Sakerfalcon is still trying to reduce Mount Tbr in 2017
This is a continuation of the topic Sakerfalcon consumes more books in 2016.
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Welcome to my new thread! Thanks to everyone who commented, lurked or hit me with book bullets in 2016; sorry to those I hit with BBs in return! I look forward to more of the same this year.
Most of what I read is Fantasy and SF, classic children's fiction (school and pony stories), or books published by Virago and Persephone presses. However I also dabble in other genres when something shiny catches my eye, hence my out-of-control library.
I would love to reduce my Tbr piles this year, but as I've so far failed to curb my purchasing in previous years I doubt that this one will be any better. Still, one can but hope. I'd also like to read more non-fiction this year - something else at which I usually fail miserably.
I hope that 2017 will be a great year in books and in life for all of us. Thank goodness that we can escape by reading when the world gets too much.
I'm not sure why LT duplicated this post, but I shall replace it with an update on my reading (starting as I mean to go on!).
In the days after Christmas I managed to polish off a few books to end the year.
From my stack of gifts, I enjoyed Ghosts and Awkward, two middle-grade graphic novels with female leads and engaging storylines. Awkward is about the perils of social relations in school, and Ghosts is about the importance of living one's life to the fullest. Bother were delightful and I highly recommend them.
On kindle I've read Translucid, Witches of Lychford and Lost child of Lychford. I didn't like Translucid as much as imyril (IIRC) did, but enjoyed it more than pwaites. My main issue was with the nature of the heroine's amnesia - it felt as though she remembered the things that were needed to make the plot work and forgot the things that would increase tension. But aside from that, this was an enjoyable space opera set on a space station, with interesting characters. I will read the sequel soon. The two Lychford novellas were just as good as I'd been led to believe by a number of persuasive LTers (who are too numerous to name). The tensions of life in a large village/small town are realistically portrayed, and the three heroines are all complex and interesting. Judith is especially awesome! I would happily read more about Lychford and its inhabitants.
As I have zero willpower, I was unable to resist a visit to Forbidden Planet last week, and of course I did not leave empty handed. Among my purchases was an urban fantasy, Dark alchemy, set in a small town near Yellowstone and featuring a geologist heroine. This book doesn't seem to have been promoted at all, but I really enjoyed it. Petra is a smart, sensible heroine who can get herself out of trouble (but doesn't reject friendship when it is offered) and although she is recovering from a highly traumatic past she doesn't let it hold her back. The mysteries of Temperance are many and are closely guarded by powerful forces, personified by a modern-day alchemist and his drug-addicted followers, and a ranch owner and his employees, who are not quite what they appear to be. This was a really exciting read in an interesting setting and I will look forward to reading more about Petra and her companions.
Another purchase was Signal to noise, a music-based urban fantasy set in Mexico City. This is an unfamiliar setting for me, and one that is drawing me in. The storyline is split between the present day, as Meche returns to MC for her father's funeral, and the late 1980s, when she and her friends discovered that they could use music to cast spells that might improve their lives. It's obvious that something cataclysmic happened to drive Meche away and break up her relations with friends and family; but what? Meche is a hard character to like, but she's certainly interesting and this is a good read so far.
I'm a couple of chapters into the Angela Carter bio, which is very good. As it's a hardback though, it will be a slow-ish read. And I do need to pick up The little Paris bookshop again.
I look forward to your 2017 thread! I was skimming down the list of Touchstones in your 2016 thread (those little green check marks next to books I’ve marked read are handy!) and I see a few that I also read last year and particularly enjoyed: Carol Berg’s Sanctuary duology and Jo Walton’s Philosopher Kings in particular. I had missed your original posts because they were made before I started following the threads here.
I now count Berg’s as some of my all-time favorites, and Walton’s were a very pleasant surprise. I read that whole trilogy after The Just City was offered for free by Tor. I hadn’t expected much going into it, but I really enjoyed it.
Delighted to be following along again...but I must say that the apology for hitting others with your deadly precision book bullets seemed a tad disingenuous... ;)
>3 YouKneeK: I've enjoyed everything I've read by Berg although I liked Song of the beast the least. I still need to read her earliest trilogy and quartet. She doesn't seem to have been published in the UK, so I have to get all her books as imports. The Walton trilogy is fantastic so far (I haven't read the final part yet). It's such an unusual idea but brilliant.
>4 imyril:, >5 hfglen:, >6 Narilka: It's good to see you all! Enjoy!
>7 Marissa_Doyle: Your aim is at least as good as mine :-)
>8 pgmcc: You are very welcome!
>9 suitable1: They are more resistant to spilled PGGBs than ordinary seating.
>10 Sakerfalcon: I didn’t realize Berg hasn’t been published in the UK. That may help explain why I don’t see her talked about as often as I’d like. I’ve only read 7 of her books so far (the Rai-Kirah trilogy and the Lighthouse and Sanctuary duologies), so I still have more to look forward to.
I hope you enjoy the third book of the Walton trilogy once you get to it! It was my least-favorite of the three, actually, but I did still enjoy it.
Happy New Year!
I'll be checking in, but wearing bullet proof armor as often as possible.
Happy New Year - I'm hiding behind the curtains in the hope of avoiding the book bullets (because as has been mentioned above - I'm also not convinced you're really sorry about those at all)
Happy new year! I am looking forward to getting hit by lots of BBs again.
Glad you enjoyed the Lychford novellas - I really liked those too.
Happy New Year, Claire! Looking forward to your book bullets. I'm terrible at dodging, so I figure I'll just have to take what comes :)
>11 YouKneeK: The Rai-Kirah trilogy is one that I haven't read yet. I think I can borrow it from a friend when I want to read it.
>12 clamairy: Thanks for stopping by! I'll keep a cool spot so you don't get too hot in your armour.
>13 Marissa_Doyle:, >14 Morphidae: Armour is allowed; I like a challenge :-)
>15 Peace2: I think you've hit me with some BBs in the past, or at least prompted me to move things to the top of my Tbr piles!
>17 kidzdoc: And the same to you! Looking forward to more book talk online and in person this year.
>18 majkia: It's good to "see" you!
>19 souloftherose: Happy new year to you! I look forward to some BBs from you too!
>20 thehawkseye: Thanks for stopping by! Sometimes the path of least resistance is simpler!
I've finished reading Signal to noise, which was an interesting book. I enjoyed exploring a setting that was completely new to me, Mexico City. The central characters, Meche, Sebastian and Daniela, are all social outcasts at school with Meche and Sebastian having troubled home lives and Daniela suffering from lupus. She is the gentlest and most easy-going member of the trio and she frequently had my sympathies as she gets caught in the middle and dragged into the plans of the other two. The author was very good at portraying the ups and downs of teenage friendships, and especially the desire to lash out and hurt those we feel have betrayed us. It's a pity that I wasn't as convinced by the motivations of her characters in adulthood. Meche is complex and often unlikeable, bearing grudges and indulging in impulsive acts of revenge when she feels wronged. When we see her twenty years later she is still acting like a hormonal teen, unable even to be civil and still holding onto her grudges. This didn't feel realistic to me, and neither did her subsequent character growth. However, this was a good read and one that I would cautiously recommend, especially if the intersection of music and magic is of interest.
On my kindle I've started Luna: new moon by Ian McDonald. I dislike books written in the present tense, but McDonald is one author who I will read in spite of this as his settings, characters and ideas are so interesting.
My commuting book is Deerbrook, which I'm reading for the Virago Chronological group read. It's set in the eponymous village, which is about to be shaken up by the arrival of two eligible young women. Much gossip and speculation ensues ....
I don't understand why all these folks are trying to dodge your bullets. I come around in the hope of taking a few.
>23 Jim53: Speaking personally, I'm trying to avoid bullets on the grounds that the Mt TBR is quite simply too big - there is no longer room in the house and therefore until it is reduced, bullets are a distinct health and safety issue!
I'm curious about Carol Berg as she is highly regarded and I'd like to try her out this year -- but I've heard her books are not always very friendly when it comes to female characters. If I wanted to read a Berg novel with an active and interesting heroine, should I start with Son of Avonar, or something else?
*waves* Happy new year! I hope it will be full of good reads and good things in general! :)
>25 kceccato: I haven't read the series that starts with Son of Avonar because annoyingly the third book of four isn't available digitally, but Berg's Song of the Beast has a heroine with POV in the latter parts of the book. Overall I liked her quite a bit and her romance with the hero, but I did have some mixed feelings.
First, is just the tiresome trope that the culture she comes from (villains who we're not supposed to like) is another "women can't do X" and "extreme patriarchy" setup. Second, there's a masquerade ball which has a gratuitous makeover scene where the warrior heroine Discovers Femininity Isn't So Bad that made me roll my eyes a bit. Third, and I couldn't make up my mind how I felt about this, but
Happy New Year, Claire! Looking forward to more of your recommendations this year.
I've been seeing Deerbrook mentioned (probably because of the challenge), and it sounds intriguing.
>23 Jim53: Thank you! It's nice to be appreciated :-D
>24 Peace2: I'm in a similar situation, but just can't stay away from the dangerous places!
>25 kceccato:, >26 sandstone78: I liked Song of the beast least of the novels I've read by Berg. In most of the ones I've read, her female characters are interesting and active but they definitely play supporting roles. The exception is The soul mirror, but that is the middle part of the Collegia Magica trilogy and you do need to read the first book. I think sandstone compared Berg to Robin Hobb in the group read thread and that is an excellent comparison. Son of Avonar is on Mount Tbr so I will certainly report back when I get around to reading it.
>27 jnwelch: Happy new year to you and Debbi! I wish you both a great year full of wonderful reading and exciting travels. I hope to see you both in September if you are in London for your usual visit. Deerbrook is a very good read so far.
>28 imyril: I'll be interested to see what you think of it. I had missed Certain dark things but will have to keep a look out for it. I did download her short story collection, Love & other poisons onto kindle after finishing the novel, so I'll try and read those soon.
I'm very much enjoying Deerbrook. It's one of those English classics that focuses on village life as disrupted by newcomers who shake up the status quo a bit and allow the author to explore issues such as the role of women, relationships between parents and children, siblings, and spouses, and the different orders of society. The sisters Hester and Margaret are nicely contrasted in their different temperaments and outlook on life, with neither one being wholly good or bad (although it is clear who is our heroine). It's easy to read and the story moves quickly.
The Angela Carter biography is excellent so far. I had no idea she had a connection to Croydon, the otherwise undistinguished South London suburb where I grew up. The author has done a lot of research, from her journals and letters and speaking to many people who knew her, and has tried to unpick fiction from fact when recounting incidents from her life. I've always enjoyed her writing and it's great to learn more about the woman behind the books.
Luna: new moon has been put on hold until the next time I travel somewhere with my kindle but the little I've read so far makes me keen to pick it up again.
At home I've started A closed and common orbit. I expected to miss the crew of the Wayfarer, and indeed I do, but Lovelace and Pepper are just as engaging and their stories are every bit as interesting. If you found Small angry planet too bitty and episodic this might be preferable as it's just the two stories and they are basically linear.
I have never heard of Deerbrook before your mention of it here and, while I've certainly heard of Harriet Martineau, I don't think I've ever read anything written by her. Yay, more 19th century novels to wallow in!!!
I'm a little late, but I'll be following along!
Dark Alchemy sounds intriguing...
>30 imyril:, >33 clamairy: I finished A closed and common orbit and loved it. Perhaps a teeny bit less than Small angry planet, but really only a teeny bit. Pepper's backstory is fascinating and it's lovely to see where her present-day interests, talents and personality traits come from. Lovelace's difficulties in adjusting to life in a "human" body are often heartbreaking, but just as often heartwarming too as she finds new friends and ways to adapt. I think I missed having a larger cast of characters - apart from Pepper and Lovelace we really only spend time with Blue and Tak - but this is a small quibble about an otherwise excellent book. I look forward to whatever Chambers writes next.
>31 jillmwo: I think you would really enjoy Deerbrook. It uses the sisters to examine life in the claustrophobic bubble that is a small village, where everyone knows each other's business and if they don't then they'll make something up, no matter how devastating the potential consequences.
>32 pwaites: Welcome! I think I've already taken some hits from your thread! I really enjoyed Dark alchemy and its sequel, Mercury retrograde. I love having a geologist as a protagonist, and the combination of Western tropes with alchemy is well-managed.
>33 clamairy: I think you should treat yourself! Happy birthday!
See my response to imyril and clam above for my report on A closed and common orbit.
In its place I've started Dead beat in the Harry Dresden series which I'm reading in order. As usual Harry is plunged into mayhem and peril when a new supernatural threat comes to town - in this case, six necromancers who are all after a rare book. An added complication is the vampire who also wants the book, and is holding Murphy's reputation at stake to make sure Harry delivers the book to her. Shenanigans ensue ...
I really enjoyed A Closed and Common Orbit, Claire. Can't imagine what she's going to do for a third.
A Closed and Common Orbit is high on the list of books I need to get around to.
>35 jnwelch:, >36 SylviaC:, >37 clamairy: It really was a good read, with the same warmth and decency of the first one and the added interest of seeing life in a couple of different planetary societies (as opposed to on board ship). I eagerly await whatever Chambers writes next.
I've finished reading Deerbrook which was a highly enjoyable and entertaining experience. Anyone who thinks that life in a pretty little village must be idyllic should read this to be disabused of that notion! While there are decent people there, the village is a hotbed of gossip and rumour which no-one can escape. The prominent theme of false reports and their consequences feels very topical at this time when the issue of fake news dominates our headlines. The novel also looks at the place of women in society, how they are expected to behave in courtship and marriage (and how this affects men too) and what options there are for women who don't marry. The sisters Margaret and Hester are nicely contrasted in personality, and the supporting characters are vivid and well portrayed. Only one comes across as something of a cartoon villain in her vindictiveness; others who could have been made into caricatures in the hands of a lesser author come across as more subtle and nuanced. This novel bridges the gap in women's writing between Austen and Eliot, combining Austen's focus on romantic relationships with Eliot's exploration of larger social issues. The inevitable moralising is kept to a minimum and the plot kept me turning the pages. Recommended.
I finished Dead beat which was another good instalment in the Harry Dresden series. I missed Murphy (and couldn't buy the reason for her absence - surely she wouldn't make such a stupid decision?!) but enjoyed getting to see more of Butters, the timid mortician. His character growth is very satisfying as he learns to manage his fears. Harry unfortunately reverts to the sexism - sorry, I mean "chivalry" - of the early books in a couple of scenes here which made me want to throw the book against the wall, hence my not rating it quite as high as the last couple of books. It's still a good read if you can overlook that, and if you ignore the frequent repetition of Butcher's pet phrases that occurs in each book.
I'm still reading Luna: new moon on my kindle and enjoying it. Most of the characters are not especially likeable, but they are all interesting, and McDonald's vision of a future society on the moon is fascinating. I do not need so many details of each character's sex life, however.
An unfortunate incident occurred last week in which I found myself in Forbidden Planet and somehow came out with a pile of books. Among these were Stiletto, which has just come out at mass market price, and Nine of stars, the third Dark alchemy book (although weirdly it's claiming to be the first in a new series despite picking up directly where the previous book ended). I'm devouring Stiletto and loving it - not quite so much as the first book, but still a lot. It's nice to get behind the scenes with the Grafters and what motivates them, and to have the Chequy perspective come from a Pawn rather than one of the Court. I miss being in Myfanwy's head, but it is really interesting to see her through the eyes of others, and she is awesome in her scenes. The weakness of this volume is the info dumps. They were very obviously present in The rook, but the device of Myfanwy's letters worked for me. Stiletto doesn't have a similar device, so long passages of historical or other context are shoehorned into the story. Fortunately it is all interesting, but I wish there had been a better way to convey the information.
Nine of stars continues Petra's story as she investigates another supernatural oddity in the Yellowstone National Park. In addition, Petra's lover Gabe is being pursued by the sheriff in relation to the death of the rancher Sal Rutherford, which took place in the last book. The only reason I can see for marketing this as a new series is that the character of Cal has been dropped, when it appeared that his story was not over. Whether the author lost interest in him or plans to write another series just about him I don't know. I'm not missing him so it's ok.
I'm rather feeling as if I have a large target painted on my back--the Dark Alchemy books are the third bullet I've taken this week (or would that be three bullets, since I'm going to start with the first one?) But it will segue nicely with my current read, so...
>38 Sakerfalcon: "An unfortunate incident occurred last week in which I found myself in Forbidden Planet and somehow came out with a pile of books."
I can't stop chuckling... :o)
>39 souloftherose: Deerbrook was a really good read, wasn't it!
I enjoyed The aeronaut's windlass less than you, I think. I didn't really like the main character and the battle scenes were dull. Not sure if I will read on in the series - maybe if the library gets the next one.
>40 Marissa_Doyle: I hope you enjoy Dark alchemy when you start it. I really like Petra, the heroine - she's not snarky or flirty so some readers might find her dull, but she is sensible and practical, good at what she does, and she gets on with things.
>41 clamairy: Alas, this was not an isolated incident but part of an ongoing problem ...
