Schlereth, Thomas J. Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915.

NY: HarperCollins, 1991.

I’ve been fascinated by history since adolescence, and I ended up with a couple of degrees in it, but my preference has always been for social history and material history. Not kings and treaties and the broad sweep of anonymous events but intimate, everyday, “people next door” history. And that also laps over into the areas of local history and genealogy, and also archival management, in all of which I spent most of my career.

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Parker, K. J. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City.

NY: Orbit, 2019.

Under his own name, British author Tom Holt writes some pretty good historical fiction, mostly set in the ancient world, as well as some rather mediocre attempts at humor with a fantasy theme. As “K. J. Parker,” though, he has produced some first-rate epic fantasy, all of it populated only by humans (no wizards, orcs, or dragons, and absolutely no magic or supernatural goings on) and most of it with a historical feel to it.

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Neuvel, Sylvain. Sleeping Giants.

NY: Del Rey, 2016.

The advance information I saw on this book was a bit confusing. The reviews were good, but the blurb was basically, “A little girl accidentally discovers a giant, glowing, metal hand buried in South Dakota, and when she grows up, she becomes a physicist and is put in charge of studying it.” I had no idea what to make of that, but what the hell. Del Rey doesn’t often publish crap, right? Well, I’m writing this review on not too much sleep, because I stayed up much of the night to finish it. It was an absolutely absorbing story.

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Padua, Sydney. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

NY: Pantheon, 2015.

I’ve long been fascinated by Charles Babbage and his “difference engine” (almost always confused with his completely separate “analytical engine,” which was the first instance of the concepts which grew into the digital computer, more than a century later), especially after reading Gibson and Sterling’s 1991 novel. Babbage was a first-rate mathematician — he held Isaac Newton’s Lucasian Chair of math at Cambridge, most recently occupied by Stephen Hawking — but Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the only legitimate child of the mad, bad, dangerous Lord Byron, was a certified math genius.

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Perry, Thomas. The Bomb Maker.

NY: Mysterious Press, 2018.

Perry has written some two dozen books, most of them thrillers of one variety or another — but not “mysteries,” because you always know whodunit from the beginning. It’s more a matter of witnessing what the Bad Guys do, how that affects those around them, and how their assorted nemeses attempt to stop them. (And they don’t always succeed.) This one involves a nameless killer with no political or other outside motivation who is very, very good at building bombs. Why? He wants to lure in and kill off the LAPD bomb squad, and he manages to get appalling close to his goal.

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Penny, Louise. The Nature of the Beast.

NY: St. Martin, 2015.

This is number eleven in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete, one of the most recognizable cops in Canada (he’s often in the papers) and now retired to the tiny, off-the-map village of Three Pines, down near the Vermont border. And this one includes a large swath of genuine history that most people, even most Canadians, have never heard of before.

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Roach, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

NY: Norton, 2016.

Roach has become known for her popular science journalism which combine a dorky sense of humor with an investigative journalist’s endless curiosity. She likes short, punchy titles and her subject matter often is not for the squeamish: The first book of hers I read was Stiff, about cadavers.

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Chambers, Becky. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This extremely inventive and beautifully written debut space opera is the most fun I’ve had in some time. The setting is some centuries in the future, when mankind has pretty much ruined Earth and the majority of our species now spend their lives in huge refugee “homestead ships,” the Exodus Fleet, wandering between the stars. The more well-off survivors abandoned the planet early and escaped to Mars, which is now the human center of the Solar System.

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Weir, Andy. The Martian.

NY: Random House, 2014.

Okay, so I’ve had this one on my Kindle for awhile now, waiting until I was in the right frame of mind to read it. The reviews were uniformly stellar, so I didn’t want to screw up the experience with distractions. And this week, conditions were just right. I opened the file and went to page one. And, damn, Weir sets the hook quicker than any author I have ever encountered! Two paragraphs in and I was absorbed. For three days, I haven’t done much of anything else but share the hair-raising adventures of Mark Watney, astronaut, as he tries to survive being abandoned on Mars.

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Clines, Peter. The Fold.

NY: Crown, 2015.

It’s always nice to discover a new science fiction author who does competent work. Clines has written a half-dozen books before this one, but they seem to be heavy on zombie apocalypses and such, not “real” SF. This one is more like the old Astounding hard-science pulp adventures of the John Campbell days, and it’s quite well done.

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