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Reading Wednesday

This is probably the last month or so.

Finished reading:

Tana French, Broken Harbour. A family living on a post-boom half-finished housing estate start to fall apart when the father becomes obsessed with animal noises in the attic; the view point in this, “Scorcher” Kennedy, has bitter family ties to the location (called Broken Harbour in his childhood, it now rejoices in the name of Brianstown). The bit where the lead detective has a family connection that they don’t disclose is growing thin here with repetition here,, as is the moment where the detective tells the reader that this is the moment when they could have stopped everything from falling apart but didn't. Kennedy is less likeable than Rob but more principled in the end, and the relationship with his rookie partner Richie slightly less dysfunctional than Rob and Cassie, and it’s all very readable and has a great sense of place, but I do want something a bit different. I am third out of ten holds for The Likeness and somewhere in the 30s for The Trespasser, and looking forward to both.

Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom. A black hustler, Charles Thomas Tester, takes a job playing music for a white man who turns out to be summoning the Elder Gods; this is inspired by and criticising Lovecraft, specifically his Horror at Red Hook story and LaValle dedicates the book to him with all his complicated feelings. The scene setting and Tom and his father are all great, and I would have happily read more of it, but the book switches to Malone's (he's the investigating detective who is the protagonist of Lovecraft's piece) pov and although I can see why LaValle did it it lost me as a reader. There are a number of revisionist Lovecraft pieces out or coming out at the moment, and I would particularly recommend Ruthanna Emry's The Litany of Earth.

Jilly Cooper, Jump! I started reading Mount!, which is just out, and realised less than a chapter in that I never finished Jump, which I think ran into earthquakes or something similar, as I stalled less than a hundred pages before the end. It’s still not up there with Appassionata and Polo, but I do admire Cooper having her romantic lead be a grandmother in her late 60s, with a secondary character being a Pakistani stable lad who is suspected of terrorism. I remember the flood as being more significant than it was on this re-read but I think mostly that was because that was where I stalled last time so it felt as if it went on for ever. I do find the way spoiling animals is totally approved of and done by all the best characters while spoiling children is terribly wrong a bit irritating. Some of this is due to having read Jilly Cooper’s The Common Years, a sort of personal diary of nature via dog-walking, in which not one but two of her dogs have to be put down (I think for both killing cats or else a child's small dog is the final offence) despite her doing everything possible to control their terrible behaviour except a) training them or b) having them neutered. I did cry at the end, because there's a bit that reminds me of my favourite moment in Riders and even though I have massive, massive issues with all the human characters involved I still love the horse.

Barbara Hambly, Fever Season. I started reading this and then everyone else in the household got sick (although not with yellow fever or cholera) so it ended up on hold for a bit. I think having not one but two mysteries running during an epidemic is a great idea, but the relentless death scenes as backdrop did make this a rather depressing read. I was also spoiled by history for a fairly key event. The characters are great, though, and even when bleak it’s still fascinating. The next two are available on Overdrive *if* I can actually work out how to use my library's digital subscription (my last attempt got me files readable on a laptop but I couldn't get them onto the ereader).

Matthew Reilly, The Great Zoo of China. A selected group of interested parties are invited to tour a not-yet-open top-secret zoo that turns out to be inhabited by DRAGONS! Much to everyone’s surprise things go horribly wrong. The usual Reilly fast pace and cinematic scenes, with a change to a female protagonist (CJ Cameron, an alligator expert), and there are some nice moments in here but it’s very, very obvious who is going to survive and how. The Four Legendary Kingdoms, the next one in his Indiana Jones-style world-ending conspiracy series, is out next month, and I think he’s probably better in series. I did pick up an ex-library copy of his The Tournament, which is historical and features a young QEI - must give that a go and see what on earth he's done with it.

Jan Mark, Trouble Half-way. Amy is a cautious child who is not wild about her new stepfather; when her mother has to take Amy's toddler sister and look after her suddenly unwell father, Amy ends up having to go on her stepdad's lorry delivery round. You are probably envisioning all sorts of Problem Novel occurrences, but this is Jan Mark and the mid 80s, and so it is a well-drawn believable story in which Amy learns that she can be a little more independent and people are not always threatening just because you don't know them. Mark as an author will always mean The Ennead to me, a stunningly brilliant YA one-volume fantasy that I am enthralled by and argued (in my head) with in equal measure since I first read it as a teenager.