I've finished Luna: new moon, Stiletto and Nine of stars this week, all of which were good in different ways. Luna had amazing worldbuilding and twisty politics which I loved, although most of the characters weren't terribly likeable. I was gripped by the plot though. Stiletto took me back to a world that I had enjoyed before and introduced me to new characters who I liked, but the plot was padded with info dumps which, while interesting, made the book rather flabby. Nine of stars was a good continuation of the series, in which we see Petra grow as a character and in her relationship with
I've also read All passion spent for the Virago group's Vita Sackville-West read. This is a lovely quiet book focusing on an elderly widow who finds herself suddenly free to live for herself after 60+ years of sacrificing herself to her husband and children. We see her rebel against her managing sons and daughters and set herself up in a cottage with just her maid, becoming friends with her landlord, her decorator and a man she had met briefly in her youth. She looks back on her life, which was not a bad one by any means, just not what she would have chosen. The book is also a fascinating depiction of the social customs surrounding death, courtship and marriage in the Victorian and early C20th. This is a lovely, satisfying read that I highly recommend.
At home I'm reading The girl with ghost eyes, which is a book bullet from kceccato. It's historical urban fantasy set in San Francisco's Chinatown. I'm also still reading The invention of Angela Carter which is an excellent biography of this unique writer. And on kindle I've just started The drowning eyes a book bullet from imyril (IIRC).
>42 Sakerfalcon: "Alas, this was not an isolated incident but part of an ongoing problem ..."
Oh, poor Claire!
I mean that in the most impecunious way.
>42 Sakerfalcon: - I think I've dodged the Luna bullet your description sent my way. I've tried two previous IM novels, and didn't really get on with either of them. But I also have a forbidden planet problem!
River of Gods was actually pretty interesting. My husband loved it and found it to be thoroughly engaging.
>43 pgmcc: Thank you for your sympathy. My bank account appreciates it!
>44 SylviaC:, >47 jillmwo:, >50 Morphidae: It is a lovely book, about a person who is finally able to live for herself after a life spent putting others first. Not much happens but it is a detailed study of a character who is not usually the centre of attention - an elderly widow.
>45 reading_fox: I remember that you didn't get on with McDonald. I suspect Luna won't do it for you either, given that the things you didn't like about him before are also present in this book.
>46 pgmcc: If you've enjoyed McDonald's work in the past you will probably like Luna too. The flawed characters and odd sex shouldn't take you by surprise!
>48 reading_fox:, >49 jillmwo:, >51 majkia: I didn't like River of gods as much as The dervish house, Cyberabad days or Luna. Too many of the viewpoint characters weren't interesting to me, and some of them didn't really link into the main plot. Luna has even more viewpoint characters but their stories all converge and intertwine.
>52 ScoLgo: I haven't read Brasyl but I want to. He uses Brazilian culture in Luna and it intrigued me.
The drowning eyes was an excellent novella, short but still able to flesh out the characters and world yet not bog down the plot. I would love to read more set in this world.
I'm currently reading The little Paris bookshop and am sadly disappointed with it so far. I'm not fond of books where the characters do stupid irrational things, such as a) leaving your lover without a word, just a sealed letter which b) he doesn't open for 20 years. The idea of the floating bookshop on a barge is lovely but it's not enough to make up for the frustrating characters and unconvincing plot developments. I will finish it as it was a gift, and find something nice to say about it to the friend who gave it to me.
The girl with ghost eyes is getting more and more exciting as Li-Lin delves deeper into the mysteries of the spirit world. The portrayal of Chinatown and the Chinese community in the late C19th is vivid and fascinating and Li-Lin is a sympathetic heroine.
On kindle I'm reading Persona, an SF thriller by Genevieve Valentine. In this future, ambassadors are chosen for their looks and charisma to draw media coverage, while their handlers seem to do most of the actual negotiating behind the scenes. Sukana is the representative of the United Amazonian Rainforest Coalition, who finds herself forced to accept the help of a freelance photographer after she is targeted by an assassin. This is a fast-paced, exciting read so far.
I remember a BBC (I think) dramatization of All Passion Spent from...maybe twenty-five years ago? Dame Wendy Hiller played the lead role--it was very, very well done.
>53 Sakerfalcon: There is a real bookshop on a barge. TheBookbarge.com On Fb as well, although been fairly quiet.
>54 sandstone78: Now I want to read Icon but £11.99 for the kindle version is much more than I'm willing to spend :-( Persona reminded me a lot of Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge, which I loved. Maybe I will reread it while I wait for the price to drop on Icon.
>55 Marissa_Doyle: I'd love to see that!
>56 MrsLee: I hope you enjoy the read! It is an oasis of calm, which I'm sure a lot of us will welcome at the moment.
>57 reading_fox: Is that the one on the Regent's Canal, near King's Cross? It always looks so tempting.
I finished The little Paris bookshop which never really grew on me. I think the problem for me was that it's a book which depends upon characters who are entirely driven by their emotions. But those emotions never felt quite real to me, so neither did the characters and thus the plot didn't work. Perdu has been obsessed with his lost love for 20 years, never even looking at another woman - but even before he's read her letter suddenly he's interested in his new neighbour. I didn't really like the Manon revealed though her diaries, and I couldn't relate to Perdu's inability to read her letter for so long. The other two main characters were fine but their motivations were just as silly. I'm sorry that this wasn't a better fit for me, as it was a gift, but sometimes that's just how it is. I do like the idea of the book barge journeying through France, but it didn't make for a good story.
I've also finished Persona which was a much better read. This fast-paced SF political thriller follows Suyana as she flees an attempted assassination in the company of Daniel, a freelance photographer who was following her in search of romantic gossip. Neither of them are sure who they can trust - they might even have to betray each other to preserve themselves. Both Suyana and Daniel are interesting characters in their motivations and loyalties, with believable flaws and weaknesses. This is a near-future SF setting, so there's not much about the world that is hugely different from our own, and the media and politics angles of the story feel plausible. I really enjoyed this book and hope to read the sequel at some point.
And I've finished The girl with ghost eyes, which was excellent. Li-Lin is an appealing heroine, skilled and smart but very aware of her vulnerabilities in a patriarchal community, at a time when women were expected to be submissive wives and daughters. Li-Lin has followed in her father's footsteps as a Daoshi exorcist, using her power to control the often-malevolent spirits that haunt Chinatown. But she is lured into physical and spiritual danger by a false request for help by someone she trusts. She finds both human and spirit allies to help her overcome an evil that threatens to destroy Chinatown, and is able to use her skills to compensate for her physical weakness in combat. This is a really good read, with obviously well-researched and respectful cultural details, that I recommend to anyone who likes the sound of an urban fantasy set in 1890s San Francisco Chinatown.
Now I'm reading A natural history of dragons (inspired by@reading_fox) and still working through The invention of Angela Carter. This is a truly excellent biography of a fascinating writer, as well as giving us an insight into the UK literary and cultural scene of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
58, 59> You two are really bumping The Girl with Ghost Eyes up my reading list!
>58 Sakerfalcon: I think it does move about sometimes! But recent updates seem to indicate yes it's in london.
>59 kceccato: I get worried like that too, afraid I've made someone waste their time and/or money on something they don't enjoy. Nothing to worry about in this case though!
>60 pwaites: It really is worth reading, for its well-researched and interesting setting.
>61 reading_fox: If your bookshop is on a boat then it makes sense to move around when you feel like a change!
>62 Morphidae: I've just finished and really liked it!
A natural history of dragons was a very good read, a faux-Victorian memoir by a woman who became the foremost scholar of dragons in her time. In this first volume Isabella writes of herself as a young girl, fascinated by dragons, and desperate for any chance to learn more about them. This is, of course, not a suitable ambition for a young lady, and she is forced to conform, at least outwardly, to social expectations. But her marriage brings her unexpected freedom to pursue her dreams. We travel with Isabella on an expedition to a remote mountain wilderness to find out why there has been a sudden increase in dragon attacks on humans, and uncover some very nasty deeds. The prose style of the narrative is convincing without going over the top, and Isabella is a sympathetic character. We get a sense of both her present, rather formidable character in old age, and of the uncertainly she felt in her youth, and can see how her attitude to society has changed over the years. I'm looking forward to reading more of Isabella's adventures soon.
I also finished The invention of Angela Carter, which was an excellent portrait of this unique author. It is very well-researched, with the author having accessed Carter's journals and letters and spoken with many people who knew her at various stages of her life. Like many public figures, Carter created a public image of herself and this book seeks to find the real woman behind the mythology. This sometimes meant looking at several different narrative sources for events, and working out which is the most likely scenario. Carter was not always a nice person, and like all of us she made some bad decisions, but she tried not to let regrets hold her back and in later life especially she sought to help and inspire younger writers. There is some analysis of her novels and other writings, but the main focus is always on Carter herself. I was excited to read this book as soon as I heard of its release, and have not been disappointed.
At the weekend I read a second novel by Vita Sackville-West for the Virago author month, The Edwardians. It opens in 1905 and is centred around a stately home which is clearly a fictionalised version of Knole, Vita's ancestral home. The characters are "not wholly fictional" either (as an author's note at the start of the book states) and Vita describes vividly the people among which she grew up, and the society they were a part of. This is the world of the gentry, living on big estates and responsible for the lives and employment of hundreds of dependents, hosting the King when he visits a couple of times a year, and holding glittering parties. A thin veneer of morality is maintained for the public, but almost everyone knows who is really involved with each other. The story follows Sebastian, the young Duke and heir to Chevron, as he seeks to reconcile his love of the estate and its inhabitants, with his disgust for the society of which he is a part. His sister Viola is mostly in the background, but she does have her own story and it is a satisfying one. We have several viewpoints through which we see events - Sebastian himself, his mother, other figures in society, but also some of the domestic and estate staff and a couple of social outsides - so we really see the bigger picture of this claustrophobic society. There is certainly more outward action in this book than in All passion spent and it is much livelier overall, but Vita never thought much of it even though it became a best seller. It is a good read and I'm glad I fitted it in.
On my kindle I'm currently reading tor.com's best of 2016 collection. I really appreciate that Tor commission and publish new short stories for free on their website, and the annual collection bring some of the most interesting offerings together in a convenient way. Charlie Anders' story related to her novel, All the birds of the air, but I liked the short story much better. N.K. Jemisin's is one of the strongest entries so far, and I found Daniel Polansky's story unexpectedly good. These are collections that I know I'll return to in the future.
I've just started reading Last song before night at home, and will soon be starting a biography of Shirley Jackson, another of my favourite writers. I will also be reading at least one book by Rebecca West, who is this month's Virago author.
>58 Sakerfalcon: Well, I'm relieved that we agreed on The Little Paris Bookshop. There was the potential for a good read there, but it was never fully realized. At first I thought that it might have been hastily translated and so I was missing out on some crucial nuances. But I think it just was poorly executed. So it goes.
And now I'm curious about A Natural History of Dragons.
A Natural History of Dragons was a DNF for me, because I found Isabella so unsympathetic and unlikeable--
>64 clamairy: I agree, I don't think it was the translation to blame. I doubt I'll try anything else by the author.
>65 Marissa_Doyle: It does change as the book progresses
>68 zjakkelien: It is, although you want to know what Li-Lin will do next when the story ends. She is set up for an interesting future, but you are not left on a cliffhanger.
>70 zjakkelien: I'm curious as to why you don't a reading journal. Is it the time involved?
>71 clamairy: Hi clamairy, yes, essentially. I (roughly) keep track of two fora, LT and a Dutch fantasy forum and both have reading journals. I like reading the journals of others (well, not all of course, but there are quite a few here that I follow), and commenting here and there, discussing either what they read or what I read. But if I kept a journal myself, aside from feeling I already spend enough time not-reading, I think it would start feeling like on obligation to a certain degree. I even started feeling that about my reviews. I used to write longer reviews, but that started feeling like a burden, so now I just make a few quick notes on how I felt about it, without feeling that I must meet a certain standard.
So it's both the time it would take and the feeling of obligation that I wish to avoid.
And of course I know there is no actual obligation. But I can't always shut down my head, and I have this annoying tendency to want to do things right (whatever that means)...
>67 imyril: I haven't read the Temeraire books; for some reason they have never appealed to me. The Lady Trent books are more about her than actually about dragons, but they are very good (based on the first two).
Yes, I too would like to read more in the world of The drowning eyes. It has so much potential.
>71 clamairy:, >72 zjakkelien: I'd love to follow your reading, Jacqueline, but totally understand your wanting to spend more time actually reading. I chose to start keeping this thread because I was finding that months after reading some books I'd forgotten them and so wanted to keep a record. As a result I now find that I think a bit more about books while I read them, instead of devouring them for the plot. But if keeping up the thread stops being fun then I will stop.
I actually put aside Last song before night because I wanted to start the next Lady Trent book, The tropic of serpents. This was another excellent read, and lacked the issue that >65 Marissa_Doyle: highlighted in her spoiler. It also expands upon the question of a woman's place in society and the double standard that exists. But mostly it is a good yarn about an expedition to an Africa-like continent in search of dragons. Isabella learns that one cannot extricate politics from science and gets involved in greater adventures than she bargained for. Although I enjoyed the first book a lot, I think this one was even better and am looking forward to the next instalment.
I finished the tor.com collection and found most of the stories to be very satisfying. There were a couple which intrigued me in terms of the world the author created, but after finishing them I felt l needed to know more about it to really understand the story. I think this collection is still free to download from amazon so if you have any interest in contemporary spec fic short stories I recommend grabbing it.
This month's Virago author is Rebecca West so I've started reading Cousin Rosamund which is the third in her trilogy about the sisters Rose and Mary. Both women are gifted concert pianists and their careers form an interesting backdrop to their friendships and family connections. Their lives are changing as their family dwindles and people marry and are no longer as close. In particular, their titular cousin has married a man who seems vulgar and grotesque, to the sisters' dismay. Because we only see events from Rose's perspective we can't know what Rosamund's motivation was in marrying him, and I wonder how reliable Rose's perceptions are of the marriage. This is a very interesting look at unusual lives in 1920s London, but I would start with The fountain overflows if the trilogy appeals to you.
I've started reading Last song before night again and it starts well, but it's too soon for me to form much of an opinion of it. I like Lin, a woman who has run from her family and is defying convention by performing as a poet (more like what we would call a bard), and am looking forward to seeing what lies in store for her. I must admit that the gorgeous cover drew me to this book - hope I haven't been misled!
Clearly the world has been getting to me because I've also found myself indulging in some comfort reads this week - the Merry series by Clare Mallory. These school stories are unusual in that the New Zealand author set them in her own country, and it's interesting to note the differences as compared to books set in English schools. Merry and her friends are a nice lot, and I wish there were more than 3 books in the series.
What kinds of cultural differences appear in the Merry series? I'm curious about what might have cropped up in New Zealand.
Just popping in to mark your 2017 thread, Sakerfalcon.
I read a Silvia Moreno-Garcia's short storiy and thought her writing was very strong, but the plots of her novels don't appeal to me.
>75 SylviaC: If we were on the same side of the Atlantic I would lend you my copies. I wish someone would reprint them as they are lovely.
>76 jillmwo: It's only little things, like the girls' family backgrounds and that some of them are from places so remote that they never get into town except when at school. And the seasons are the reverse of what we expect, and some of the slang. Most of the girls are British in origin and the school is obviously modelled on the British boarding school. It's based on a real NZ school and the introduction is written by a woman who attended and immediately recognised it upon reading the book. We're not shown much of what takes place in lessons, so you can't tell whether history is focused on NZ or on "the old country", or whether they read local authors (I would guess not).
>77 LibraryPerilous: I can understand that. I have friends who will read anything by certain authors, even if the plot doesn't appeal, just because they like previous books or the prose style, but for me even an author I love can write a book that I won't pick up if I'm not attracted to the plot. Even more so if it's an author I've read very little of.
I finished Cousin Rosamund and enjoyed it a lot. It's a pity West never finished the story of the Aubrey sisters and their friends and family, but most characters are left in a good place where she left off. I have another book by her to read next, The birds fall down, so I'll be starting that soon.
This weekend I began reading On the edge of gone on my kindle. This is a YA "end of the world" novel which several people recommended to me when I was going to the Netherlands last year. It's a gripping read, with complex characters and moral issues that make you think. Six months earlier, scientists warned that a comet would collide with the earth and make impact somewhere in Eastern Europe. Countries have had time to prepare to try and protect people as much as possible, but how fortunate you will be depends very much on how much money you have, who you know, and/or on your skills and abilities. Denise and her mother and sister are pretty low down the list, as Denise is 16 years old and autistic, her sister is a concert promoter and their mother is an unemployed drug addict. When Iris fails to appear as expected, the family miss their chance to take the places reserved for them in a shelter and it falls to Denise to do what she can to save her family. This is quite like Life as we knew it in that it is about living through a disaster rather than the society that evolves years later, and I'm finding it hard to put down.
Having finished the Merry books I'm now working my way through the Vivians series, British school stories set in the 1950s at a big boarding school near the Lake District.
I have On the Edge of Gone waiting on my kindle. I've been wanting to read it for a while, so I grabbed it when it was on sale recently. I didn't actually care that much for her Otherbound simply because it was a style of fantasy that I don't get into anymore. I hope I'll like this one better, since I do tend to like apocalyptic fiction and liked Life as We Knew It.
>75 SylviaC: >78 Sakerfalcon: I checked at my local library to see if it had the Merry books but it didn't. How disappointing! They must be very hard to find indeed if the capital city library in the author's home country doesn't have them. I will have to try the national library which is just down the road from me.
ETA: The national library has them but they can't be borrowed from there. The only public library in NZ which has them is in Dunedin, so I may be able to get them on interloan. They were originally published in the UK and more recently republished in Australia.
>82 europhile: How well is she known in NZ? I have to admit to not having heard of her here in the US.
>82 europhile: They certainly are hard to find if they're only at a single library in the aurhor's own country! I've been looking on used book sites for seven or eight years now, ever since LibraryThing started recommending them to me. I haven't seen much at all, certainly nothing affordable. I thought I came across some mention of reprints, but never found out much about them.
