May Reading

Greetings to all of you at the beginning of June. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, and I hope you are finding courage to speak up in a way that matters to you for those who are oppressed.

Here’s what I read in May!


I’m going to do a separate review of the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh, because the first two were a re-read in preparation for finally reading the last one. And Wolf Hall is a re-read, in preparation for finally reading The Mirror and the Light, so I’m not going to talk about that one either, until I finish the trilogy. (I’ll say that it was wonderful as a re-read, though. Just a magnificent book.) And I already wrote about Ulysses, at interminable length.

So what’s left? I like Barbara Pym so much. I’ve already read Excellent Women and Jane and Prudence, so I was prepared for her style: not exactly plot-driven, is she? This book, A Glass of Blessings, is told from the point of view of Wilmet, a married woman who is heavily involved in the doings of her local Anglo-Catholic parish. Wilmet herself is rather vain and judgmental, so part of reading the book is figuring your way around the narration to see what’s really going on with the characters, a bold choice. And there are so many clever layers to it. It’s wonderfully written and extremely funny in places (one of my favorite parts is where a server in the church has had his own cassock specially made for him, and he takes it home in a little suitcase so that no one else can wear it. I laughed like a drain. I’m certain this is a true story.)

When it comes to Diana Wynne Jones, I have that thing where I’m always confident that she’s going to be wonderful, but I always think that it can’t possibly be as wonderful as I think it will be, so every time I open one of her books, I am both very hopeful and ready to be disappointed. But I am never disappointed. Enchanted Glass was so good! It’s about Andrew Hope, who was brought up by his grandfather, who was essentially a wizard, and now Andrew must manage his grandfather’s magical field-of-care, a sort of estate around the house. He must also manage Aidan, a boy who winds up at the house because scary things are happening, and who (by coincidence? I think not) has the same sort of magical powers Andrew has. This book is funny and poignant and exciting and satisfying and deeply original. How did she do it? How did she do it so many times? Incidentally, I have set myself a project of reading all of her novels, not counting picture books or short-story compilations, and after working away at it for over a year and a half, I still have thirteen left! It’s a marvel.

I’ve been sloooooowly working through K.C. Constantine’s mysteries for quite a while now, and with Joey’s Case, I am not quite sure they are still in the mystery genre. Maybe? There’s a murder in this one. Anyway, the main character is the police chief of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, Mario Balzic. It’s a rust belt town, full of working-class Italians and Poles and Black families, Hungarians and a bunch of Catholic priests and a lot of bars. In this book, Mario is seeing a doctor for impotence, and even though he doesn’t subscribe to all that macho sexist bullshit, it’s affecting him in ways he doesn’t understand. What makes a man? What is manhood? Why would he suddenly feel powerless over an uncooperative piece of tissue, and take out that powerlessness on witnesses and victims? Mario is seeing a side of himself — and therefore of humanity — that he hadn’t understood before. (So is this a mystery? It doesn’t matter very much. But it’s a great book and it’s 200 pages long.)

Okay, and then The Library at Mount Char. Have any of you read this one? I really enjoyed reading it — it’s a pacy, well-written, sardonic horror novel — but I find myself a bit at a loss to describe what happens in it. (Jeanne! There is a ton of necromancy in this book and NONE of it pays!) Let’s see: the premise is that there’s a god among us who adopted twelve children back in the 1970s and brought them up to study in his interdimensional “library,” in their different “catalogs” (languages, war, death, animals, the future, etc) so that he would be ready for a great battle to come. One of those children was smart enough to study outside her catalog and become an expert in multiple subjects. Shenanigans ensue. This book is probably not for the squeamish, as there’s a fair bit of violence in it, but it’s a real page-turner, often amusing, and the characters are interesting.

Now that I’ve finished The Semester That Wouldn’t End, I’ll have more time to read. I’m looking forward to some big projects and a lot of fun things. Recommendations always welcome!


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8 Responses to May Reading

  1. Jeanne says:

    I have read The Library at Mount Char! The other Jenny asked me if necromancy pays in it, and I said it was a special circumstance.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I see what you mean, but also I don’t think it exactly pays: look at Margaret’s type of necromancy, for instance, where she wanders around in the land of the dead for ages and gets resurrected hundreds of times, and how it turns out for her. Or how it turns out for David. Or for Steve. Or for anyone but Carolyn, really. And honestly, was it the necromancy that paid, for her, or just the strategy?

      Maybe the necromancy doesn’t pay, but it also doesn’t not-pay. Maybe necromancy is neutral in this book. Is that possible, given that there’s such a lot of it? I find this question interesting.

      • Jeanne says:

        I think there’s no penalty for necromancy when it’s performed by immortals, and that’s what two of these characters are revealed to be at the end of this book.

      • Jenny says:

        No, I see what you mean, but I also think necromancy has quite a severe penalty for most of the people who either do it, or undergo it, in this book, including both of the immortals. If you think about it. Unless you think it’s not the necromancy that’s exacting the penalty, but the rest of the stuff that’s going on, like the XXXtreme knowledge?

  2. Yeah, Joey’s Case, good stuff. It may not be a mystery, but in French terms, it is definitely a polar.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, well spotted. These are such good books, and I do appreciate that they don’t have to be the 2020 regulation 350 pages to make their point.

  3. Enchanted Glass!! I love that one. It felt like Diana Wynne Jones remembered the special glass that gets mentioned super briefly in Deep Secret and thought “actually I should do something with that.” God, I miss her. It felt so amazing when she was alive and I would unwrap a new book by her as a Christmas or birthday gift.

    I’m excited to hear your thoughts on the Ibis trilogy! I was pretty disappointed in Flood of Fire, but I’m wondering if that was a case of there being an expectations gap, or? I do want to go back and reread it and see if it hits me any differently.

    • Jenny says:

      I miss her too. I’m wondering if, when I have read most of her novels, I’m going to want to leave one unread so I never get to the end of them.

      I will tell you right now that you and I had similar experiences with Flood of Fire. I don’t know whether it was for the same reasons, but just, ugh.

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