I also skimmed through the Narnia series – the beginning of Prince Caspian, beginning and end of The Dawn Treader, most of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle for writing And All Points North. I am still never going to like The Last Battle, and I can still remember how betrayed and irritated I felt at reading the opening Shift & Puzzle section for the first time as a child. Reread a bit of Mike and Psmith and (mostly) resisted getting sucked into Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes, all conveniently on Project Gutenberg.

In progress:

Jilly Cooper, Mount! Jump! was at least trying to extend the bounds of romantic protagonists. This has Gala, who is employed as a carer for Rupert's increasingly demented father and is a widow from a violence-riven country in Africa whose husband was murdered by possibly state-sanctioned agents of organised crime, and I would like her much more if she were a Sudanese refugee and not a white Zimbabewan who was putting off having children due to a court case over her farm and whose husband ("a true Rhodi") died in a hail of bullets while hugging a baby rhino to save it from poachers. I would also like her more if the description of the revenge attacks on her husband and her farm spent less time going on about how all the dogs were killed and clarified whether the farm workers were also all killed. So far this was mentioned only briefly in the second of three (so far) retellings, and I am unsure if this is the author's or Gala's oversight. It is also heavily about Rupert Campbell-Black, of whom I am not fond, and I am reading it rather grumpily.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile. The Peter Ustinov movie of this was one of the first films I remember seeing, but it’s been a long time since I read it. I can remember vividly how the murder was done, which means I know who, but it’s still fun watching it all fall into place.

Tim Powers, Medusa’s Web. I bought this on my last-but-one trip to Kinokuniya in Sydney and found it still in the suitcase on the most recent trip. I am about 60 pages in but was getting wistful fondness for what I consider to be Powers’ best books, so:

Tim Powers, Last Call. I actually borrowed this from the library despite owning it, because my copy is, like most of my other books with authors starting with “N” and after, in one of a large number of inaccurately labelled boxes either in an attic or jammed into a wardrobe somewhere. I can never decide which one of a handful of Powers I like best, but this is up there – it’s so believable and completely bizarre at the same time. I am possibly being unfair to Medusa's Web as I'm not that far in, but it does feel thin by comparison.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. Widow Phoebe Sparks can, by marrying again, generate a vote in the hotly contested district election and so, despite her lack of keenness, both the Whigs and Tories attempt to provide her with suitable candidates. Nick Dymond, crippled war veteran and brother of the Whig candidate, gets involved a little bit more than he should with Phoebe’s decision. This is holding my attention more than the last Lerner I tried, which I gave up on; it’s enjoyable and there’s enough history there to work for me, even while a fair bit of contemporary creeps in. It hasn’t really got me as involved as I would like, though, and it may be that I’m just not all that into contemporary het romances at the moment, unless they're also re-enacting National Velvet in the background.

Abandoned:

Louise Doughty, Black Water. I liked the idea of a book dealing with the Indonesian genocide, but this wasn’t working for me; as with Apple Tree Yard, there’s an early immediate sexual connection that didn’t feel believable, and flipping through to see if things picked up got me then not one but two past child deaths told in that particular literary styling where you know they’re going to die and it’s just being dragged out in nicely turned prose, so I bailed.

Mark Haddon, The Red House. I could probably have handled all the dialogue being in italics without quote marks if I could have been bothered remembering who any of the characters were.

Up next:

Finishing all this lot and then probably alternating Benjamin January with the My Friends series.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/110546.html. Comment here or there.

More writing!

I pounced on a pinch hit for [personal profile] lirin_lirilla in the [community profile] genex fic exchange because it had so many fabulous prompts that I could do (Oxford Time Travel! Mara Jade in the Star Wars EU! Psmith) and ended up writing for Narnia, a series which was probably my gateway into reading past picture book level, and certainly my gateway into fantasy. I have loved all of the books except The Last Battle (which I will never love) for different reasons at different times, but never thought of writing fic for them, so it was both a challenge and a process of discovery at working out what I wanted to say.