>78 Sakerfalcon: Think of the money we could save on books if we were neighbours!
>81 pwaites: That's reassuring.
>83 Morphidae: I hadn't heard of her either but I assume in the children's literature community she must be better known (though I've read a monograph about NZ children's books and I find it hard to believe they're not mentioned there - I'll have to go back and look at it again).
>79 SylviaC: book bullet direct hit. I e put it on my "for later" shelf at the library.
>80 Sakerfalcon:, >81 pwaites:, >86 catzteach: I really enjoyed On the edge of gone, right up to the very satisfying ending. It's an exciting read that also makes you think about the value of a life - when resources are scarce at a time of catastrophe, what makes one person's life more valuable than another's? Who deserves to live or die? The characters are complex with believable flaws and motivations, and their various responses to the disaster and the prospect of a new way of life drive the plot forward. It's good to read a book with an autistic protagonist that is written by an autistic author; obviously everyone on the spectrum is different but it makes me feel that Denise is written with authority.
>82 europhile: I believe Mallory (or Winifred McQuilkan, to give her real name) was from Dunedin so it makes sense that the library there would hold her books. The Merry books are set in Dunedin and the pupils from that area identify strongly as Southlanders. I hope you enjoy the books if you do manage to get hold of them.
>83 Morphidae:, >85 europhile: Apparently a NZ newspaper gave Merry begins, her first novel, a bad review and the author felt that that damaged any chance of her recognition in her home country. I would guess that she is best known to readers of "girlsown" books (I'm sure she is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Girls School Stories). I wouldn't have been aware of her without the Girls Gone By reprints.
>84 SylviaC: amazon.co.uk has some copies of the Merry books at not-too-inflated prices at the moment, but after conversion to Canadian $$ and adding shipping they'd probably end up pretty expensive. Margin Notes Books have been reprinting the titles that GGBP didn't get to, including a couple that weren't published in Mallory's lifetime. Some of these are still in print and available from the publisher's website.
It would be fun to be neighbours and raid each other's libraries!
>86 catzteach: Hope you enjoy it!
>88 SylviaC: It's certainly one of the best YA books I've read in recent years. It's another book (like Small angry planet) where people are more likely to help each other in a crisis than to compete - perhaps unrealistic given the scenario but a nice change from more violent apocalyptic stories.
I'm currently reading The birds fall down as my next title by Rebecca West. This is told from the pov of an 18 year old half British, half Russian girl who finds herself observing at first hand the politics leading up to the Russian Revolution. It's both a political novel and a coming-of-age story.
I'm about half way through Last song before night which is an atmospheric read, if not quite as gripping as I'd hoped. So far I am liking but not loving it.
I'm reading the new Shirley Jackson biography, A rather haunted life quite slowly as it's a hardback, but from what I've read so far it promises to be an excellent read. I've long been a fan of Jackson's writing and am keen to know more about the author.
I've finished a couple of books this week, and started some others.
The birds fall down left me feeling that it was an excellent and important book, although I certainly didn't feel that way as I was reading the first half of it. 18 year old Laura and her mother go from London to Paris to visit her Russian grandparents, who are living in exile after being banished by the Tsar. When her grandmother has to go into a clinic for treatment, Laura is dispatched to take her grandfather by train across France to stay with an aunt. However, no sooner has the train left the station than a scruffy, disreputable looking man enters their compartment and starts talking. It soon becomes clear that he and Laura's grandfather are politically opposed - the latter still loyal to the Tsar and the younger man inclined to revolution. What follows is 100 pages of conversation - at least, it starts as a conversation and becomes a monologue with occasional interruptions. I found this extremely tedious, as it focuses on political and social theory and philosophy. However, we do learn some important things which will shape the rest of the book. The secret revealed causes the sheltered, privileged Laura to question her upbringing, assumptions and moral values, plunging a very real dilemma and having to make a very difficult decision. From the moment when we realise that Laura is in danger, this book became absolutely gripping. I liked the details of the Russian orthodox customs and ritual, and the conflict Laura feels at being half Russian and half English. The novel is based on true events, although set earlier than they occurred in history, and provide interesting insight into Russian politics in the years leading to the revolution. If only an editor had trimmed down the long conversation on the train this would have been an easy novel to love. Despite its flaws, I think this will stay with me for some time.
Now I'm reading another Rebecca West, Sunflower, which fictionalises the last years of her relationship with H.G. Wells (who would not have been flattered at his portrayal).
I've also finished Last song before night, which ended very strongly after some meandering. I've seen a lot of reviews comparing it to Guy Gavriel Kay, and I can see why - a background that is reminiscent of Mediaeval Europe (though more fictionalised than in Kay's work), a strong emphasis on music and poetry, several flawed viewpoint characters, and some surprising violence. But overall the elements are watered down in comparison to Kay, and the book feels a bit loose, especially in the beginning and middle. Rianna shows the most character growth in the book, and her story arc is satisfying. Lin is an interesting heroine, though one we have seen before, but her relationship with her brother is one of the most powerful, if traumatic, strands of the book. The two bad guys are really bad, no nuances, but they felt quite real despite that. I would love to know more about the world in which the book is set, and hope the author writes more - although this is a stand-alone with no loose ends. It's a strong debut, and there's enough evidence here that the author can only improve with subsequent books.
Now I'm reading Cast in fury, the fourth Elantris novel about Kaylin and the Hawks (the world's equivalent of a police force). Kaylin is more responsible and mature in this book, as she seeks justice for her Leontine boss and works with a playwright to calm people's fears of the telepathic Tha'alani race. I'm not a fan of Severn though - he's supposed to have an older brother sort of relationship with Kaylin, but I hate how he controlling he seems at times. I still find West's writing rather opaque and it can be hard to tell what is going on based on the conversations characters have, but it's not a bad thing to have to concentrate on reading rather than skim over the words. I'm not sure why this series is published by a romance house, because from what I can tell
>90 Sakerfalcon: I may have to read the last-named, if only because the Hawks in this country are an elite police unit tasked with uncovering (?) corruption, and it might be good to read of an at-least-nominally efficient body of that name.
On the Edge of Gone sounds fascinating. I've only read Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier, and it was very thought-provoking: amazing the ideas she packed into a slim novel. The Birds Fall Down sounds like just my cup of tea.
I'm glad you've enjoyed your last few reads.
>90 Sakerfalcon: "Now I'm reading Cast in fury, the fourth Elantris novel about Kaylin and the Hawks "
That confused me! I'd seen elantris solely as Brandon's work, I knew he was prolific, and that are many of his books are interlinked and I have't read them all yet, but thought that E was standalone - until I followed the link and found it was completely different series by a different author! Really how hard is it to choose unique names?!
>93 reading_fox: Yeah, "somebody" is trying to cash in on Sanderson's fame...
>93 reading_fox: >94 BookstoogeLT: Actually, Sagara's series is Elantra, not Elantris, and Elantris and the first book Cast in Shadow were published just a couple of months apart from different publishing houses so it seems like pure coincidence!
In addition, Sagara has been writing fantasy big, thick epic fantasies since the early 90s (for context, about a decade before Sanderson's debut with Elantris) as Michelle West (I enjoyed The Sacred Hunt duology which just got an omnibus rerelease!) so if anything she paved the way for him! :)
>91 hfglen: The series mainly focuses on Kaylin, who is not the most efficient member of the Hawks and you don't get many scenes of traditional procedural action. They don't seem to be corrupt, however, which gives them points over their real-life equivalents! While I mostly enjoy the books they are frustrating in that people never seem to tackle problems head-on but talk and act around them so that it takes ages to get basic information or results.
>92 LibraryPerilous: I highly recommend On the edge of gone, it really was good. If you are okay with tackling the 110-page conversation/monologue then The birds fall down is definitely worth checking out as the subject appeals to you. It has been nice to have a run of good books recently - I think duds are quite rare for me as I either pick up books that I hear about from LT people whom I trust, or check LT for reviews before making impulse buys.
>93 reading_fox:, >94 BookstoogeLT:, >95 sandstone78: My mistake! It does seem incredible that two authors would invent such similar names for their cities/worlds, but I definitely agree with sandstone78 that it is just coincidence given the timing and the authors' relative careers at that time. The Elantra books are frustrating in that while the world and characters are interesting the plotting and pacing are very uneven. But the good bits are good enough to keep me reading (that and that I found several of the later books in the series at low prices ... )
>96 jillmwo: That is an excellent description of The birds fall down. If you can get past the massive monologue then the second half of the book is hard to put down.
I think that well-rounded, interesting, believable characters tend to be what attract me to a book, and, to slightly lesser extent, a well-drawn setting whether than be in our world or another. Genre is of less importance, though I'm not keen on crime or romance in general. I like a good plot but if it comes with cardboard characters, or ones who act to serve the plot rather in ways true to what we have seen of their natures, then the book is not likely to work for me. I do tend to be a magpie in my interests which also accounts for my wide reading tastes.
I finished Sunflower (well, if one can finish an unfinished novel!) and found it to be a compelling, emotionally engaging yet sometimes difficult read. The book is based upon the end of West's long affair with H.G. Wells and her growing infatuation with Lord Beaverbrook (represented in the novel as Sunflower, Essington and Pitt respectively). West as Sunflower is sweet-natured and good-hearted, but believes herself to be stupid and is encouraged in this belief by the cruel bullying of Essington who makes himself feel better by putting Sunflower down, both in private and in front of others. It is frustrating and heartbreaking to see her making excuses for him and worrying that others won't realise how good and kind he really is (not a spoiler: he isn't). West, herself a feminist, seems to have had an uneasy relationship with the part of her nature that desired love and approval from men, and was writing it out in this novel. It gives the reader insight into the mindset of women who stay with abusive men, something which is still all too relevant. Reading this has left me wanting to read a biography of West, to know more about the reality behind her relationships and her writing.
Recently I read Passing strange, one of tor.com's novellas, this one following the lives of a group of queer women in early C20th San Francisco. This was a terrific little read, with appealing characters and a fascinating historical setting. I had no idea of the restrictive laws that such women faced so it was educational in that respect. Despite its short length the characters were well realised and the plot, while fast moving, didn't feel rushed. That said, I was left wanting to read more about some of the characters, which is always a good sign!
I'm nearing the end of Cast in fury which has the usual strengths and weaknesses of this series. The former are a strong lead character and a fascinating world in which 5 different races/species live side by side, the latter are vague dialogue and a meandering approach to solving the problems on which the plot is based.
Yesterday I started reading Rules of civility and am already half way through it. I'm really enjoying this historical novel set in Manhattan in 1938. Katey is an engaging narrator and it's interesting to watch as she mingles with people from various levels of society. I've heard a lot of praise for this novel and so far it is justified.
I, too, enjoyed Rules of Civility. It was our library's Novel Idea a few years ago. Amor came to Bend and gave a talk and then visited the quilt shop that was displaying all the quilts made around the book. Mine was a cityscape with a big martini on it.
>98 jnwelch:, >99 catzteach: I can see why so many people have loved Rules of civility. It was a great read. catzteach, I'd love to have seen those quilts! It must have been a real treat for the author to see how much hard work people put into their responses to his book.
I finished Rules of civility and now join the chorus of those singing the book's praises. The author created a great narrator in Katey and I loved seeing her journey through different parts of New York society. The atmosphere of 1938 came across well - the hardships underlying the veneer of gin and jazz - but the book never felt bogged down with description. It was fascinating to see what life was like for a single working girl at that time - what her options were in work and leisure. The blurb on the jacket made it sound as though Katey was a ruthless social climber, but that isn't the case at all. She knows her own mind but cares about others too much to trample them underfoot to get what she wants. Her friendships with both men and women are important to her. I can see why people compare this to The great Gatsby for its study of social class in Manhattan; the two books have a similar feel despite being set in different decades. I'm looking forward to A gentleman in Moscow.
Now I'm reading another book set in Manhattan - Twilight sleep by Edith Wharton. She is the Virago author for March, so I'm getting a head start. This is one of the few novels by Wharton that I haven't read before and it seems to slip beneath the radar compared to some of her greatest books. I'm really enjoying it though. It centres around society leader Pauline Manford, who fills every moment of her day with causes, crusades and quests for spiritual enlightenment. Her husband, son, daughter and daughter-in-law have to fit in around the edges of her life - not that they aren't important, but there are so many other things demanding her attention. Her daughter Nona is able to view her family with clear eyes, and she guesses that her mother's delicate juggling act might soon be going to come apart. So far this book doesn't have the depth of The house of mirth or The age of innocence but it is a very good read.
I'm progressing with the Shirley Jackson biography - she has written The road through the wall and The lottery and is dealing with the unexpected fame which the latter has brought her, as well as bringing up three children (with a fourth to come) and tending to her writer husband.
I finished Cast in fury which had a strong ending but I didn't think was as good overall as the previous book in the series. I'm looking forward to seeing what Kaylin does next though.
I've started reading Ninefox gambit as it is on several awards lists this year and I've heard a lot of praise for it. It does require a lot of brain though as many of the concepts in it are quite unique and complex.
And I'm also reading an historical urban fantasy, The golden city, which is set in an alternate Portugal in 1902. Our heroine is a sereia - a mermaid, except that she has legs, because the whole tail of a fish thing was a misunderstanding by the sailors who glimpsed them in the waves. The sereia have been banished from human lands due to a prophecy that one of them will cause the death of the heir to the throne, so Oriana has to wear clothes that conceal her gills and webbed hands and disguise herself as a lady's maid to collect information that her people can use. However, she falls into danger while helping her mistress try to elope, and uncovers some very nasty goings-on. With the help of a nobleman who works as a consultant for the police she will have to get to the bottom of things before she can be out of danger. This is an entertaining and fast-moving story with nice characters and an unusual setting.
I love it when I take a book bullet and go to order it, only to be told by Barnes and Noble that I can't purchase it because I already own it. Ahem.
>100 Sakerfalcon: I have yet to read a Wharton that I didn't love. I don't think I've even heard of Twilight Sleep! *gasp* I'm not going to hunt it down because I still have at least four books of hers sitting around waiting to be read. However, if it jumps out at me somewhere I won't turn my back on it. :o)
I'm glad you liked Rules of Civility, Sakerfalcon. I appreciated that Towles' gave Katey and Tinker's relationship substance, and I like the way he subverted the "woman achieves success because she knows men" trope, too. It's a novel I'll reread several times, I imagine.
>101 pwaites: I'm having to do the same!
>102 Marissa_Doyle:, >103 jillmwo: At least they told you before you bought it again!
>104 clamairy: Wharton is one of my favourite authors. There are a couple of hers that I've been less impressed with but they are still a pleasure to read for her prose and ability to portray the time and place.
>105 LibraryPerilous: Yes, I also liked that Katey's friendships were at least as important to her as her relationships with men - she wasn't one of those "strong women" who see all other females as rivals. I think I too will be rereading it in the future.
Twilight sleep was an enjoyable social satire in which Wharton brilliantly portrays Manhattan in the late 1920s, a time when there were plenty of outlets for a woman who fears boredom to keep herself busy. Pauline's causes (including both the Mother's Day unlimited birth and Birth Control movements) and her continual quest for spiritual enlightenment and peace give Wharton plenty of fodder for her wit. But we manage to sympathise with Pauline despite her foolishness, because she means well and is sincere in what she does. From what we see of the plans she has brought to fruition at her country estate, she would have made an excellent project manager had that field been open to her. As it is she fills her time with fripperies while remaining blissfully unaware of the troubles her family is facing. Her sensible daughter Nona is unhappily in love, her daughter-in-law is growing tired of her besotted husband, and Pauline's own husband might be starting to look elsewhere. Events come to a head in dramatic fashion, although Wharton leaves the reader to figure out exactly what the truth behind matters is. This isn't one of her best novels, but it's a really good read nonetheless.
I finished The golden city and really enjoyed this historical fantasy. Oriana and Duilio are likeable and well drawn leads, and the supporting characters are nicely varied too. I liked that the romantic attraction between Oriana and Duilio progresses in a way that is appropriate to the time and their social classes, which might frustrate someone hoping for more in that respect. The magic scheme on which the plot is founded is a bit clunky, and it does seem rather implausible that it could have got as far as it does without someone noticing sooner. But theses are small gripes in what was a lovely and compelling read. I'm eager to start the next book.
I'm progressing with Ninefox gambit although it is heavy going at times. The "science" on which this universe is based is incomprehensible to me, so I just have to go with the flow and not try to understand the logic behind events. Cheris is a military officer who expects to be reprimanded and punished for using unorthodox - heretical, even - tactics in combat, but instead she is given the mission of retaking a fortress (space station) from a heretical faction. To do so she must ally with a long-dead general, who in the past went mad and slaughtered both his own and the enemy forces. There is some good dialogue and the politics are interesting, as is the relationship between Cheris and Jedao, the disgraced general. But I suspect I will end up admiring rather than loving this one.
I've just started rereading Hudson River Bracketed as my next Edith Wharton. This is not considered one of her greatest books but I remember liking it the first time around. It's the story of Vance Weston, a young man from the Midwest who longs for something more than following his father into the real estate business.
The Shirley Jackson bio continues to be an excellent read. Through Jackson's life as a writer, wife and mother we can see the strains of trying to balance those roles at a time when society thought that a woman's place was in the kitchen cooking for her husband and family. The author of the bio frequently references The feminine mystique showing that Jackson was caught by the dilemmas that Friedan was to explore ten years later. It's also a good treatment of Jackson's work as well as an in-depth portrayal of her life.
Driving by to say hello and to admire your currently reading/read list.
