "recommended reading" sections). But she compensates with an interesting schema for grouping the major arcana and some really insightful observations on the meanings of specific cards.
The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Clariel – Garth Nix
I'm only reading this one during rainstorms, which means its slow going in this droughty summer, but this is the best Old Kingdom book since Sabriel, and it deserves to be read with the proper atmosphere.
The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
Still in early days with this one. Perry tends toward wordiness, but every few pages I'll come across a sentence that is just stunningly beautiful in its construction. I get the sense she's somewhat self-consciously setting up a pair of not traditionally likeable main characters, but we shall see how things progress from here.
The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew – Daniel Pool
Pool alternates between long, listlessly written chapters on topics that could could have been interesting (e.g. card games) and engaging descriptions of the minutiae governing everything from arranging to visit acquaintances or how the various rooms of a house were utilized during social occasions. There's just enough information here tht I haven't encountered in other volumes on the period to keep me reading, but it's by no means the best offering on the topic.
What I'm Reading Next
As ever, I really should finish some of the dozen or so books I've got going now before I add any new ones to the list.