Which was about Edmund and trains.

And All Points North (2631 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Edmund Pevensie, Susan Pevensie, Lucy Pevensie, Peter Pevensie, Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole
Additional Tags: England - Freeform, Trains, Stealth Crossover, Public Transportation
Summary:


"And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?"

W.H. Auden, Night Mail.




Brief story notes.Collapse )

[personal profile] sovay had posted recently about seeing the film of The Night Mail as part of a train film marathon, so that was still in my head when I was looking for titles/epigraphs, and she very kindly provided beta, along with [personal profile] china_shop and Orannia. [personal profile] sovay has also written a fabulously evocative piece of Calormene history and archeology off the back of my mention of the Assyrian lion hunt sculpted reliefs at the British Museum, and I strongly recommend it; Not a Tame Lion.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/110278.html. Comment here or there.

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Mary Berry, Recipe for Life (bio)

Television I've watched this year - about an hour all-up, of free-to-air Olympics, none of which coincided with anything I was especially interested in (I caught up with NZ performances on liveblogs), eight episodes of Kirsty and Phil's Love It or List It (I started watching their Location Location Location when I was living in England and something about them stuck with me, even though they are both appallingly smug embodiments of class privilege and capitalism, also I like to pretend their younger selves are Pip and Posy in the titular series of children's books), and six and a bit series of The Great British Bake-off, which is by far the best of the lot. I realise everyone else is probably already on the bandwagon, but it is deserved, and the news that this will be the last series in its current format (or with all but one of its current presenters/judges) is sad but somehow feels inevitable.

Anyway. I picked up Mary Berry's autobiography, which came out in 2012, and it's an interesting look at someone who on the one hand has had a pretty privileged life, but on the other has also been a career woman and started this in a time where it was not at all expected or encouraged (she married late for her era - born in 1935, married at 31 - and only took a few weeks off with each of her babies). She refers to herself as a home baker on the show, but that's very much an understatement - what she does do well is show how she combined her work with the expected duties of running a household and taught plenty of others as well. There's a great bit in Bake-Off where they're making pastry, and Paul Hollywood is going on about using your hands, something like the following:

Mary: I use a food processor. That way I can do something else at the same time.
Paul: Ahh, you're not in control doing it like that -
Mary: I feel very in control.

and you can tell exactly what she means by her steely glare.

She doesn't really examine any of the politics of food and its preparation, and when she touches on it you can see a lot of unexamined assumptions - "If we all just walked a little more we wouldn't have so many problems with obesity in this country", for example, but if you run Aga cooking courses your clientele is going to have a definite bias. And her recipes sound good. I wish we were getting more of her and Bake-Off.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/109888.html. Comment here or there.

Boys Will Be Boys (theatre)

"Women are just men with less money."

Astrid Wentworth is a successful city broker and the only female broker in her firm. She takes on a trainee, Priya, and coaches her in how to succeed, mainly by telling her how terrible the firm and everyone there is, herself not excepted, with a lot of rapid-fire profanity. In her spare time she hires a female prostitute, possibly to befriend her, and fails to notice events moving to their inevitable conclusion. There's a frame narrative with her drinking alone at a bar, so things are obviously not going to end well, and cabaret songs, and all the actors are women, either as women or playing men, which mainly means bad behaviour and peeing standing up, and as is possibly apparent, the performances were strong but the play really didn't work for me. I spent the last twenty minutes or so thinking wistfully about Caryl Churchill's Top Girls instead, which despite being over 30 years older is far more revolutionary.

Spoilers for both plays.Collapse ) This was the last one of my season pass plays, and the one I was least sure about - it was either this or a surrealist play with an elk. I will have to check out the reviews to see how that one plays out...

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/109766.html. Comment here or there.