>107 Morphidae: Hello Morphy! I hope you too have some good books in your life right now.
Enjoying your thoughts on Wharton. The Glimpses of the Moon is one of my favorite novels, but I've not read any of her other works.
>108 Sakerfalcon: Oh, yes. Two library books and two pre-orders from Amazon. Now if I can just get in the mood.
>109 LibraryPerilous: I liked The glimpses of the moon, although not so much as some of her other novels. The custom of the country is my favourite.
>110 Morphidae: Hoping you will feel like tackling your book pile soon, and that they will be rewarding reads.
Just finished my reread of Hudson River Bracketed. This "portrait of the artist as a young man" is a fascinating look at the life of a struggling young writer and contains some insightful passages about the creative process. It is a flawed book though, in that Wharton seems unable to decide whether Vance is heroic or a selfish monster. We certainly sympathise with him and want him to succeed in spite of the horrible people who have signed away his creative freedom, but Vance is a careless creature of thoughtless impulses which cause others to suffer - not least his poor wife. I very much enjoyed the satirical look at literary society in 1920s New York society and found the plot kept me gripped as Vance tries and fails to balance the world from which he came with that in which he finds himself. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The gods arrive, for the first time.
I've also finished Ninefox gambit, which was not as enjoyable as I'd hoped. I don't mind being plunged into a confusing new world with lots of unfamiliar terms and concepts; I prefer that to pages of infodump. But once I started to figure out what was going on, I found that the heavily military plot didn't really interest me. Cheris's mission is to retake a fortress (space station) from heretical forces whose manipulations could bend reality and throw the Empire which rules this part of the galaxy into chaos. But I didn't really care for the tactical manoevers and strategising, and even the tension of wondering how sane Jedao was wore off after a while. I found the eventual reveal of his motives a bit anticlimactic too. I have a short story set in this universe which I will read, but I doubt I'll continue on to the sequel.
I'm now reading The seat of magic, which starts where The golden city ended, with Oriana supposedly on her way home to the isles of her people, and Duilio helping the police investigate the murders of some young women in the city. However, Duilio's seer instincts are warning him that all might not be well with Oriana. This is another exciting blend of alternate history, magic and police investigation, with the pleasure of returning to likeable characters.
And I've started Magic for nothing, the latest Incryptid novel. Finally, Antimony gets her own book - and she's being plunged into just as much danger and adventure as her siblings.
Does Ninefox Gambit have a closed storyline? I made a start on it, but I don't really want to commit to a series in the universe.
>112 LibraryPerilous: The book-level plot closes, but a larger overarching story is just beginning. Hope that makes sense!
I finished Magic for nothing very quickly as it was hard to put down. I didn't love it quite as much as I'd expected, but I think the Antimony short stories had led me to expect something different from her as a protagonist. As it is, she is more like Verity than she'd like to think. It's a great story though, and Antimony's character development is very well done. I wasn't keen on the romance and I felt that in the middle section of the book she lost focus on her mission because
The seat of magic was a good follow-up to The golden city, although it did get quite gruesome at times. The twisty plot was intriguing, and it was good to spend more time with Oriana, Duilio and Joachim and to get to know some new characters. I especially liked what we see of the relationship between Oriana and Duilio's mother, now that she is herself again. I'm not convinced that the plot needed to be as tangled as it was - the villains might actually have achieved their ends if they'd gone for a more straightforward scheme - but the plots and counterplots made for effective suspense.
I'm a couple of chapters from the end of The gods arrive. It's not as good as Hudson River Bracketed, and Vance continues to be inconsistently portrayed, but there is a lot of the perceptive observation that we expect from Wharton. Her examination of the relationship between Vance and Halo with all its ups and downs is interesting, although both behave frustratingly for much of the time. There are some brilliantly awful minor characters from all walks of life and more satire on the social and literary scene of the time. While this isn't a great novel, it is engaging enough that I wanted to take some of the characters and shake them at times!
I'm about half way through Brasyl by Ian McDonald, an SF novel which follows plots set in the 1700s, in 2006 and in 2032. We follow an ambitious and unscrupulous TV producer in search of her next big hit, a kid from the slums looking to make good who might have bitten off more than he expected when he encounters quantum physics, and a Jesuit father sent up the Amazon to find and discipline another priest who seems to have gone rogue. All three storylines are compelling and I'm only just beginning to see hints of how they might be connected. As usual, McDonald's characters are flawed, not always likeable but well-rounded and interesting, and the book is well written. Only the 2032 sections are written in present tense, thankfully. This is proving to be a good fix while I wait for the next Luna book, Wolf moon.
On kindle I'm reading Last first snow and enjoying getting to know a younger Elaine Kevarian and Temoc in the teeming city of Lex Dresediel (which is interesting to compare with the Brazilian cities portrayed by McDonald). This series is becoming one of my favourites.
The Shirley Jackson biography continues to be excellent, balancing the story of her life with criticism and interpretation of her writings.
And my next fantasy read will be The dragon of despair by Jane Lindskold, which seems to be more about wolves than dragons.
>114 Sakerfalcon: I found that while I really enjoyed The Golden City as well, things went downhill--The Seat of Magic was (I thought) so-so, and I found myself skimming the majority of the third book. I've been reading too many fantasy series lately that start out with a bang and end with a whimper.
114> I loved Last First Snow! I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts on it.
I've finished a number of books this weekend.
>117 pwaites: See below! I think I preferred Full fathom five but this was a great read.
Last first snow was another excellent read from Max Gladstone. It's not often you find a fantasy novel which revolves around the issue of gentrification, but that is the core of the plot here. His worldbuilding is superb, and (as the plot theme should tell you) he works out all the social, political and economic aspects so that his settings function plausibly. It was good to have Elayne at the centre of the book, and she was just as smart and resourceful as I'd expected. I was very interested in the younger Temoc, who was decidedly unsympathetic in Two serpents rise but here faces a tough dilemma, torn between the things he cares about most. It took a while for the plot to get going, but by the time chaos breaks out we know exactly why and what is at stake because of the careful grounding at the beginning. This is one of my favourite series at present, and I know I will be rereading the books in future, as well as looking forward to the next instalments.
I also finished the Shirley Jackson biography, A rather haunted life, which was a five-star read. Franklin explores all aspects of Jackson's life, work, family, friends and the society in which she lived, examining not just this one woman but the issues which sadly remain relevant to many today. I highly recommend reading this if you have any interest in Jackson's writings.
I also finished Brasyl which was another good read. McDonald is becoming one of my favourite SF writers, despite his frequent use of present-tense narration. Brasyl is set in three time periods - 2006, 2032 and the 1700s, in Rio, Sao Paulo and the Amazonian jungle. As usual in a novel by McDonald, the characters are very flawed and not easy to like, but they are fascinating and three dimensional. Marcelina the ambitious TV producer looking for her next big hit, the more depraved the better, is a perfect example. The historical storyline does an excellent job of showing the destruction wrought by the European discovery of Brazil - although it becomes clear that history may not be quite the same here as in our history books ... The three plots are linked by quantum theory in a way that seemed plausible to me as a non-physicist. Action, worldbuilding, tech, well-rounded characters - this book has everything I want in a good SF novel, and helped me endure the wait until Luna : wolf moon is published.
I had a brief foray into teenage fiction this weekend, with The Tiggie Tompson show by New Zealand author Tessa Duder. Tiggie is the plain overweight daughter of a famous TV newsreader, to whom she is something of a disappointment. Her father is also a high flyer and Tiggie attends an exclusive girls' school. As the book opens, she has just transferred to a large public school, hoping to fade into the background rather than standing out as a target for bullies as she did before. However, a chance encounter with an older drama student leads to some scary but exciting new opportunities. This book explores issues of body image, eating disorders, self-confidence, parental conflict and other familiar teenage themes, but the details of TV production and the engaging narrative voice make this a fresh and fun read. I'm looking forward to more of Tiggie's adventures in the next book.
I've just started reading Americanah as my commuting book, having been to hear the author speak last weekend. This story of a young Nigerian woman and man, one who moves to America, the other to England, follows their journeys as they return home and find that they and their homeland have changed.
I'm continuing with Jane Lindskold's series about the feral wolf-woman Firekeeper and her friends, human and animal, in The dragon of despair.
I've also started the huge biography of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee which has been sitting on my shelves for many years, waiting for me to have time to devote to it.
Oh before I forget again, I was watching a TV show completely unrelated to birds, but had a falconer come on for something and he had a sakerfalcon. It was cool.
>122 reading_fox: To read Gladstone in? I'd recommend publication order. Even though all of the books I've read so far stand on their own perfectly well and you can read them in whatever order you want, I think you'll get the most out of them if you read them in publication order. I... apparently do not have the ability to word why coherently right now, but I think the publication order enhances some plot strands of the later books because you'll have a clearer idea of what's going on than the pov character.
>119 pgmcc: It's a great book in so many ways. I thought it was better than River of Gods and nearly as good as The dervish house.
>120 Bookmarque: That is cool! I've only seen them from a distance in the wild but would love to get a closer look at one.
>121 lynnoconnacht: The whole series has been great so far! I'm trying not to devour each volume too quickly, so that I always have one to look forward to.
>122 reading_fox:, >124 lynnoconnacht: I too have been reading in publication order and would recommend it. I will certainly do a reread in chronological order though, to see if anything changes.
>123 Morphidae: I love it too! It has a great blend of humour and seriousness that many authors would bungle. And the Aeslin mice are awesome!
I'm nearly half way through Americanah and it is terrific. I love Ifemelu and seeing her struggle to make the transition from Nigeria to America makes me reluctant to put the book down and get off the train!
I also seem to be rereading Anne of Green Gables, instead of any of the other books I had listed above. It is as delightful as ever.
At least the suck fairy hasn't revisited Anne! When I reread the series a year or so ago, the first book was still as wonderful as ever. The rest of them held up to varying degrees.
>125 Sakerfalcon: I love the mice! Surprisingly, another LT reader (can't remember who) found them extremely annoying.
>127 Morphidae: - Me. If not others. I've read the first Incryptid, and didn't like any of it, silly bordering on farcical throughout. I really don't find farce funny. By far the least favourite of Seanan's work that I've read, and not a series I'll be continuing.
125, 126: Anne Shirley has been my favorite YA heroine for years; no female lead in contemporary YA comes even close. Matthew, Marilla, Diana, and even Rachel Lynde are also wonderful characters.
And it helps a great deal that Lucy Maud Montgomery's prose is absolutely gorgeous. An adult reader can sit and sink into that wonderful warm lavender-scented pool of words. Why can't more recent books for children and teens be so exquisitely written?
>126 SylviaC:, >129 kceccato: Anne certainly has managed to escape the Suck Fairy. She is such a great heroine, partly because I think most readers can identify with some aspect of her character. I was never outgoing or a chatterbox but could relate to her dreams and love of learning, and the mortification which she feels when she lands in a scrape. Montgomery's prose is lush but doesn't quite fall into purpleness and her descriptions of the landscape really bring it to life. If I remember correctly, she didn't originally write the book for children/teens but for a general public, which may account for the large vocabulary and complex sentences (although the stylistic conventions of the period are also responsible of course). I find even children's books from the 1960s and 1970s tend to have more sophisticated writing and language than many more recent ones, and often assume knowledge of some quite specialist topics without giving a lot of exposition.
>127 Morphidae:, >128 reading_fox: Humour is so subjective that I can never tell if something I find funny will appeal to others. I do think the second Incryptid book is the best, as you see the characters paying a real price to get the result they need, and the emotional impact this has was very effective.
I finished Americanah and loved it. Ifemelu is an engaging character, often spiky, quick to call out things that don't make sense or aren't right, and determined not to be put into a box by society. Both her childhood in Nigeria and her years in the USA are interesting to follow and the examination of race is always fascinating. Obinze is less compelling but still a good character and his very different experiences form an effective contrast to Ifemelu's story. I'm looking forward to reading more by the author.
I'm still reading The dragon of despair, which picks up where the previous book ended. I like that Lindskold has her protagonist Firekeeper retain her essential wolfish nature, despite her having been reintegrated with humans for over a year. She still sees herself as more wolf than woman and behaves accordingly most of the time. The rest of the main characters are interesting and sympathetic too - Derian, the common man turned King's advisor, Elise, the noble's daughter, who makes sure she can be more than just an ornament to be sold in marriage, Edlin the seemingly foppish lord who comes out with surprising gems of wisdom, and of course, Blind Seer the wolf and Elation the peregrine falcon. This volume was a bit slow to get going, but I didn't mind - it was like when you meet up with good friends and don't really do anything but just enjoy being together.
I'm also still wading through the biography of Edith Wharton, which is really a bit too detailed. There is so much information about Wharton's friends, family, society and context that Wharton herself is getting drowned out. But I shall persevere.
On my kindle I'm reading The tidal zone which is *gasp* literary fiction. I like this author and this is an excellent read so far. It is narrated by Adam, a stay-at-home dad, who gets a call one day to tell him that his 15-y-o daughter has stopped breathing. She was resuscitated but the reason for her collapse can't be determined. Going forward, the family must live with this new sense of vulnerability and the fragility of life. Interspersed with this story is the history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral in WWII, which Adam is researching, another story of sudden catastrophe and the need to recover and move forward. Sarah Moss's prose is lovely and she has a keen ear for the voice of a stroppy teenager. The exchanges between child and parent make for a touch of humour which lightens the novel while being entirely appropriate in its context. The novel is sadly very relevant in its portrayal of the UK medical system which is stretched thin due to lack of funding, and the staff who respond by either trying to do too much with too little, or who just can't be bothered.
Another couple of books read:
I finished The dragon of despair at the weekend and found it a satisfying conclusion to this part of the story arc. You could easily stop reading the series at this point and not feel that you'll miss anything significant. But I like these characters and so am looking forward to seeing where Firekeeper's adventures will take her next.
I've also finished The tidal zone which was an excellent read. It summed up the fragility of modern life and how vulnerable we and our loved ones are - that we can't completely protect them no matter how hard we try. Miriam and Rose were convincing portrayals of a teenage girl and her younger sister, and the family dynamic with its mix of love and frustration felt real.
This weekend I read The freedom maze, a YA novel by Delia Sherman. This is a timeslip novel in which a teenage girl is taken from her life in 1960 Louisiana back 100 years to her family's plantation. With her unruly hair and suntan, Sophie is taken for a slave and has to adapt to the time in order to avoid harsh punishment. Though the plantation owners are relatively kind, slavery is still not watered down, even if some events take place off-screen for the sake of the young readership that the book is aimed at. Sophie is not a perfect girl, and she doesn't become one through her experiences, but she learns to question her assumptions about race and to assert herself rather than passively letting others take the lead. This was a really good book, well written and managing to deliver some important messages without beating the reader over the head.
I've just started reading Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim for this month's Virago author read. So far this story of naïve half English half German twin sisters who are sent to America at the start of WWI is delightful.
Uh oh. I might have taken a bullet on that Shirley Jackson biography. :o/
>132 clamairy: It really is good. If you like or are interested in Jackson's work it's an excellent read.
>133 stellarexplorer: At least we agree that McDonald is a fine writer, though we differ on the merits of a couple of his books. He manages to get me to read and enjoy books that are written with a present-tense narrative, which is quite a feat!
>134 LibraryPerilous: It is, though it is also quite a hard-hitting look at how vulnerable we are, and how little control we have over our lives and those of our loved ones.
>135 pgmcc: Ha!
I've been ill and off work for a couple of days, so have had plenty of time to read over the last week. Here are some notes about the books I've finished.
The girls at the Kingfisher Club. This is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in 1920s Manhattan and with no supernatural/fantasy elements. This makes it a good historical novel about 12 sisters who live shut up by their wealthy father, who is ashamed of his spectacular failure to sire a male heir. The sisters live for their midnight excursions to dance clubs, their only escape from tedium (if there is a fantastic element in the book, it is the ease with which the girls sneak out at night and get away with it for so many years). We see the glitter of the Jazz Age, but also the darkness that lies beneath the glamour. Each sister manages to be a distinct character - not easy when there are so many of them - and I enjoyed getting to know them. I thought this was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. It's beautifully written and kept me turning the pages into the night.
Phantom pains. This was a great sequel to Borderline, one of my favourite discoveries from last year. Our heroine Millie seems to be coping better with her mental health issues in this book, but her life is still far from calm and easy. She's left the Arcadia project for a job at a film studio, but can't refuse her old boss Caryl who needs her help clearing up the fallout from her actions in the previous book. Of course, this spirals into a whole new quest, as Caryl is accused of a horrible crime and Millie fights to prove her innocence. We see more of some favourite characters from the previous book, such as Claybriar, Inaya and Caryl, and meet new ones who are just as captivating. This was an excellent sequel though I do think it requires one to have read the first book.
House of shadows. I think this is a YA fantasy, due to the lack of sex and violence and the characters being relatively young, but something about the style gave the book a more adult feel to me. We have three main characters: Karah who is about 18 and goes to live in a geisha (called keiso in this world) house to support her sisters; her 15 year old sister Nemienne who becomes a mage's apprentice; and Taude, a foreign bardic magician who has come to the city to learn its magic, in spite of the hostility between nations. All three find themselves playing parts in opposing a conspiracy to overthrow the ruling dynasty and change the direction of the country's future. This was a very well-written and engaging book, with a well drawn setting and sympathetic characters. It would be nice to read more about the world, but I don't think the author has used this setting again.
