FF: Beneath the Surface

Mei-Ling Likes This Book About Fancy String

Some of my favorite non-fiction takes you behind the scenes, beyond the basic assumptions we bring to topic.  I’m certainly getting a solid dose of that this week!

For those of you new to this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

And I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Why Do Cats Sulk? by Arline Bleeker.  A light-hearted look at our assumptions about cats.  It’s strongest when the author is sticking to biology.  Some of her later material gets distinctly wobbly.  Nonetheless, a fun book.

“The Demons of Wall Street” by Laurence Raphael Brothers.  Novella.  Noir detective meets urban fantasy.  Very strong world building and a plot that forces the main character to think a lot about her assumptions.  Even the almost too good to be true romance couldn’t toss me out.  Available in March.

Kumihimo: Basics and Beyond by Rebecca Ann Combs.  I don’t usually mentioned craft books, but I wanted to give a nod to the author.  Not only has she written a fine book, she promptly answered a question I sent her when she didn’t cover a hoped-for-point.

In Progress:

Gulp by Mary Roach.  Non-fiction look at the digestive system, starting with the sense of smell (because odor/aroma is closely tied to eating) and ambling on through areas almost tangential to the topic but nonetheless fascinating.  There was an amusing section on why it’s so hard to get diners in the United States to eat organ meats.   We’re currently on saliva.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  I’ve finished Islam and put this aside for now while I let all the complex material soak in.


One of this week’s projects has been writing new cover blurbs for the three “Breaking the Wall” novels in anticipation of the new e-books that should come out sometime in February.  I went to re-read the opening of Thirteen Orphans and found myself completely sucked in.  A very odd, very satisfactory experience.

6 Responses to “FF: Beneath the Surface”

  1. Beverly Martin Says:

    There is not much change in my reading this week. I did finish Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. As expected, it had lots of clever and amusing bits and, as you said, there were good points and questions for further thought. Good book.

    I am still reading Empire of Grass by Tad Williams. It is kind of suffering from middle book syndrome – lots of words but little movement in the main plot. I get that they move on horseback, but does the story have to move at the same pace?

    Fortune’s Fool by David Blixt is back in the mix. These are the books where the author has combined some of Shakespeare’s Italian characters with real, historical figures. Makes for a good read.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Point Two is a very hard one for an author. Make it too fast, too easy, and the story becomes fake, trite, event-focused. Solutions are easy. Make it too immersive, too “real” and the story drags.

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    Mary Roach is wonderful. I love her books to bits. She examines taboo topics (essentially sex, death and digestion) in intimate, often gruesome and always quite fascinatingly funny detail.

    If you want a vaguely science fictional connection see if you can find “Packing for Mars” in which she examines all the gross things that can take place on a long space voyage and what you should take with you to ameliorate them. Ever wondered what really happens when you throw up in a space suit? Read this book and discover more detail than you ever wanted to know…

    But the book has its serious side as well. The psychology of extreme isolation, for example, is a very important subject that she gives a lot of attention to. It’s really a thoughtful book behind the scenes, despite the hilarity and grossness (is that a word? It doesn’t look right. Oh well, let it stand).


  3. James Mendur Says:


    Witchmark, by CL Polk – the ending felt rushed, interesting world, no desire for me to revisit it

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley – it was kinda like Artemis Fowl/Miss Marple as an 11-year-old girl (and budding poisoner) in 1950s Britain, but I lost interest halfway through and skipped to the end to find out whodunnit.

    In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire – 4th in the series, didn’t grab me but I enjoy exploring portal realms so I finished it. The book suffers from the fact we know Lundy’s fate. When the author finishes the 10 or so short books she has in mind, it might be useful to put them in a different reading order than by publication date.

    Up Next?

    I won a free copy of the anthology Apes of Wrath and there are a bunch of other short stories and novellas I want to read, so it looks like mostly short fiction for a while.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Similar reaction to Witchmark. Lots of potential good, but after a too leisurely start, a too rushed end.

      McGuire is up against a challenge w/the “Wayward Children” because the 1st book was a novel concept, the others–especially the ones that supply backstory– will appeal to a smaller audience.

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