That Bloody Woman

Everyone here is sick, grumpy and unpredictable, so reheating dinner and eating half of it has taken me an hour and a half so far. So this is brief:

That Bloody Woman is an enthusiastic and entertaining punk rock musical about Kate Sheppard, the suffragette who got women the vote in New Zealand in 1893; it celebrates her while it looks at how far things have come - and how far they still have to go.

The songs are great. The staging is rock concert with a platform out into the audience, which worked well (there's a fair bit of interaction - I had a backing guy grinding enthusiastically next to me during one song), and the costumes were brilliant - Kate (Esther Stephens, excellent) goes from Victorian to punk, all in white, throughout the play, while her antagonist, the then Prime Minister Richard Seddon who rejoices in the historically accurate nickname King Dick is, um, dressed appropriately.

Kate is on the NZ $10 note, and a few reviews have mentioned Hamilton (one of the creators says it was actually the earlier musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jacksonthat sparked the idea; it's not as musically clever, although it has its moments (the opening title number manages to rhyme "man-hating menstruator" with "shit-stirring agitator"), but it is good. And they are currently fundraising for a soundtrack recording, with three days to go. The website is not the most helpful, but I believe all donors will get a copy.

I mentioned how far things had to go. Kate's temperance work is linked to an attempt to reduce domestic violence, still all too prevalent, and while she gets the audience to agree to the principles of feminism, it's obvious that she knows that what you do matters more than what you say. Which is why the scene in which the bill is finally passed (on its third attempt) works so well; banners tumble down from the ceiling, showing the signatures that signed her petition, and showing who was prepared to follow her into action.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/109221.html. Comment here or there.

Friday reading

I have been trying to reduce my in-progress pile to more manageable proportions.

Finished:

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson.
How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood, Jim Grimsley.

Both memoirs, the Winterson focussing on her childhood/adolescence and then skipping a whole lot to her investigation of her birth parents as an adult with a (slightly) better handle on things, the Grimsley also focussing on his adolescence, when the high schools in his small town became (racially) integrated. Both very good at specifics, as well as examining broader social structures; Winterson is more nostalgic about what has been lost (and bitter about Thatcher), while Grimsley, understandably, is more ironic than nostalgic, and not keen to return to the past. Both are also good at identifying the tendency towards shaping narrative from memoir, and resisting it when necessary. Winterson's has more vivid characters, Grimsley's is more muted, but I enjoyed them both.

House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard. I am just not the right audience for fallen angels, magical drug addictions, and Houses in a decaying Paris that indulge in glittering political rivalries. I was also a bit irked by the revelation of the evil (actually, both revelations). I think I should go back and try her earlier Aztec murder mysteries, which sound more my thing.

A Silent Voice, v1, Yoshitoki Ōima. This did not end as badly as I feared, and in fact it did that narrative trope about bullying where the bully becomes the bullied, that I have disliked since we had Judy Blume's Blubber read to us as a class book when I was eleven. It offended me terribly then and I'm still not wild about it, because it seems to suggest that bullying is some sort of natural force, and only the target changes. What I did like about this was the pacing and tension in the first two-thirds or so, which were great, and I'm interested to see what happens next.

A Free Man of Color, Barbara Hambly. Benjamin January is the title character, a French-trained surgeon and musician who returns to his childhood home of New Orleans, 1833, and becomes entangled in a murder. Solving it is more difficult when he can be locked up on any flimsy pretence or, worse, sold as a slave if the authorities chose to ignore his papers. This has great characters, a solid (and solveable) mystery, and a lot of fascinating and even horrifying world-building, and I liked it a lot.

In the Woods, Tana French. Rob Ryan is a murder detective who, at the age of 12, was the only one of a group of 3 friends to emerge from the local woods; the other two were never found. Years later, he takes the case of a young girl murdered in the same area -without telling his superiors his background. So, two mysteries, but the main story is really Rob's disintegration, which is both as inevitable and as due to his choices as all the best Greek tragedies. I liked this a lot, even though it is impossible to get through the book without wanting to slap Rob at least once. I am about 4 holds away from getting the next one, which is from his partner's point of view, and I've just gone ahead and put holds on the other two while I was there.