The walls around us. This is a contemporary YA novel with elements of suspense, thriller and the supernatural. The narrative is split between Amber, who is imprisoned at a juvenile detention centre for her stepfather's murder, and Violet, a gifted ballet dancer on the verge of a glittering career. Another girl links these two - Orianna, universally loved, thoughtful and kind - but what has she done to end up in the juvenile detention centre? The two narratives reveal layers beneath the surface that help us piece together what has happened, and we realise that all is not quite what it seems - both metaphorically and literally. This was a really, really good book, one of the best recent YA offerings that I've read. It's well written, with complex characters and a gripping plot.
Christopher and Columbus. This comic novel by Elizabeth von Arnim was sadly disappointing. It's a satire on anti-German sentiment in WWI, and follows half-English, half-German twins from England to America in search of a place where they will find acceptance. The Annas (Anna Rose and Anna Felicitas) are both extremely naïve and have no filter on their tongues, so constantly cause embarrassment for themselves and others (usually others, as they are a bit oblivious). They fall under the protection of the motherly Mr Twist, who feels reluctant to abandon these babes in the wood to the mercy of the world. I felt the book was really too long for the thinness of the plot and characters. The prejudice the girls experience is repetitive, and I didn't find it as humorous as it was supposed to be because it was predictable and because the humour sat uncomfortably with the very real experiences of discrimination that people faced at that time. It would have been a better read if it were about 100 pages shorter. I've liked other novels by Von Arnim a lot more than this one.
Chimes at midnight. This is the seventh October Daye book and was every bit as good as previous volumes. All our favourite characters are back, with new challenges and dangers to face. Hugely satisfying as usual, and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.
The heart goes last. This is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood which reads as though she thoroughly enjoyed herself while writing it. It is a very broad satire on the privatised prison industry, which she takes to absurd extremes. I've seen a lot of negative criticism for this book but I really enjoyed it. I guess the humour worked for me (unlike in the book above) and prevented this from being another dark dystopia.
So I'm currently reading Vera, another book by Von Arnim but very different in tone to the abovementioned one. This is about a sheltered young woman who attracts the attention of an older man while mourning her father. He sees this young, naïve, adoring girl as his ideal second wife ... though his first has only just died and in mysterious circumstances. The scenes where Wemyss is romancing Lucy are nauseating as he treats her like a baby and gushes about how with her short hair she looks to be as young as 12 years old. Wemyss is based on the author's second husband, whom she parted from acrimoniously.
At home I'm reading Too like the lightning, an SF novel by Ada Palmer. I don't really know how to describe it. It's set in the future when national boundaries are irrelevant and instead the world is organised along ideological and philosophical lines - you are a citizen of the group you most identify with. It's explained better in the book. The narrative requires concentration, but it is a very intriguing read so far.
Whew! I will try not to fall so far behind again!
>136 Sakerfalcon: House of Shadows sounds interesting. I'm putting it on my wish list.
>137 Narilka: I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some of Neumeier's other books now. Keeper of the mist and The mountain of kept memory sound great.
>138 SylviaC: Vera is fascinating in that "can't look away from the train wreck" sort of way. I take it you've read the German Garden and Enchanted April? Those are justly her best-loved books, although I really liked The pastor's wife too.
I've only read The Enchanted April so far, and I love it. I recently bought a beautiful second-hand Folio edition of it. Sometime I mean to get around to more of her books.
>136 Sakerfalcon: I believe I've seen that Neumeier has a sequel to House of Shadows planned, but I'm not sure of the timeline! It sounded like she might self-publish it like she has her YA series. I liked Keeper of the Mist and just picked up her new one (which is supposed to focus on female friendship!), The White Road of the Moon.
>139 Sakerfalcon: & >140 SylviaC: I've read both Enchanted April and Elizabeth and Her German Garden. I definitely preferred the former to the latter. (Especially since I was reading that one during one of the hardest times in my life.) But I could have sworn it was you who recommended it to me, Sylvia. LOL I'll have to go do some dredging.
But now I am intrigued by Claire's comments about Vera!!!
>142 clamairy: I can't help wondering if the author here is related to Achim von Arnim of Haute Cabrière above Franschhoek, who makes some of the best MCC bubbly going, and is one of the few skilled people I know of who can open the bottles by the method of sabrage.
>143 hfglen: It's possible. She was married to Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin, and they had five children.
>140 SylviaC: She certainly seems to have written in a variety of styles and moods. Vera is about as far from Enchanted April as one can get!
>141 sandstone78: White road of the moon does look good. Neumeier is definitely someone I want to read more of, although her gryphon trilogy, which are the easiest to find here, don't really appeal.
>142 clamairy: Vera was a gripping and chilling read, a perceptive study of abusive relationships that is sadly still relevant today. Apparently it inspired Daphne du Maurier to write Rebecca. I could imagine it being made into a very effective psychological thriller movie.
>143 hfglen:, >144 clamairy: From the short bio on Achim von Arnim it looks as though the family have been based in SA for some time, long enough that he is probably not a relation. The vineyard looks beautiful and given Hugh's praise for the wines I'd not turn down a visit if I were to find myself in the neighbourhood!
As I mentioned above, I've finished Vera which was a chilling book. It had the power of a modern psychological thriller, as we see how effectively Wemyss controls and isolates his wife while convincing her that she is always at fault. It's not a comfortable read, but a very powerful one. Now I've started Mr Skeffington by the same author, which is about a formerly beautiful woman who has to come to terms with aging and losing her looks. There was a film made of it, starring Bette Davis, which I haven't seen.
I hope to read the biography of Von Arnim soon, which it turns out was written by one of her daughters under a pseudonym. She seems to have led rather an interesting life, certainly more so than Edith Wharton, whose biography I am struggling with.
>144 clamairy: >145 Sakerfalcon: Thank you both. Claire, I base the comment on the consistency with which his wines get 5-star ratings in John Platter's annual guides. The brews themselves, and going to Haute Cabrière restaurant to watch the performance, are beyond my price range. But yes, the Franschhoek valley is gorgeous. I've used this picture before, but it may bear repeating. The farm is halfway up the mountain on the right.
What with the Easter break and a week of vacation, then having to catch up with work, it's been a while since I had a chance to catch up here. I've read quite a few books in that time, and will try to give some brief notes about each.
I finished Mr Skeffington and very much enjoyed it. Fanny is an interesting character, a woman who all her life has been led to believe that her looks are the most important thing about her, and has lived accordingly. Now, as her 50th birthday draws near, she is recovering from a severe illness that has caused her to lose her looks and aged her prematurely. She seeks reassurance through meetings (accidentally and otherwise) with lovers and admirers from her past, but is not comforted as she sees how she, and they, have changed. There is comedy in this novel, but it is also a sensitive look at aging and how women are valued in society. Fanny isn't always sympathetic, but her journey of self-discovery is compelling.
I read two other Von Arnims for the Virago author month, Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, and The caravaners. The former is an epistolary novel, the delightful Rose-Marie Schmidt's letters to her English fiancé Roger Anstruther. This book took a while to get going, as the first letters are rather saccharine. However, as their relationship changes and evolves we learn more about both characters, and the people who are important to Rose-Marie, and the novel comes to life. The ending is rather unexpected for a book from this period, but very satisfying.
The caravaners is a comedy about a German couple on holiday in South East England. The Baron, who narrates the novel, sees himself as an upright member of society, the arbiter of good etiquette and taste. His loyal wife surely agrees - at least, he has never had any reason to doubt her docility and devotion. However, the other members of the caravan party see the Baron quite differently, and in their company his wife starts to speak out and question his authority. This book is quite funny, in how blind the Baron is to the opinions of those around him, although there were times when it got a bit tedious.
Before I went on holiday I read a Swedish novel, A man named Ove. It's about a curmudgeonly man (he seems elderly but is only 59) who, following his wife's death, lives a life of frustration at those around him who are incapable of doing things correctly or following the rules. The loss of his wife has affected him deeply, and he doesn't see any point in living without her. So he keeps trying to commit suicide, but every time he is interrupted by a neighbour or some disturbance that he has to see to. As you might expect, Ove is drawn into life and community by these neighbours and he gradually finds reasons to live. The book is humorous yet respectful of Ove's sorrow, and manages to balance the comedy and seriousness tastefully. The theme of the place of the individual in society and the role of the State is prominent and explored effectively. This is a feel-good book with some wonderful characters, told in short chapters that keep you turning the pages. Coincidentally, the people I went on holiday with were reading this for their book group, and they all enjoyed it too. I recommend it for when you want something warm and fuzzy that doesn't treat you like an idiot.
I was on holiday on the North Devon coast, with a view of the sea and lots of bird life, so it seemed appropriate to bring a non-fiction book of essays about nature with me - Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie. It was an excellent choice. Many of the essays concern remote islands in the north Atlantic, with their rough weather and hardy wildlife, but also take in archaeology and anthropology, and the running theme is of the relationship between humans and nature. An unexpected favourite of mine was the essay telling of Jamie's visit to the Bergen Natural History Museum and its Hvalsalen - Hall of Whales. She becomes fascinated by the otherworldly skeletons and the history they represent, and is able to join in the museum's conservation project. I also enjoyed her account of life on an archaeological dig in her youth and the discoveries and camaraderie she experiences. This is a very evocative book that resists romanticising nature or our relationship with it; the author explores the troubling aspects of both parties. Highly recommended.
I also took a volume of Catherynne Valente's early novels with me, and read The labyrinth. This was her first novel and very clearly shows that she had mostly written poetry up til now. It is quite beautiful with gorgeous imagery, but no real plot and some sentences that don't quite work as well as she might have hoped. If you love language and symbolism and aren't fussed about character and plot, you might want to read this.
This month is Willa Cather month in the Virago group, and I started by reading Lucy Gayheart. This has some of the same themes as her great works - My Antonia, The song of the lark - but lacks the depth of those novels. It is the story of Lucy, a lovely, bright young woman who seems too full of life for the small prairie town that is her home. She goes to Chicago to study music, for which she has a talent, and meets a man with whom she falls in love, and who has a profound influence on her. The events which follow, however, show that when this influence is removed Lucy is without direction - her music is not a vocation or calling. She knows what she doesn't want, but not what she does. This is a sad, thoughtful novel with a great sense of place that tells of a life which does not achieve its promise.
I also read a contemporary thriller, Roanoke girls, which was ok but not a great read. The secret was revealed very early on, but was quite obvious anyway, and the rest of the book was focused on Lane trying to solve the mystery of her cousin Allegra's disappearance. I chose this because it's set in rural Kansas, where I lived for a year, but thankfully I didn't know anyone like the characters in this book! It wasn't awful, but not great either.
I'm still reading Too like the lightning and very much enjoying it despite the concentration it requires. It's hard for me to describe this book or know how to recommend it, but if you are interested in how Enlightenment philosophy might play out in a post-scarcity future then it may be of interest. It's very political with a large cast of characters from various factions, with a lot of different plot strands. It's not like anything else I've read, and I will be looking forward to the next volume when I finish this one.
I'm also reading Diamond dove, which is a mystery set in the Australian outback. The main character is Emily Tempest, a half indigenous half white woman who can move in both worlds but hasn't quite found where she belongs. When the respected elder of an indigenous community is found dead, it seems obvious that the wild madman Blakie is responsible. Certainly the authorities aren't interested in looking further. But Emily starts to uncover secrets and issues which suggest things aren't so clear. This is really good, evoking the poverty and complexity of this Northern Territory community torn between modern life and their traditions. There is a lot of Aussie slang and vocabulary which gives the book a distinctive flavour. It's a very good read so far.
And I've just started Zoe: history of two lives which was written in the C19th but set earlier, at a time when Catholicism was despised in England and tensions with the established church were high. The two lives are that of the title character, who is the orphaned daughter of a British army officer and a Greek woman, sent to live in England where she doesn't fit in, and Everhard Burrows, a young man who was promised to the church by his dying father and feels obliged to enter the priesthood. I'm only a couple of chapters in but it's good so far.
Fräulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther looks like something that I might like. I'll have to look for it. I might check out A Man Called Ove, too. It is mentioned a lot in connection with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which I enjoyed. Sightlines sounds good, too--and you always take the best vacations!
The von Arnim novels sound delightful, and your holiday sounds grand. I have Sightlines on my endless Mt TBR.
I loved Diamond Dove. It's a shame there is only one other Emily Tempest mystery.
>151 SylviaC: I think you probably would like Fraulein Schmidt, Sylvia. I will look forward to your thoughts on it and the others, should you pick them up.
>152 LibraryPerilous: Today I went to my local library's book sale and they had Gunshot Road, the second Emily Tempest book. Needless to say, it is now in my bag waiting to come home with me! She is such a great character.
I knew I'd forget to report on a book in my post above, and sure enough I did. It's a recent YA novel called Wing Jones, about a teenage girl in 1990s Atlanta. Her mother is Chinese-American and her father was from Ghana and physically she shares a mix of their traits. She adores her elder brother Marcus, and puts up with her two grandmothers bickering, but on the whole theirs is a happy home despite the death of their father some years before. All this changes when Marcus is left in a coma after a road accident. It transpires that he was drink-driving, and two people were killed in the crash. Wing must deal with both the fear that Marcus will die, and with her complicated responses to his crime. She also faces bullying at school as the students who once idolized Marcus now turn on him. To escape, Wing starts to run, at first privately and then with Marcus's best friend Aaron. This leads to new opportunities and difficult choices for Wing. This was a wonderful novel about family, friendship, and growing up which I read in a day because I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
Since I last posted, I've finished Too like the lightning, which was a fascinating read, and Diamond Dove, which was excellent. I think the latter would appeal to a lot of the mystery lovers here in the GD. Emily is a great protagonist, and while it's certainly not a cosy book, it lacks the violence against women that seems so prevalent in mysteries. The portrayal of life in the impoverished Outback and the tensions between indigenous and white communities is very well done, and the mystery kept me guessing.
I've also read A lost lady by Willa Cather - actually a reread, but I remembered very little of the book. This is a character study of a woman who seems to be all contradiction, devoted to her elderly infirm husband, yet flirting with some of the crassest men in town, the perfect hostess yet yearning for the bright lights of Denver. The book is also about the tension between the old ways of the frontier when community and neighborliness were essential, and a more selfish, grasping future. Cather's descriptions of the prairie and the marsh are gorgeous, though she doesn't downplay the harshness of life here.
Zoe continues to be a good read, though there are some passages of philosophical and theological discussion that are heavy-going. But these are a small part of a work which has interesting characters and situations and a controversial look at religion.
I've also just read The ghost brigades, sequel to Old man's war which I enjoyed when we read it in the GD a few years ago. Ghost brigades wasn't quite as good, as there were some very obvious info-dumps, but I still enjoyed it. There was a bit more moral discussion over the human aggression against alien species, which I had expected to find in OMW and didn't, but I think this is a theme that might develop later in the series. It was good to see Jane Sagan back again, and the new protagonist Jared Dirac was interesting and sympathetic.
I'm currently reading The professor's house by Willa Cather, which is completely new to me. It's a quiet read so far, the titular professor remembering the past as he moves from the old family home to a new house.
I've also started reading an anthology, Queen Victoria's book of spells, which is stories set in an alternative C19th. So far I've read tales by Delia Sherman (excellent), Jeffrey Ford (darker but very good) and Genevieve Valentine (more adventurous in form but with a pertinent point to make).
And I'm reading a vintage children's book, Mystery at Witchend by Malcolm Saville, the first in his Lone Pine series. It was written and is set during WWII, with a group of children and their mother moving to Shropshire when their father joins the RAF. Of course they soon make new friends and fall into adventures. The characters aren't as convincing as those of, say, Arthur Ransome, but the sense of place is every bit as good, and the plot is exciting if far fetched.
I'm about a third of the way through Too Like the Lightning, Claire. It takes some focus, doesn't it?
>154 Sakerfalcon: Well, I'm not sure to expect from The Ghost Brigades now. I only read OMW a few month ago and loved it, so I plan to dive into the second one sometime this Summer. I'm glad that you still enjoyed it, at least.
I really need to read more Cather. I've only read Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia. Loved them both.
I've only read one Lone Pine story, and, while I liked it, I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
I borrowed Gunshot Road from the library as well, >153 Sakerfalcon:.
>155 jnwelch: To say the least! It is absorbing though, and one of the more original SF works I've read recently. I'm not convinced it all works quite as well as the author intended, but I still think it's one of the stronger contenders for the Hugo (up there with The obelisk gate).
>156 clamairy: I did enjoy The ghost brigades, and my reservations were very slight. I look forward to your opinion when you read it this summer. Now I have to find the next book!
Death comes for the archbishop is my favourite Cather. I agree with Joe in >158 jnwelch: that O pioneers! is a good one, and Song of the lark is another favourite of mine.
>157 Jim53: So far there are only 2 books. Which is good for the wallet and the groaning shelves, but a pity for fans of Emily.
The professor's house was another lovely read from Cather. This is a quiet, subtle book, more about character than plot, centred around Professor Godfrey St Peter as he looks back over his life to try and understand why he is feeling reluctant to embrace a more luxurious life after years of hard work and struggle. We see him come to realise that his values are quite different from those of the people closest to him as he meditates on the memory of his best student, Tom Outland. The narrative takes us from a quiet college town to the splendour of the Southwest and Mesa Verde, Cather bringing these places to life with her usual skill. Ultimately, St Peter must learn how to live in a world which he now perceives as hollow. I can see many readers finding this frustrating and slow but I really liked it.
