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My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun

A very-local story about a youngish aimless man who winds up teaching GED classes in the jail in Woodstock Vermont. It reads a lot like some of those graphic novel memoirs I’ve picked up, early writings by someone who later finds more of their style, life and voice. Padnos winds up getting his book (some of which is just transcribed jail diaries written during the time he was teaching, some is more narrative) published. A large-scale crime occurs in the area, he ruminates on it, and on the young men who committed it. This book was very trope-y about jail and crime and that sort of thing, and I wouldn’t have finished it at all except for the local angle. When I went to read reviews of it, I found that Padnos has since changed his name and gone on to be a journalist of some stature, so I’ll chalk this up to being an awkward first effort.

The Deep Sky

This is one hell of a great first novel. A generation ship full of mainly women--with some NB folks and male uterus-havers, everyone on board needs to be capable of birthing a child--embark on a one-way trip to a distant planet and... something goes wrong. It’s a familiar story but the characters and backstory about the intense competition to even get to GO on this trip, are really engaging and enthralling. There are some aspects of family/upbringing, some nice descriptions of birds and a little bit of backwards/forwards in terms of the narrative, but not so much that it was distracting or difficult to follow.

The Collector

The latest installment in my “problematic fave” series about an Israeli assassin who is also a fine art restorer and artist. I like the books in this series that are more about art and less about the Holocaust and this is one of them. Although there is still the “man who purportedly loves his family more than anything still puts himself in harm’s way while being supposedly retired” aspect. A little nod to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist which I was not expecting. All in all a fairly predictable-in-a-good way spy tradecraft book.

How Can I Help You?

This is a book about a full time librarian who is also a writer. It was written by a part-time librarian who is also a writer. I liked it for the library verisimilitude (so many books get this wrong) but was not that compelled by the story about a librarian with a weird past and another librarian who is intrigued by it. It’s told from the alternating perspective of each character and I just didn’t like them much. Good for “books about libraries” completionists and fast readers.


The last Connie Willis book I read (Passage) was all about missed, vague, or unreliable communication. This one is all about having too much communication, per the title, and had a hectic feel to parts of it which really got the point across but also sometimes made it a bit tough to read. For those who fund the introductory chapter a little difficult (detailing a woman trying to deal with too many text messages, phone calls, and other interruptions) know that it smooths out at least somewhat and turns into a really fascinating story about how we talk to one another and know about each other.

The Mountain in the Sea

A terrific look at what it might look like to start to interact with a truly alien intelligence (in this case, octopus) while the whole world is working on their AI game and trying to be the first to find and exploit this. There are a lot of storylines in this novel but the main one is about a scientist, who grew up isolated and nerdy but fascinated by other intelligences, for maybe obvious reasons. She’s sent to an isolated and nerdy outpost where it’s not clear exactly what her role is. Meanwhile, outside this location, other people are trying to hack in and figuring out how to use this new knowledge for power and dominance. This book has a bit of everything--ai, cyberspace, automatons, animals that think, cybersecurity and hacking, near-future dystopias--and yet it doesn’t feel cluttered or that it’s trying to do too much.

Spying on Whales

A great book by a Smithsonian whale scientist stringing together a lot of sciencey anecdotes outlining how we know what we know about different kinds of whales, and how that’s changed over time. Some truly fascinating stuff with a cool bonus of some really interesting linocut illustrations which work well in service of this well-written book. A warning for whale-lovers: not all of the chapters involve conservation and respect for US-style whale protection. While the author definitely discusses these issues, there are also some graphic chapters about whaling and whale processing in the countries where that sort of thing is still legal.

The Puzzle Master

Not really too much about puzzles, this was a solid workmanlike thriller about the quest to figure out an ancient secret. Our protagonist is a former high school football star who became somewhat of a puzzle-solving savant after a head injury. He’s a compelling character but some of the others are less so and there’s some dull explication of plot-necessary points that I felt could have gone better. Engaging not amazing.