Arabella of Mars, David D. Levine. I liked the bits where Arabella is learning to navigate and the moment when I realised Levine had got around the whole interplanetary travel by sailing boat thing by putting atmosphere throughout the universe, which means that when the ship runs low on coal they can put in at a passing asteroid and chop down the trees for charcoal. Unfortunately I didn't like much else. Arabella is one of those exceptional girls who is not like other women and has no time for girlish things, which amongst other things means that she is able to cross-dress successfully on a sailing ship for weeks without ever having a period or wearing a bra - the latter becomes apparent when she is forced to remove her shirt and the sight of her naked chest is enough to suppress a mutiny. The plot also creaks audibly - it is unclear why Arabella is sent to her relatives except in order to set their evil plot in motion, the egg-stealing plot is equally thin - and there's an awful lot of unexamined Empire going on. I am supporting Chaz Benchley's Chalet Girls on Mars Patreon, which I am mostly saving up to read once completed, and would recommend that and the associated short stories instead to anyone in the mood for Martians.

In progress:

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle - this is a very skinny book and I lost it on the bookcase for a couple of weeks. Found it again yesterday.

Fever Season, by Barbara Hambly.

Novel for critique.

Up next:

Hopefully more Tana French. Also, I should get back to Jane Duncan at some stage. And I still seem to have four other books on my library shelf, although I'm pretty sure I'm going to abandon The Red House .

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/108825.html. Comment here or there.

Soothing things

I just got back from Train to Busan, which was great (thanks [personal profile] china_shop for the rec!) but very very tense and emotionally exhausting, so rather than sit and twitch I am going to review two picture books that I also really liked that did not induce nail-biting states of tension.

Sophie's Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf. Sophie's parents buy a squash from the farmers' market. Sophie decides that this squash is just the friend she's been looking for. ("When it was time to make supper, Sophie's mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie. "I call her Bernice," Sophie said. "I'll call for a pizza," said her mother."). Sophie and Bernice do everything together, but winter is coming, and Bernice is becoming softer and blotchy....

Huh. I feel compelled at this point to state that no, Bernice does not become a ravening zombie squash. Still not quite over the movie... Sophie does bury her for the winter on advice from a farmer, and in the spring there are some familiar shoots in the yard. It is a very sweet story and I like Sophie, with her vegetable love, and her parents, who are unthinkingly cruel in a believable fashion ("Let's bake her with marshmallows.") but who do try. And the illustrations are great. There is apparently a sequel in which Bernice's squash offspring (Bonnie and Baxter) attend school.

Nobody Owns the Moon, by Tohby Riddle. "The fox is one of the only wild creatures in the world that can successfully make a life for itself in cities," this begins, and there is a picture of Clive, the fox protagonist, in his apartment in a comfortable armchair with his feet up on the ottoman, a cup on the table beside him, a cityscape through the window and a stack of books by the chair. This is an unconventional picture book in structure and content, and it is also so out of print that I can't even find it on bookfinder.com, which is a shame because I would love a copy. Although Clive does well in the city, his friend Humphrey, a donkey, does less so, and is currently homeless. When they meet one day, Humphrey has found a blue envelope that contains two tickets to the premiere of the play, Nobody Owns the Moon. They attend the play from dress circle seats and love it, and after have cake and hot drinks in the theatre restaurant, all because of their tickets; they go back out into the city and share a moment when they say, "This is our town!" and then they hug, and part.

The friend of mine who read it was offended - "Why doesn't the fox let Humphrey stay at his place? This doesn't change anything!" - but I loved it. It's perfect because it's transient, and because the city can be welcoming and callous at the same time. The art, layered drawings on photos, has the same tension between real and unreal.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/108584.html. Comment here or there.

Writing

[personal profile] china_shop mentioned helpfully that [community profile] seeingcolorcomm were looking for pinch hits, including in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I wandered over to take a look. And then pounced on the first one I saw. I'd been thinking about a Finn backstory piece anyway, I had the novelisation out from the library; all I had to do was resist the urge to write T'Challa backstory instead, which was surprisingly tempting given that all I know of canon is the Civil War movie. (and then all I had to do was write it in three days and badger [personal profile] china_shop into betaing).