I've also read Season of spells, the third book in the Noctis Magicae series of alt history/fantasy. I've really enjoyed this trilogy and was sorry to see it end, although I like that the author has resisted the temptation to milk the series into mediocrity. Sophie, Gray, Joanna, Gwendolyn, Roland and Lucia must save the kingdom from magical and physical invasion, a quest which they find is linked to Sophie's mission to reopen a college for women at Oxford. It's set in a parallel Britain which retained part of France among its territories, and where Christianity never replaced the local and Roman gods. If you've enjoyed Sorcerer to the crown or similar fantasies of manners then I recommend this trilogy.
>159 LibraryPerilous: I finished Mystery at Witchend and really enjoyed it, though as I think I mentioned above I didn't feel that the characters ever developed beyond types. I remember reading a later book in the series as a child and not being inspired to seek out more. If others came my way second hand I'd probably pick them up, but I'm not going to go looking. The strong sense of place and an exciting plot were the strengths of this volume.
> 158 I have that one here. just never got to it.
>160 Sakerfalcon: That makes me feel better. About the Scalzi, I mean.
I never realized that there even was a Cather trilogy. Although from looks of things they are only related by place, and are not one linear story in three parts story.
>161 clamairy: Yes, it actually annoys me that those books get called "The prairie trilogy" when she didn't write them as or intend them to be a trilogy! You're right, the only thing they have in common is place.
I didn't have time to finish my update last night, so here is the rest of it:
This week I read When breath becomes air, the memoir of a brilliant young neurosurgeon who finds out he has late-stage lung cancer. In this moving book he tells of his career and how it has been shaped by his musings on life, death and humanity, only to find that he is facing these issues for real after his diagnosis. He has to decide how to live what remains of his life, without knowing how long he has left. It's a very good read, thought-provoking but not depressing, and very well written.
I've also read an older British novel, Sing for your supper by Pamela Frankau. It's the story of a family whose father is a theatrical producer and actor, perpetually short of money, and whose holidays tend to be spent in lodgings side by side with the troupe members. This time is different though - mysteriously the funds are available to pay for first class train tickets and a summer in a lovely big house in Devon, while a brand-new production is launched. The children and their devoted nanny have their own theories as to where the money has come from, and what kind of compromises might have been made in exchange. I really enjoyed this story - the characters were all vivid and complex, the details of life in a second-rate theatre company were fascinating, and the moral dimensions of the plot kept me eagerly reading. I wish Virago had reprinted this novel along with the others by Frankau, as it deserves a wider readership. It's the first in a trilogy following the family, and I have the next books on my tbr piles.
What I'm reading now:
I'm slowly, slowly making progress with the Edith Wharton biography. It's a real doorstopper so I can't carry it around with me, and it is dense with detail. Also, although it is basically chronological, it is also thematic so, for example, you have references to her affair with Morton Fullerton dropped in several chapters before it is actually discussed. I'm determined to finish the book, but it is a struggle at the moment.
As I've finished all my unread novels by Willa Cather I've started reading a biography of her too. A life saved up is also by Hermione Lee but this is a much more succinct book and easier to read, while still giving plenty of context for Cather's life. And it's small enough to be my commuting book!
At home I'm reading The queen of blood, an engaging fantasy novel by Sarah Beth Durst. It is set in a world populated by nature spirits - earth, air, fire, water, ice, wood - which are hostile to the human communities, and can only be contained by a queen with the magical and physical powers to control them. Queens are not born but chosen, from girls with powers who train from a young age. The best will be chosen as heirs - the more heirs, the more secure the future of the land. This book follows Daleina, who is in training but struggles to master the spirits, and Ven, a disgraced Queen's champion. Some elements of the worldbuilding are a little unconvincing - the spirits consent to having a queen control them because otherwise their powers would conflict and cause destruction detrimental to themselves as well as humans - and the plot element of having girls compete for a position of advantage has been overused of late. However, the relationships between the girls are positive despite the need to compete, and we see lots of strong friendships and almost no bitchiness. The majority of the characters are female and from what I can tell romance doesn't take over the storyline. I'm enjoying this a lot.
I've also been dipping into The wind's twelve quarters by Ursula Le Guin. There are some stunning short stories in this collection, and only one or two duds so far. Standouts for me are April in Paris, Things, Vaster than empires and more slow and Nine lives.
And I'm still enjoying Zoe. The action has ramped up now, and we have an unrequited love affair, adulterous passion, a crisis of faith and persecution by evangelical Methodists!
>163 Sakerfalcon: The Kalanithi book was pretty great, wasn't it? My review: http://www.librarything.com/work/16562194/reviews/134549121
>164 stellarexplorer: That is a great review. It perfectly sums up the book, and your reaction to it is very similar to mine. A friend of mine is an oncologist so I found the details of his conversations with the doctor and his treatment very interesting.
I'm glad that you also enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, Claire. I saw his younger brother Jeevan speak at the Wellcome Book Prize Brunch in London last month, as it was shortlisted for that award. He provided some additional insight into his brother throughout his brief life, and gave the audience Paul's final lesson that he learned toward the end of his life, one that he wished to share with his family, friends, and the readers of his book.
>166 kidzdoc: Ah, I was wondering which brother you had heard speak. It really is an amazing book, and I can only imagine how much the author is missed by all who knew him.
>160 Sakerfalcon: I'm curious to compare Saville's Lone Pine books to the Monica Edwards Romney Marsh series GGBP also reissued. Those characters age in the stories, I believe.
I've eschewed end-of-life memoirs since reading The Last Lecture, but When Breath Becomes Air seems like it might be several notches above. I've put it on hold at the library.
>169 LibraryPerilous: I love the Romney Marsh/Punchbowl Farm books, and find the characters more three-dimensional than Saville's. I could be biased because of the ponies, of course ... I believe the characters in both series age, and find romance as they grow up. Given that some of Saville's books take place in Rye, it's fun to imagine Tamsin and Co meeting up with the Lone Pine Club. I wonder if they'd get along?
I would certainly recommend When breath becomes air, if it is a subject you can read about.
>170 Sakerfalcon: Ah, my mistake. I had thought they didn't age at all. And yes, I think it's fun to imagine a mashup of lots of the GGBP series' characters meeting, perhaps all in a time travel to Violet Needham's Ruritania.
I'm looking forward to When Breath Becomes Air. I found The Last Lecture so very condescending and sappy, but it sounds like that's not an issue here. Thanks for the rec!
>145 Sakerfalcon: I am finally reading Vera by the way, and really enjoying it. (While simultaneously having a serious case of the creeps.)
Hmmm... I've been looking at When Breath Becomes Air. Maybe it's time to read it.
>171 LibraryPerilous: I look forward to your thoughts on When breath becomes air when you get around to reading it.
And yes, time travel to Ruritania with girlsown characters would be great fun. Elizaveta would probably feel at home, as would some of Lorna Hill's characters.
>172 clamairy: I commented on your own thread - sounds like our responses to Vera were very similar!
>173 Jim53: It is a very good book, moving but never emotionally manipulative. I recommend it.
It's been a while since I caught up here, so here's a round up of what I've been reading lately:
A life saved up was a good book about Cather and her writing, with the following caveats. After the first few chapters, biography is largely set aside in favour of literary examination of Cather's novels and stories. This is the sort of thing I enjoy reading, but if you wanted a book that focused primarily on her life, I wouldn't recommend this. The other warning is that it is full of spoilers for Cather's work - I wouldn't read it before reading the novels and stories.
The queen of blood was an enjoyable start to a new fantasy series which I look forward to continuing. Daleina was a good protagonist, hard-working rather than gifted, who looks for alternative solutions to problems. The spirits who threaten human civilization are interestingly amoral and their relationship with humans is complex. Both are dependent on each other, while essentially antagonistic. There was a bit of romance but it remained in the background; Daleina's growth into her power was the main storyline. I look forward to seeing where the series goes next.
Zoe was another good read, despite some rather dry passages about religion. Religious doubt is a major theme in the novel, which was considered shocking in its day. Its portrayal of a non-religious heroine
I finished The wind's twelve quarters which contained some amazing stories. I think there were only two that I didn't like; all the rest were very good if not outstanding. Fortunately I have lots more of Le Guin's work waiting for me.
I was given a copy of Congress of secrets for my birthday, a historical-fantasy-romance novel set during the Congress of Vienna. It features an older hero and heroine who have both constructed false identities for themselves in the hopes of realising some complex plans while everyone who is anyone is gathered in the city. Caroline is a wealthy British widow, but her past is very different; she seeks to free her father from years of unjust imprisonment. Michael has a less worth motive - he hopes to pass himself off as the heir to a small principality annexed by Napoleon and claim it for himself. I could tell from the start that their veneers were ridiculously thin and obvious, and sure enough, both are found out and find themselves enmeshed in political plots that threaten their lives. The historical backdrop is very well-done, with real-life personages mingling with the fictional characters. This is an exciting and atmospheric book, sometimes frustrating because of bad decisions made by the characters, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses.
I've also read an Australian SF novel, Souls in the great machine, which I borrowed from a friend. She doesn't really read SF but I'm guessing she was drawn to this one by the promise of "duelling librarians" in the cover blurb! There are indeed many librarians in the book; they do duel, and kick ass generally. The book is set in the C25th century in Australia, after a distant nuclear war which has destroyed all advanced technology leaving society dependent on renewable energy and mechanics. Wind and pedal powered trains move people around the country, as steam is prohibited by the major religions, and communication is by mirror signals. A new head librarian comes to power and creates a human powered computer - the calculor - which employs (in the loosest sense of the word) mathematically gifted people to work together to solve problems quickly. This triggers political and social upheaval. We follow a number of viewpoint characters, including librarians, engineers, students, religious fanatics and others as factions arise and plot against each other. This was a unique book, with a lot of fascinating elements but they didn't always fit well together. Some things happened because the author needed them to, rather than because they arose logically from what had gone before. Some parts of the plot seemed to come from nowhere, and it was hard to keep track of the different factions and their allegiances. That said, for the most part this was a fun and entertaining read.
And I managed to fit in City of miracles, the final part of the excellent trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett. I like that, while it is clearly fantasy, it doesn't use the standard tropes of the genre and mixes religion and politics very creatively. This episode features a secondary character from the previous books, Sigrud, as the lead, and most of the action is seen from his point of view. A shocking event opens the book, and we follow Sigrud as we learn the causes behind it and the ramifications for the world. Another very minor character from the first book reappears and has a bigger role to play here - she turns out to be pretty awesome. Shana's adopted daughter is also important, and more than she initially appears. This was just as good as the previous books, with a complicated, twisting plot that mixes action scenes with politics, and made a fitting end to the series. I am sorry there won't be more as this is a rich world, but Bennett chose a good point at which to end. I highly recommend this trilogy if you have yet to read it.
At the moment I am still inching my way through the Edith Wharton bio. I'm also diving back into BookWorld with Thursday Next in One of our Thursdays is missing, and reading This census-taker, a very strange novella by China Mieville. I'd hoped to read it before the Nebulas were announced but put it off for too long and now I know it didn't win. Oh well.
>175 YouKneeK: It is very worth the time. In spite of it being written in the present tense, I really enjoyed the series. I haven't read anything else quite like it.
Time for another long overdue book report.
I've finished This census-taker and One of our Thursdays is missing. The latter was excellent - being back in BookWorld and its environs felt like coming home (if home were very weird and had dodos). The protagonist of this adventure was not Thursday herself, but the woman who plays her in the book. It's a bit confusing at first but a lot of fun once Fforde develops the conceit.
This census-taker was atmostpheric and well-written but leaves a lot for the reader to interpret. A young boy runs from his mountain home into the nearby town filled with terror having witnessed one of his parents trying to kill the other. In his shock, he's not exactly sure what he saw, and the townsfolk, though they want to help, have no option but to send him home. We see his life on the mountain through first and third person narration, and there are also scenes from his future life. This is a book which will probably be more rewarding on a reread.
I've also read The fire dwellers by Margaret Laurence for this month's Virago group read. It's the story of Stacey, married mother of four who resents being seen only as a wife and mother but isn't quite sure what else she wants from life. Her husband's having a bit of a mid-life crisis of his own, and her two friends have issues of their own. Laurence's superb writing, which shows us Stacey from within and without, makes this far more than another story of a discontented housewife; the contrast between the face she presents to the world and her interior monologues is compelling and fascinating. This reminded me a lot of some of Margaret Atwood's early novels, which I enjoy a lot, and I expect this one will become another favourite of mine.
I've also reread A shadow in summer, the first book of Daniel Abraham's Long Price quartet. I've been wanting to read the rest of the series for a while but needed to remind myself oft he events of the first book. Daniel builds an interesting, East Asian-inspired world full of complex, morally ambiguous characters. There isn't a lot of direct action, it's more about character development, politics and intrigue, but I don't mind that. It's a very good read if you can overlook the fact that the elaborate plot about which the book revolves is actually completely unnecessary to achieve the plotters' goal. I'm looking forward to the sequel which is set about ten years later.
And I've also read The power by Naomi Alderman, which has just won the Bailey's prize here in the UK. It's a dystopian story that imagine what might happen if women discovered that they had the power to inflict an electric shock from their bodies, incapacitating their target. Initially women use it for self defence but some become more ambitious ... We follow four viewpoint characters - Roxy, the daughter of a crime lord who is very strong in the power; Allie, who as Mother Eve founds a religious movement; Margot, a city mayor who exploits the political ramification of the power; and Tunde, a journalist who is one of the first to witness women using the power and who builds his career by documenting its use all over the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, women turn out to be just as brutal as men once given physical power of this sort - they start inflicting on men many of the injustices which women face, from not being allowed out without a guardian, to rape and torture. Inevitably it is a violent book, but it is very thought-provoking and I could see it leading to some excellent (and heated!) book club discussions.
I'm currently reading something much lighter - One fell sweep, the third of Ilona Andrews Innkeeper books. I love this unusual series which blends Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction and which is full of drama and humour. I wish I could stay at Dina's Inn and eat Orro's amazing cooking!
I've also started A betrayal in winter, the next book of the Long Price quartet. And my commuting book is Red plenty, a blend of history and fiction about Soviet Russia in the 1950s.
>177 Sakerfalcon: I downloaded #2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles to work into my rotation :)
>178 Jim53:, >179 Narilka: The Innkeeper series is so much fun! While it is light and humorous it still manages to put its characters in dangerous situations and make you fear for their safety. Dina is a refreshingly sensible heroine and the two men who are interested in her are both good characters rather than falling into stereoptypical love triangle rival roles. This series has about the only love triangle I've actually enjoyed in my reading - it's not taken terribly seriously and is the basis for some funny moments, and Dina is not angsty at all and because she prefers one of the men she doesn't dither or play them off against each other. It also never dominates the plot - the crises at hand are far more important to author and characters. And there are plenty of supporting characters who play important roles;it's not just the three protagonists who are interesting and well-rounded. I adore this series, and One fell sweep was an excellent addition to it. I can't wait to see what Dina does next.
I finished A betrayal in winter which was a good real although the plot and characters weren't quite as interesting as in the previous book. I found it hard to believe it took so long for the protagonists to figure out who was behind the plotting - they came so close but veered away from the right answer on several occasions. This installment wasn't so good on female characters as the previous one either, but I will hope for improvement in the next book. This is an interesting series with great worldbuilding.
I've also read The water knife by Paola Bacigalupi, a dystopian novel set in a futre, water-scarce southwestern USA. This feels very pertinent given the water shortages that region already faces, and the book explores the society and issues that might arise if nothing is done to resolve them. It's an intense, action-filled yet thoughtful read, told from the point of view of three main characters. This book is a great improvement on The windup girl for having female characters with agency and while it is quite a violent book it didn't make me feel uncomfortable the way WG did. I very much enjoyed reading it.
I also picked up Four and twenty blackbirds by Cherie Priest, which is a blend of UF and horror. Eden Moore has been able to see ghosts since her childhood, but her aunt, with whom she grows up, refuses to talk about her family, not even after an unknown cousin tries to murder her. Not surprisingly, as soon as Eden is old enough to make her own decisions she sets out to answer her questions. But is she asking the right questions, and what will the answers reveal? This was a very atmospheric book set in the southern US with some of the racial tension you would expect, and with a mystery that involves some very dark magic. The horror isn't too strong, more of the ghost story than the violent type, and Eden is a satisfying lead. I'm looking forward to reading the sequels which look as though they delve deeper into Southern history.
I'm currently reading The professor and the housekeeper, which I think others in the GD have read and enjoyed - Sylvia, perhaps? It's a beautiful, subtle and moving story about a young single mother who serves as housekeeper to an elderly mathematician. The man suffered severe memory loss in a car accident years ago, meaning that he can remember events for only 80 minutes. Despite this, bonds grow between the woman, her son and the mathematician, as he shares his love of numbers with them. There are moments of great poignancy in the book, but also joy and beauty. I'm looking forward to seeing where the narrative leads.
>180 Sakerfalcon: I read The Housekeeper and the Professor a couple of years ago and noted at the time that it was a bullet from Sylvia. I thought it was interesting that neither of them had a name. As I recall, it was a short, fun read. I admired the housekeeper's working to understand the number concepts.
I'm another one who really liked The Housekeeper and the Professor, Claire. Beautiful writing.
Uh oh. I think I just took a barrage of bullets for The Housekeeper and the Professor.
>181 YouKneeK: That's good to hear! I don't know of anyone else who's read these books, so it's nice to hear that they continue to be strong.
>182 Marissa_Doyle: I hope you enjoy it!
>183 SylviaC:, >184 Jim53: Sylvia, that would have been some cool time travel loop! Jim, thanks for confirming that my memory was correct!