It's not my most cheerful piece ever (off-stage genocide etc) but I enjoyed writing it. I wanted to sort out Finn's past in my own head, and I wanted to provide some sort of explanation as to how the Republic is apparently unaware of the First Order's main base, and this is one possible explanation. I've never done a pinch hit before, mainly because I haven't really thought of them outside the Yuletide context, and I'm always working on my main story right up until the final deadline (ahem). I really enjoyed doing it, though, and will keep an eye out for more in the future.

Dirty Jobs (3179 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Finn (Star Wars), The First Order (Star Wars)
Additional Tags: Prequel
Summary:

Someone has to do them.



Other pieces I really enjoyed from the challenge: two artworks, both very sweet -

Jaeger (0 words) by Irusu
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Pacific Rim (2013)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Mako Mori & Stacker Pentecost
Characters: Mako Mori, Stacker Pentecost
Additional Tags: Fanart, i have many feels
Summary:

"A daughter is not a passing cloud, but permanent, / holding earth and sky together with her shadow. "



Just After the First Kiss (0 words) by sqbr
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Finn/Rey (Star Wars)
Characters: Finn (Star Wars), Rey (Star Wars)
Additional Tags: Fanart, Fluff
Summary:

Taking joy in rain and freedom.



and two stories, one from a canon I am unfamiliar with but featuring Mathnet self-insert femslash, which I didn't realise how much I needed, and another from Sorceror to the Crown; I had issues with the canon itself, but I really enjoyed this:

To Cogitate and to Solve (1758 words) by SapphoIsBurning
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (TV), Mathnet
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Rosa Diaz/Amy Santiago
Characters: Rosa Diaz, Amy Santiago, Ray Holt
Additional Tags: Characters Writing Fanfiction, Stakeout, Pining, Fic within a Fic, Canon Character of Color
Summary:

Amy tries to explain fanfiction to Rosa while on a stakeout, but when she decides to reveal a very telling work of her own, it goes to an unintended destination.



The Earth Will Reach The Sky (1607 words) by Merit
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Prunella Gentleman/Zacharias Wythe
Characters: Prunella Gentleman (SttC), Zacharias Wythe (SttC)
Additional Tags: Fluff
Summary:

They were going to create their own world together.



This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/108442.html. Comment here or there.

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Reading Friday

I wrote a pinch hit for a fic exchange this week, so I haven't finished any of the in-progress stuff from last week. Instead, I read bits of two books needed for the fic and an m/m romance on Kindle that had absolutely nothing to do with what I was writing.

Just finished:

The m/m romance, Off-Campus, by Amy Cousins. First in a series. Tom Worthington's (the third, I think) father is convicted of a ponzi scheme; Tom tries to finish college on his own terms, which means gypsy-cabbing and sleeping in his car between semesters. He ends up sharing a room with Reese, an out gay student with backstory trauma, Reese tries to scare him off by bringing back a series of guys to their room for blow-jobs, everybody oversteps their boundaries and romance ensues. I liked a lot of this - Tom actually does feel like he's struggling and studying, their back-up friends are interesting, the resolution isn't too over-the-top and Reese is also working on his problems independently of Tom pushing him. What I didn't like - towards the end there's a clutch of events that seemed oddly sequenced - possibly a formatting issue? There was a missing page break at one point that confused me for quite a bit - and the evil guy who persecutes Tom because Tom's dad ruined his parents *and* evil guy is secretly gay and in denial is really not a successful character for me. I see he is the hero of the next book, which possibly explains some of the characterisation contortions but does not incline me towards it.

In progress:

In addition to everything previous, I am a few chapters into Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, which is good but making me want to re-read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I managed to think of not one but two fictional angels I have actually liked (Aziraphale in Good Omens and Proginoskes in A Wind in the Door) so girded my metaphorical loins and am about 200 pages through Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings). From my point of view it is just not the sort of story I'm interested in - it reminds me a bit of a vampire novel, with everyone otherworldly and full of strange magic, and spending their days setting up rivalries with each other and being terribly elegant, and there's magic as addiction and so forth - but two of the characters, so far, feel real, and there are hints of tension in the overall set-up that are interesting. Also, there is an evil creature stalking people through mirrors, which is a set up that always terrifies me (I blame Gerald Durrell's short story The Entrance. If you haven't read it, don't).

I am also about 50 pages into The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle and I read the first three pages of the first Benjamin January novel before deciding that I really had to finish something else first.

Up next:

Finishing stuff.

Picture book section:

I have loved John Burningham's picture books since I was a small girl with too much imagination and read Come Away from the Water, Shirley and Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley, which are both about small girls with too much imagination. Recently I read It's a Secret, where a girl discovers where her sleepy cat goes to at night, and Aldo, about a child's imaginary friend, and they're both great. His art is fascinating - some of the landscapes in Aldo look apocalyptic, great abstract gouts of paint, and then these fine, minimalist line-drawings in the foreground. Aldo is also quietly heart-breaking; the narrator is a lonely child who is bullied, whose parents' fight, and whose sole consolation is her imaginary rabbit friend, Aldo. "Once I woke up in the night after a bad dream and Aldo was not there and I thought Aldo would never come to see me ever again/But Aldo had only gone to get a story which he read to me until I went to sleep."

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/108201.html. Comment here or there.

Reading Thursday

I have individual entries planned for Ninefox Gambit (loved it), Too Like the Lightning (in the last few pages it finally developed a plot line that interested me; will read sequel but not out til next Feb), and Mary Berry's autobiography (am on season 6 of The Great British Bakeoff as my attempt to get back into watching television), but in the meantime I am trying to finish off everything I have out from the library before a clutch of deadlines.

Just finished:

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Starts with a court scene where the case is deliberately not revealed, a gimmick of which I am not fond, then flashes back to the moment when the narrator, a scientist in her early fifties, begins a no-strings attached affair with a security consultant at Westminster. I was not particularly grabbed by either concept and stalled out on this, and gave it one last chance before abandoning it. At which point it suddenly took a very interesting turn and had a fascinating middle, almost noir, before back to courtroom drama, which was solid and had some twists but wasn't quite as flashy. Would read another by the author on the strength of the middle.

Alex Adams, White Horse. Works through "Now" and "Then"; in "Then", a cleaner working at a pharmaceutical company finds a mysterious jar in her apartment and seeks therapy (she's in New York); as she deals with this, a mostly fatal plague, weather chaos and a war account for most of known civilisation. In "Now", it's after the collapse, and she's trying to find her former therapist (who became her lover in what the book does not consider to be a boundary issue at all), tracking him across the world through the blighted remnants. This is not a book where there is much point getting attached to characters as anyone remotely sympathetic who is not the narrator is killed off rapidly and graphically, an authorial tic that unfortunately pushes the book into farce. Zoe (the narrator's) first companion in "Now" is Lisa, a young blind woman Zoe rescues from sexual servitude to her father and uncle; Lisa goes on to get captured a few more times, lose an eye, make poor sexual choices and eventually die in a scene that manages to combine abortion and torture by a serial killer, although it's the serial killer's motivation that I actually found most offensive in this list. Spoiler.Collapse ) I do actually like some of the writing, and I feel for the author as the book, part 1 of a projected trilogy, does not seem to have done well - the second one may exist in ebook form? audiobook? the author (she has an NZ connection, which pushed me into picking this up in the first place) seems to have disappeared off the internet - but while I'm not opposed to destroying all of civilisation in literary prose Station Eleven did this much better without giving up on all of humanity in the process.

Tana French, The Secret Place. I read one other Tana French - Faithful Place and liked the writing a lot while being a little irked by the solution to the mystery. However, this was on the returns shelf, and I promptly fell into it and read nothing else until it was all over. Excellent writing, excellent characters, excellent mystery. And I am particularly impressed at any murder mystery that is set at a private girls' boarding school (most of the action, in fact, takes place over one day, with a retrospective parallel narrative leading up to the murder) but where the body is not female, something which should not be so refreshing. It is also brilliant about teenage girls, specific and abstract, and I liked it a lot. I have put the first two in the series on hold despite all my resolutions to stop reserving books until I've caught up.