>185 jnwelch:, >186 kidzdoc: I loved The professor and the housekeeper so much. It was beautiful, poignant and sincere. A lesser author could have piled on the grief but I loved the understated yet very real emotion in the book. I've always struggled with maths but I can imagine that meeting someone like the professor who has such a passion for it would inspire anyone to at least take an interest.
>187 clamairy:, >188 SylviaC: With so much praise how can you resist?! It really is a lovely little book.
As well as finishing The professor and the housekeeper I read one of Rumer Godden's less well-known works this weekend, The lady and the unicorn. It's set in Calcutta among the shabby-genteel Anglo-Indian community and follows the fortunes of the Lemarchant family. Rosa and Belle are twins, with Rosa always in the shadow of the more vivid Belle. Their father is useless and the prospects for the twins and their younger sister don't look good. Belle uses her charm and body to attract support from an influential man, but Rosa wishes for romance, something that respectable men are not interested in from girls of her station. She starts to be haunted by visions of a weeping young woman, a little dog and the sound of a carriage fleeing in the night, and as she uncovers the mystery she finds links to her own past. This book has all the atmosphere that one would expect from Godden, and the various story elements are interesting, but they don't quite hang together as well as they should. Rosa is weak and hard to like; Belle has more spirit but becomes hard and insensitive. Blanche is the forerunner of later young heroines, such as Cecil in The greengage summer and Hal in The peacock spring, sharply observant of their elders though their own innocence means they don't always understand the implications of what they are witnessing. I wish the book had been written from Blanche's point of view. This isn't top-drawer Godden but still an entertaining read.
Now I've started China Court (Rumer Godden is this month's Virago author which is why I'm reading her books at the moment). It's the story of a family and their servants over three (or more?) generations at a house in Cornwall.
At home I'm reading Wicked wonders, short stories by Ellen Klages. I've only read the first one so far, The education of a witch, but it was excellent.
I keep meaning to read more of Rumer Godden's books, but I haven't made it far past her children's books.
I did inherit a copy of In This House of Brede from my mother, and read enough of it when I was sorting books to know that i should keep it. So that is probably what I will read first.
I really enjoyed In This House of Brede as well. It holds up even on multiple re-reads. Of course, I'm a tad fascinated by monastic practice anyway. YMMV.
I might have to take a look too. I went to grades 7-12 at an English Benedictine monastery in DC.
My library has a copy of The Housekeeper and the Professor available. I think I'll go get it today.
I read today on Ilona Andrews' blog that there will be more Innkeeper books :)
>193 SylviaC: I will be interested to se what you think of it. It's probably godden's most popular book for adults.
>194 jillmwo: I have a weakness for books set in convents, possibly for the same reasons as I like books set in schools - closed worlds with their own rules and conventions and, in this case, where women are the community members.
>195 Jim53: That would be a very interesting perspective from which to read this book.
>196 catzteach: Do! So many of use can't be wrong! It really is a lovely little book.
>197 Narilka: Hooray! I can't wait!
China court was a very good read, at least until the rather odd and unpleasant scene right at the end which I'm going to pretend wasn't there. It was a lovely portrait of a much loved family home through the eyes, thoughts and stories of the generations who've lived there. Their stories are not told chronologically, but the narrative jumps around in time as memories are triggered by sights, sounds, smells and other sensations. It sounds confusing but it works. Of the characters, Mrs Quin ("Ripsie") is at the centre of the book and we see her at various points in her life. She it is who has loved China Court the most, from when she was a ragged child barred from its gates, to her final days of life. But we also see those who preceded her, and her descendants as their stories weave through the book. Not surprisingly the Cornish setting is vivid and beguiling, brought to life as it is through all the senses. This was a very good read and I think there are a few people here to whom it will appeal.
I'm currently in Dublin for a work conference which starts tomorrow, although I arrived on Saturday and have been using a few days of holiday up to now. I wanted to bring some Irish fiction with me so decided to include one of my unread Ian McDonald's. When looking through them I found myself getting engrossed in sacrifice of fools, which is a first contact story set against the background of the northern Irish troubles. An alien family is brutally murdered and when the police find that the man who found the bodies has a background of paramilitary activity they accuse him of the crime. Gillespie rejected politics after it landed him in prison, where he met one of the aliens and became fascinated by their culture and the implications of their arrival for human society. Upon his release he works as an advocate for the aliens, helping them settle when they arrive in Belfast. So he is determined for many reasons to prove his innocence. This is an exciting and thought provoking book, although there is some violence and swearing (but it fits the plot and characters). I finished this before I left for Ireland, and actually brought one of McDonald's other novels with me, king of morning, queen of day.
I'm currently reading a novel by kate O'Brien, as music and splendour, which follows two Irish girls who leave their homes to study singing first in Paris then Rome, in the late 1880s. The depictions of Rome are vivid, and it is interesting to follow Clare and Rose as their voices and characters develop. Faith, love and music permeate the novel as the girls have to learn what they most want from life while trying to meet the expectations of their family and friends at home. I'm enjoying it a lot.
I'm now back from Dublin and catching up with things at work and at home. I really enjoyed my first visit to Ireland, exploring somewhere that was new to me. I had hoped to meet for an exchange of information with pgmcc but alas it was not to be. His recommendations for places of interest, bookshops and restaurants were extremely useful though; it was like having our own private tour guide on paper!
King of morning, queen of day was the most Irish of the Irish books I brought with me, in that it was totally set in Sligo and Dublin. It follows three generations of women who have the ability to see and sense the supernatural, in the form of a rather scary version of Faery. Emily is growing up in 1913, attending a restrictive convent school but allowing her imagination to run free and inadvertently courting danger in her fantasies. Jessica lives in Dublin in the 1930s and is thrilled when a dashing freedom fighter in the IRA shows an interest in her - could this be her escape from her mundane middle-class family? And Enye is an advertising executive in the 1980s, fighting against supernatural beings in her spare time. I found Enye's story to be the least compelling, but Emily and Jessica's sections were very engaging and kept me eagerly turning the pages. This is very different to anything else I've read by Ian McDonald, but features the same high standard of writing, setting and character building.
As music and splendour was a very good read. Clare and Rose are sympathetic heroines and their journey from students to stardom is interesting to follow. We also get to know their fellow singers, friends and lovers, and see what life was like in musical society in late C19th Rome. I liked that although both women are sopranos and sing some of the same parts, they are never rivals as both know that their careers are going to go in different directions. While this is set in Paris and Italy, the women's Irishness is a strong part of their characters and it informs their worldview and their sense of identity. I really enjoyed this novel, and need to read some more of the books by O'Brien which are sitting on my shelves.
On my way home I started to read In the woods by Tana French, a murder mystery set in and around Dublin. I know that this series is a favourite with many readers, and my expectations were high. The first half of the book was great, showing the wonderful working relationship between Ryan, the narrator, and his partner on the Murder Squad Cassie as they seek to uncover the facts surrounding the death of a young girl. However, further into the book I became frustrated as Ryan's character changed out of all recognition from the person he seemed at the start. I think we are meant to believe that it's due to the stress of the case, which affects him personally and which he shouldn't really be investigating at all, but to me it felt like an easy way for the author to manipulate the plot. Also, one character stood out as suspicious to me from the get-go, but they aren't considered a suspect until very late and it's supposed to be as much of a shock to us as it is to Ryan - he even says (to the reader) something like "You're judging me for being taken in by them, but admit it, they fooled you too". Well no, actually, they didn't! What annoyed me most though was
I'm now back to reading Rumer Godden for the Virago monthly author read, and I've chosen the first volume of her autobiography, A time to dance, no time to weep, which tells of her childhood, adolescence and marriage in England and India. It's a fascinating portrait not just of this interesting author, but of India in the early C20th. Godden mixed with Indians, Eurasians and Europeans of all classes (something that caused controversy and affected her own social status at times) and so has insights into many aspects of Indian life and culture. It's very interesting to me to see how many of her books contain elements of autobiography.
At home I've started reading a very light fantasy, Witch and wombat. I'm not even sure what made me pick this up, but it is a rather fun story with a similar premise to Diana Wynne Jones' Dark Lord of Derkholm, in which people from Our World are brought into a fantasy realm as tourists. It's not as good as Jones' book but I'm enjoying it.
And I've also started an Irish YA book, Spellbook of the lost and found, which I'm not yet far enough into to say much about, other than that I really enjoyed the author's first book and picked this one on the strength of that.
Claire I am still disappointed I was not able to meet up with you. There is always the next time.
I love the Ian McDonald work I have read and you have mentioned some stories I have not found yet. I must keep an eye out for them.
Ian was one of my guests at the convention I used to run. He is a lovely, very unassuming person.
I am glad my tips proved of use to you and that you appear to have returned with good memories of your visit. I hope that is the first of many.
I look forward to hearing more about your trip to Dublin and seeing photos, Claire!
>201 clamairy: I really liked Dublin and was glad that we also had time for a day trip to Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains to see some of the countryside too. If you do get around to reading In the woods I'll look forward to seeing what you think of it. It seems to be very popular with a lot of readers.
>202 pgmcc: I'll certainly want to return to Dublin and do some of the things I didn't have time for on this visit. I'd also like to explore more of the surrounding countryside too. Hopefully we'll get a chance to meet up in the future. I've really enjoyed most of Ian McDonald's books; the only one I didn't like so much was River of gods but even that was not a bad book. I'm really looking forward to Luna: wolf moon being published in a smaller paperback edition. It's nice to hear that such a good author is also pleasant in person.
>203 kidzdoc: I've managed to make room on my hard drive to start uploading photos, so I will try to get some on facebook before I leave on my next trip! I think you would like Dublin; the museums, galleries and libraries are world-class and there is good food to be had too. We found it easy to avoid the noisy bar scene and find quieter less commercial places to hang out.
Back to my reading : the Rumer Godden autobiography was very good, an engrossing and touching read. She is candid in admitting when she made mistakes and her love for India really shines through. Anyone who enjoys Godden's novels should seek this out. There is a sequel which I will try and read soon.
Witch and wombat was a cute read, but not one I will keep. Hali, the witch protagonist, is entertainingly grumpy as she reluctantly herds her tourists around, using their journey to enable her own search for a new home. The tourists start out filling the usual tropes but start to break the mould in interesting ways - one gets turned into a dung beetle and stays that way quite happily til the end of the book! A nice comic fantasy but not as good as Diana Wynne Jones's take on the plot.
Spellbook of the lost and found was rather disappointing after how much I liked the author's first book. This one had three young female narrators, but they were indistinguishable from one another. I kept wondering "Now are you the one with two female friends, or the one with the brother and the best friend, or the one who keeps losing things or finding them?" Also, the first 2/3 of the book is very slow, with people randomly finding or losing stuff and hanging around with friends and mysterious strangers, but nothing is really happening. If it's meant to build tension, it didn't, at least not for me, and I didn't find it terribly atmospheric either. I did like the strong friendships and the developing relationship between Olive and her younger sister as she gets to know her better and realises that they have things in common, but this wasn't enough to make me want to keep or recommend the book.
I followed it with something much better, Roses and rot, which I've been looking forward to since it came out in hardback last year. It's a variant on Tam Lin, set at an elite arts retreat in New England, and follows two sisters, a writer and a dancer, who are accepted onto the programme. The theme of creative ability dominates the book, as does that of love in all its forms, most strongly that between mothers and daughters and between sisters. There were one or two things I had little issues with near the start of the book, but it soon got into its stride and had me hooked. Hints of fairy tales weave through the narrative - which is mostly beautifully written - and the relationships in the book reflect those in the old tales. Side characters were vividly drawn, as was the setting and the seasons. I thought this was a great read, and would recommend it to anyone who likes fairy tale retellings, books about creative types or about sisters.
I've also just read the next Eden Moore book, Wings to the kingdom. As >181 YouKneeK: said, this was even better than the first book (and could actually stand alone). This is full of Civil War ghosts and a mysterious guardian spirit and the hauntings which start to occur on Chickamauga battlefield. Eden doesn't want anything to do with it and is happy to let others investigate, until her half brother accidentally draws her in. This was spooky and gripping but not horrible or gory and I found it hard to put the book down.
I'm currently reading The shadow land by the author of The historian. I managed to miss this when it came out and didn't even know it existed until I found an old ARC in the charity shop. Like the earlier novel, it's set in Eastern Europe (this time Bulgaria) and the protagonist is a young American woman. Alexandra has just arrived in Sofia to begin teaching English, and in her jetlagged state managed to pick up another traveller's bag while helping them get into a taxi. Upon realising it contains an urn of funeral ashes she decides she must find the owner to return it. I like Kostova's prose style which is clean and smooth, and enjoy travelling virtually through her writing.
At the weekend I went to visit Marble Hill House, which was built by Henrietta Howard who was a mistress to George II. She was a prominent figure at the court, famous for her good nature and refusal to engage in gossip and intrigue which allowed her to develop deep friendships. Upon receiving an unexpected financial gift from the king she immediately decided to invest it in a home which would give her security when she inevitably fell from grace. Far more than just an appendage to royalty, Henrietta was intelligent and well-read, an advocate of women's rights and a lover of the arts. After visiting the house and hearing something of her life and times from the excellent tour guide, I picked the biography Henrietta Howard: King's mistress queen's servant off my shelves to read. It's very good, using her letters and documents from her contemporaries to build a nuanced portrait of Henrietta and those around her.
>205 YouKneeK: I really want to read the next one right away, but it's the last and I don't want to finish the series too quickly! So I've started Bloodshot instead which is totally unrelated although by the same author.
>206 Narilka: It is fun, though a bit frustrating because the characters are really just ambling around with no plan or quest for most of the time. It's a nice light read though for when you don't want anything stressful. And Bernie the wombat is fun.
I finished the Henrietta Howard bio and enjoyed it a lot. The author clearly liked her subject but didn't come across as a fangirl - she was critical when necessary. Henrietta's life provides a good lens through which to examine early Georgian England and its tensions and conflicts, but the author never strays too far from her primary subject. This isn't a period of history that I know much about at all, so the book was educational as well as entertaining. Recommended if the period interests you, or if you are interested in the lives of women in history.
>208 YouKneeK: I enjoyed Bloodshot quite a bit, but not as much as the Eden Moore books and I can't see myself rereading it. I went straight on and read the sequel, Hellbent, so I could get both books on the pile for rehoming.
In Bloodshot, Raylene Pendle is a vampire who makes her living as an "acquisitions specialist" - that is, she steals rare objects for collectors. She takes on a more unusual case when she agrees to help a blind vampire get hold of the records which document the experiments performed on him as part of a sinister military research project. Along the way, she joins up with an ex-Navy SEAL drag queen and the pair find themselves being pursued by some nasty enemies. I found Raylene to be a bit too snarky and wordy as a narrator - she tends to go off on humorous tangents and over-describe things that could be summed up in a few words. I think is meant to be an expression of the OCD she suffers from, but I didn't find the humour as funny as it's meant to be. The mystery is quite satisfying, although I guessed a key part of it before the characters, and while you are not left on a cliffhanger, part of the story is left unresolved - it's not cleared up in Hellbent either, which follows a new case. I liked that there's no romance in either book, although Raylene's tendency to ogle men and her
I've also finished The shadow land, which I really liked. If you thought The historian was slow and rambling then you won't like Shadow land either, but if you enjoyed the smooth prose and immersive descriptions of Eastern Europe and its history and culture then you'll probably like The shadow land too. Alexandra is mostly sympathetic, although a bit too touchy-feely for my liking, and too quickly interested in a man she has literally met for less than a minute. But she's also brave and intelligent and determined to fix the mistake she made in picking up the wrong bag. Her quest to return the urn to its rightful owners leads her on a journey all over the map of Bulgaria in the company of a friendly taxi driver and a stray dog. It also lands her in unexpected danger, connected with the darkness of Bulgaria's recent past. How the various plot strands come together, linking the past with the present, is satisfying and the final chapters move quickly and dramatically compared to the more leisurely beginning and middle. There are some harrowing descriptions of life in a forced-labour camp but these are integral to the plot and not gratuitous.
Also this week I've read The five daughters of the moon, a fantasy inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917. In this alternate Russia, the Empress is symbolically wed to the moon and takes lovers to father her children - all daughters in this generation. The eldest can expect to become Empress in her mother's place in time. However, all is not well in the Empire as the people are tired of being sent off to pointless wars and having to live in extreme poverty. We see events though the eyes of the five sisters, who range in age from 6 to 18. Each one has her own priorities and concerns, and reveals another facet of the story. There is magic of a sort in this world, but I wanted to know more about it. The souls of animals and birds (mainly the latter) seem to be used as a power source by the gagari (magicians but also with some priestly functions, it seemed), but I couldn't see a logic behind which souls served which purpose. They are most commonly mentioned as providing light - duck and osprey souls occur often - but what is the difference? Ducks and osprey are totally different to each other so wouldn't their souls have different uses? Also, because we don't have a narrator from outside the palace, we can't see what the common people use for lighting, because it didn't seem as though they would have access to bird souls. Swans are mentioned as messengers but this is the only specific link between a bird and its use that I can remember. My other criticism (apart from the use of present tense in the narratives - a pet peeve of mine) is that this is really one half of a book. The second volume will be released in November, so not far away, but it would have been better in terms of pacing and plot development to have it complete in one book, I think. But I liked the five sisters, and how their understanding of events varied depending on their age and intelligence, and was always reluctant to put the book down to do mundane things like get off the train.
I've just started Four roads cross on my kindle, in preparation for the next Craft novel being released in September. This is one of my favourite series, being a totally original blend of fantasy and SF with vivid characters, fascinating settings and well thought out magical, religious, social and economic customs.