Mabel Esther Allan, The ballet family again. Sequel (go on, guess the title of the first one) to a book I think I read in a hurry late at night at a relative's place some years ago. Nicely observed - Allan is one of those writers with a good sense of place, and this goes from London in winter to the north of England in winter, and then to Paris in spring. Good on ballet, too, and there's a plotline with the son of the ballet family getting disillusioned by a girlfriend using him for his connections, which is unusual for this sort of book and time period, although again I think that's something Allan's good at - her The School on North Barrule was, if I remember correctly, one of the very few boarding school books I read as a child that had a co-ed school and believable characters (the last rules out Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl, a kind of Summerhill with carefully illustrated morals).

Mercedes Lackey, A study in sable. Elemental Masters again, grown-up Nan and Sarah are sent to assist John Watson (yes, that one) and his wife Mary, elemental masters themselves who take on the cases that Holmes refuses to believe in. The main thread revolves around ghosts haunting an opera singer, with other things going on in the background; it's a much more coherent book than The Wizard of London, but it still doesn't really catch fire, and I miss the training neepery of many of her other books. However. The scene in which Holmes and an elemental master play a violin duet to ensnare the villain is great. Holmes in this overall works reasonably well for me but I found Watson a bit too domestic (I don't mind if he's happy! I just like a little edge).

Martin Millar, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies. Aristophanes is trying to put on a play for the Dionysia against all manner of earthly opposition (the ongoing war with Sparta, an offended patron refusing to fund the performance, an annoying lyric poet who keeps bothering him) when someone summons Laet, goddess of discord (granddaughter of Eris) to the city. The writing is very tell-don't-show and there are a number of verbal tricks that for me fall just on the side of irritating rather than endearing ("Walking down the street with Socrates, Aristophanes was disconsolate. "I'm disconsolate," he said. [Socrates] "You look disconsolate." ) but I ended up liking it a lot more in hindsight - it's fluffy, it's light, it gets through a lot and hits all the right beats, and underneath it there's quite a lot going on about war and responsibility. It comes down to a choice by Aristophanes - Laet will enter one room, and the people there will make the wrong decision. Either he picks the room with the judges of the Dionysia, or the one with the peace conference between Athens and Sparta.

Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Siblings without Rivalry. Nonfiction parenting book, very good on both parenting strategies to use with siblings and on examining your own sibling relationships and how they influence you as a parent. Very good, very useful. General principles; oversee, but where possible let children solve their own issues (they may surprise you), don't compare, don't stick people in roles, describe rather than judge, you can treat children unequally and still be fair. Example I liked - siblings arguing pancakes - "she got more than me!". Suggested response, rather than adjudicating over numbers sizes average density etc - "Are you still hungry? Would you like a whole pancake or half of one?" (yes, obviously need to work on this if all out of pancakes, but useful in how to think about problems differently).

In progress:

Jim Grimsley, How I shed my skin: unlearning the racist lessons of a Southern childhood. Memoir. Starts when he's eleven and three black girls begin attending his school.

Yoshitoki Ōima, A Silent Voice, v1 (manga). On [personal profile] gramarye1971's rec, about teenage bullying. I am at the bit where it is not that bad but I know it's going to get worse and I needed a break.

Mark Haddon, The red house. The other things I need to write up are theatre reviews; I picked this up because I was going to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Four adults and four children spend a week together in a house on the Welsh border; things happen. It's very well written, although all dialogue is in italics (arrgh!), but it hasn't really grabbed me.

Up next:

Well, deadlines. However. Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings has one chance left to convince me to like angels (I have really enjoyed all of the short fiction of hers that I've read), and while tidying out the car I found Jeanette Winterson's Why be happy when you could be normal?, both of which are due back within the next week. I also inexplicably ordered the first two of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January detective series.

This entry was originally posted at http://cyphomandra.dreamwidth.org/107886.html. Comment here or there.

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