Other than that I'm reading short stories from Wicked wonders and Queen Victoria's book of spells. I will be going away for three weeks this Saturday and don't want to get into a novel that I can't bring with me! I will be traveling in the Indian Himalayas so will bring my kindle and also The age of Kali and A traveller's history of India to read along the way.
The Henrietta Howard sounds good--that's an era I also know little about, so this sounds like a good entry. You may have winged me with The Five Daughters of the Moon as well.
Have a splendid trip (but it kind of sounds like it can't be anything but splendid, with such a destination!)
>210 Marissa_Doyle: I thought the Howard bio was a great introduction to the early Hanoverian period, putting human faces on the politics and not neglecting to show what the "commoners" felt about things (though as a collective unit, not individuals). Henrietta herself is both likeable and admirable but not perfect. If you do go for Five daughters of the moon I will be very interested to see if you like it or not. At least the kindle price reflects the short length of the book.
>211 YouKneeK: Glad my report on Bloodshot was helpful to you. The books were fun reads but not very special.
>212 clamairy: That's cheating! ;-)
I finished reading Queen Victoria's book of spells and, like any anthology, it was a mix of good and "meh" stories. Many of the authors choose to examine the darker aspects of life in Victorian times - the pollution, illness, exploitation of women and children, and extreme social inequality. However, some of the stories were just delightful, such as the title tale, and the final one by Theodora Goss which is full of Easter eggs for fans of Victorian literature. While I was impressed by the authors' attempts to look beneath the surface of this period and delve into some weighty themes, it means that I may not want to reread all of the stories in future.
I've got just a couple more stories left in Wicked wonders and so far this collection has a much higher hit rate. I was pretty sure I liked Klages based on the tales I'd read in anthologies, and this has confirmed her place as one of my favourite short story writers. Interestingly, one of the tales was written for the Queen Victoria anthology above, though rejected, and another story is connected to her excellent novella, Passing strange. She is especially good at writing girls and young women.
Well, Five Daughters of the Moon didn't really do it for me--I share your questions about the world-building (or rather lack thereof), and mostly felt it was trying too hard to be lyrical and literary, at the expense of plot. I also wonder why it was divided in half, unless the second part coming up in the autumn is longer. I'm not sure I'll bother looking for it.
>214 jillmwo:, >215 Marissa_Doyle: Jill, I hope you'll take Marissa's thoughts into account before you buy. I found more to enjoy than she did, but agree that the world building was seriously lacking in detail and that there wasn't a lot of substance under the attractive surface. As I said above though, on the plus side I always wanted to keep reading and find out what happened next to the sisters.
As you can tell, I'm back from my trip to the Indian Himalayas and getting all caught up on people's threads. Although I haven't made many comments, I have read all of your personal reading threads so be aware that I am still following you!
My trip was amazing though quite physically strenuous. We were at an altitude of around 4500 meters most of the time, with a couple of high passes at 5500m. One member of our group needed to be given oxygen but she was fine after that. We all found it harder work than usually to be active all day. The landscapes were stunning, the people warm and welcoming, the food excellent and plentiful, and we were lucky enough to see a couple of wolves, among other wildlife. We gained some useful information from local people about their interactions with snow leopard and also took part in a productive meeting with architects and monks at Phugtal monastery about the plans for their new school. Let's see if I can remember how to post photos ...
The village of Tang Zay
The monastery is built into the cliff, with the oldest part in a cave
Our pack horses crossing the Phitse La pass
If you are on facebook you can see the whole album; do send me a friend request if you are interested.
I did manage to read while I was travelling and got a couple of books off Mount Tbr.
The age of Kali is a collection on essays on contemporary India by William Dalrymple. I very much enjoyed his book about Delhi, City of djinns, but thought that his essays were rather a mixed bag (not surprising since they had been written for a variety of publication with differing intentions). The main problem I had was that the essays dated from the mid to late 90s, so the issues discussed were no longer current and I wondered if some of the situations had improved or worsened, and if his prophecies had been borne out or not. Themes included the rise of criminality and corruption in politics, inter-caste strife, the role of women, the infiltration of Western culture into Indian society, and portraits of some individuals who seem to embody some of these issues. The book is arranged by region and includes the author's encounters with Tamil Tigers, criminal politicians and Pakistani warlords. There is no doubting his willingness to take risks to get the information he wants. I did feel that some of the essays weren't critical or balanced enough; in his portrait of the woman behind the BJP party, he seems to assume that she is somehow too naïve to realise that her rhetoric has directly inspired violent atrocities, whereas I suspected that she was more astute than that. Also, in his piece lamenting the lost glories of Lucknow, he wallows in nostalgia rather than wondering whether the city's past was really so golden. This would have been a much better read if I'd found it 15 years ago when it was current; as it was, it was mostly interesting but left me unsatisfied.
A traveller's history of India is a very short history of this ancient nation, designed to give a chronological overview of the development of the country, its people, society, religion and culture. As such it does the job, though there are large sections of "And then the X invaded and ruled for 200 years" which got a bit tedious. It also didn't even mention the area where we were travelling! It was a quick read and has illustrations and maps which are useful.
Four roads cross. I read this on kindle and found it to be another excellent addition to the Craft series. We're back with Tara, Cat and Raz dealing with the fallout from the end of Three parts dead. We also meet Caleb from Two serpents rise again. This has to be one of the most original fantasy worlds out there at the moment, with characters who are well-rounded and engaging. I will read whatever the author chooses to write in this series!
Goldenhand is the latest instalment in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series of YA fantasies. I loved the original trilogy, had some issues with Clariel, and sadly thought that this volume was also weak. It's good to be back with Lirael again, and to meet a new heroine in Ferin, but I noticed a huge amount of telling rather than showing as Nix developed the plot and introduced characters. Also, Lirael is preoccupied with her attraction to Nick and her lack of experience in romance, and her musings on the topics felt very forced at times. It felt as though the author was bringing the characters together rather than something that happened naturally. It's a pity, because I do love this world with its unique magic system and vivid settings.
Dusk or dark or dawn or day. This is a ghostly novella from Seanan McGuire based on a rather confusing premise of how ghosts can manage the time before they move on for good. They can give or take time from the living, or have it stolen from them to keep the living perpetually young. Jenna died before her time and has spent the last 40 years working as a suicide counsellor and waitress (the dead can pass as living, apparently). Then she realises that all the other ghosts have disappeared from the city, and she needs to find out why. I liked the atmosphere and characters in this piece, but found the manipulation of time upon which the plot depends to be confusing.
Falcon. This was an extra bonus book which my friend was reading on our trip and which I borrowed from her after she'd finished. It's a non-fiction study of the genus Falco, looking at these iconic birds in terms of their place in human history and the imagination. They have been worshipped, trained, persecuted and admired throughout history, used as the inspiration for sports teams and the military, demonised as killers of smaller birds and made into celebrities. This is a quick and very readable book which I recommend to anyone with an interest in birds of prey.
Now I'm home I'm reading Every heart a doorway (I meant to get to this before the Hugos; never mind) and The puzzleheaded girl which is a belated read for the Virago Christina Stead month.
I think I sent you a friend request on FB, if I deducted correctly as to your real name! I love those photos and have always been interested in that area of the world.
Some beautiful scenery. Thanks for sharing with us.
I'm sad to hear Goldenhand isn't up to par. I still plan to read it and now I can go in with lesser expectations.
>216 Sakerfalcon: What a beautiful scenery, Claire, thanks for sharing!
>216 Sakerfalcon: Holy Mountain: holy cow! It's gorgeous!
PS I sent you a friend request on FB.
The pictures are stunning! I'm glad you posted them here, because for some mysterious reason, Facebook hasn't been putting your posts in my newsfeed lately. So I went looking, and posted a comment, so hopefully that will help.
it's nice to see some of you on Facebook now; thanks for the friend requests. Glad you enjoyed the photos!
>218 MrsLee: This is a very interesting part of the world; it doesn't feel like India because the culture is so Tibetan and it is cut off by high passes over the mountains so hasn't absorbed many Indian influences. The people regard themselves as both Indian and Tibetan, and are Buddhists by faith.
>219 stellarexplorer: I'm in a minority for not liking River of gods as much as his other works, I know! I felt there were too many characters, some of whom I disliked intensely or just didn't find interesting. I really liked the related short stories in Cyberabad days though.
>220 Narilka: I hope you'll enjoy it more than I did. It was nice to spend time with Lirael and the other characters, but I felt Nix's writing wasn't up to his usual standard.
>221 FAMeulstee: You're welcome! I always enjoy your photos too.
>222 catzteach: Monks from Phugtal come there to pray in the summer months; you can see why they regard the mountain as holy.
>223 Jim53: You're welcome!
>224 SylviaC: I hope that did the trick. It is annoying when facebook decides whose posts you can see and ignores other people.
So I've managed to read a few things in the past week.
Every heart a doorway was a very good read, a bit macabre but not gratuitously so. It tries to answer the question of what happens to those children who pass through a portal to another world after they come home again. We see the young people enrolled at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, who cannot settle back into this world and long to return to the otherlands they see as their real homes. Nancy is a new arrival and we see the school, its staff and students through her eyes. She hasn't even had time to settle in, however, when a fellow classmate is murdered and suspicion turns her way. This is a novella but even given its short length the characters are vivid and well-rounded and the setting comes to life. The plot is perhaps resolved a bit quickly (and I guessed who the culprit was), but I'll still read more in this series.
The puzzleheaded girl also contained some larger-than-life characters, though Stead is a difficult author to love. Her prose is not beautiful or easy to read, and she often lets a character rant on for pages, repeating themselves, until you wonder that the person listening to them hasn't either left the room or punched the speaker! Three of the four novellas feature young women who don't seem to know what they want from life and drift through it, frustrating the men around them who want to pin down these butterflies. But ultimately their options are limited and most of them succumb to the status quo of marriage and domesticity. The odd story out was the one I liked best, about a house in the country which has an ill effect on all who live there.
I've also read a recent fantasy novel, Shattering the ley about which I'm struggling to form an opinion. There was nothing notably wrong with it and I finished it, yet I never felt I needed to pick the book up and find out what would happen next. The main characters were pleasant but not terribly original - young girl with powers who learns to use them, young man who naively joins the guard only to find it's full of sadists and he is expected to behave likewise. A third character disappears halfway through the book and I'm not sure why he was featured at all. The world is powered by ley, which is basically like magic electricity which runs in natural channels (yes, ley lines) and which has been harnessed to build and power cities. It's controlled by the Prime Wielders who are subservient to Baron Arent, all of whose primary goal is to preserve their power and authority at any cost. The book was interesting in not having any obviously good side to root for - Kara and Allan are sympathetic but they are part of corrupt organisations. (It's not a grimdark novel in spite of the lack of goodness though). This novel was fine but didn't excite me enough to read two more large volumes.
A better read was The emperor's soul, which was the best-written work by Brandon Sanderson that I've read. He's great at creating engaging characters, vivid worlds and fantastic magic systems but a great prose stylist he is not. This however avoided a lot of the contemporary American language which I find tends to dominate his writing, and meant that I was able to enter more deeply into the world depicted. I liked the relationship between Shai and Gaetano and enjoyed what we see of the devious workings of Shai's mind. Even though Shai gets out of trouble with little difficulty I still felt tense when she was in danger - she is put into situations that seem inescapable up to the moment she actually gets out. It's set in the same world as Elantris but you'd hardly know that; however, it is making me want to go back for a reread!
I'm currently reading another Christina Stead novel, For love alone, as my commuting book. At home I started a steampunk novel set in the Arctic, Aurorarama but that looks likely to be set aside temporarily as I just got a copy of The stone sky and I want to read that before I forget what happened in the previous two books of Jemisin's trilogy.
>227 Sakerfalcon: somehow I didn't know he'd written more in Elantris. I should hunt that one down. Is it novel length or novella?
>229 reading_fox: It's a novella. There is one blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention (that I noticed) to anything from Elantris; Sanderson tells us it's set in that world in an endnote, otherwise you wouldn't know it.
The Emperor's Soul is really a remarkably well crafted piece of fantasy. I'm glad you found it worth your while.
227: As much as I love Sanderson, and have loved his work for quite some time, I've had some reservations about how the female characters in his Cosmere novels, interesting and active as they might be, somehow never quite manage to save the day.
I love some of the concepts in Emperor's soul. Especially the
>233 stellarexplorer: We've all become quite impatient so it's good to know you're getting on with it!
>231 jillmwo: It certainly was! The only thing I've read by Sanderson that I haven't enjoyed was Steelheart.
>232 kceccato: Yes, I agree that Warbreaker took a very disappointing and annoying path towards the end. I hope the improvement on that score shown in The emperor's soul and The bands of mourning are the start of a trend.
>233 stellarexplorer: , >235 jillmwo: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I think we're all eagerly waiting for your review!
>234 zjakkelien: Yes, it is (as usual for Sanderson) a very original concept. I had to not think about it too much though because wondering what wider consequences changing the history of an object could have would send me down all sorts of confusing rabbitholes!
I finished For love alone and enjoyed it more than I have most of Stead's novels. Her characters are not often sympathetic, and here Teresa could be frustrating at times, but I found myself engaged with her story. The book was better written than some of her others, with some beautiful writing in the Australian section describing the sea and the coast. She also draws a vivid picture of life in the working classes there during the 1930s, and how marriage really seemed to be the only option for so many women. The other character who dominates the book is the horrendous misogynist Jonathan Crow, and I could have done with fewer pages of his thoughts and opinions. Teresa's adolescence and observations of the world around her have left her all too ready to believe his theory that women are parasites who just want to lure a man into marriage and then suck him dry; it is very satisfying to see her gradually reject this and learn a healthier view of love. This is a long read, probably longer than it needed to be, and rarely upbeat, so it's difficult to recommend, but I'm pleased to have read it.
In its place I'm reading Worlds of exile and illusion, which is three of Ursula Le Guin's early Hainish novels in one volume.
>237 reading_fox: I agree...
City of Illusions is my favorite Hainish story, (I read them all in publication order about 4 years ago). I actually liked CoI better than her big-name award winners, (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed). I just really enjoyed the premise of 'what is truth?' that underscored the entire narrative. The way she also took it from a small and primitive beginning and ended somewhere completely different was also impressive.
>237 reading_fox:, >238 ScoLgo:, >239 pgmcc: I've read Rocannon's World and Planet of exile now and enjoyed them both, though all the travelling in RW threatened to become tedious at times. Thankfully Le Guin's skilful prose enhanced those scenes and she broke up the trekking with some interesting incidents. I especially liked the otter-like aliens. The thoughtful tone prevented it from being just another science-fantasy-adventure novel. I enjoyed Planet of Exile more consistently, liking the alternating viewpoints from the two different cultures. Again, Le Guin's prose is superior and the novel felt to me a bit like a myth, which prevented the instant love affair from seeming ridiculous. I'm just a chapter in to City of illusions and it's off to a good start so far. While I still think I prefer The dispossessed and Left hand of darkness I'm very glad to be reading these earlier novels and they have much to recommend them.
I finished The stone sky which was a strong ending to the Broken Earth trilogy. We learn more about the distant past, and the origins of the stone eaters and the prejudice against orogenes, and follow Nassun and Essun as they strive to achieve seemingly incompatible quests. The resolution and closing scenes of the book were very satisfying, with this dark work ending on a bright note. This is by far my favourite series of those I've read by Jemisin - The hundred thousand kingdoms didn't impress me at all, and while I enjoyed The shadowed sun duology, in retrospect it had some major flaws for me.
I may give up on Aurorarama. The city of New Venice is amazing and I love learning more about it, but the actual story and characters aren't really grabbing me. The female characters read like what the author thinks/wants women to be rather than like real women, and one of the two protagonists I don't like at all. It's a pity because this Arctic-based steampunk world is excellent; I'd just like to read a different story set there.
Instead I'm reading The atrocity archives, the first of the Laundry Files series. It's a bit like The rook, being set in a secret government department that deals with the supernatural and arcane, keeping it from the public eye. It's not as immediately engaging as the Rook, being full of jargon and acronyms as well as a lot of info dumping, but I love the premise and there's enough humour and action to keep me entertained.
Also I've started The family plot, a haunted house novel by Cherie Priest, which is very good so far.
So I finished Worlds of exile and illusion and, along with ScoLgo and Peter, I really enjoyed City of illusions. I liked the way Le Guin keeps us uncertain as to the nature and motives of the Shing - are they lying; what are their intentions? - and how Falk cautiously manoeuvres his way around their schemes. The earlier section, as he travels across a world and we slowly realise which planet he is on, was very well done, with the usual atmospheric writing we expect from Le Guin. I was a bit disappointed with the treatment of Estrel, but otherwise this was a really good read. I'm very glad to have finally read these early novels and will certainly go back to them in future.
I also finished The family plot which I really enjoyed. It's a classic haunted house/Southern Gothic book, with an interesting cast of characters (living and dead) and a good sense of place. Dahlia is put in charge of a salvage project for her father's company, upon which the future of the business depends. Her colleagues consist of her cousin Bobby, with whom she has a bitter relationship after he took her ex-husband's side in their divorce; Bobby's son Gabe who admires and respects Dahlia more than he does his father, and Brad, a newcomer to the salvage business. I was afraid that some "Reality" TV style personality clashes and disputes would dominate the book, but to my relief the conflicts between Dahila and Bobby never got out of hand, and in fact watching their relationship change during the course of the action was one of the more satisfying aspects of the novel. I didn't find most of the book to be especially scary; the various sightings and physical disturbances seemed a bit underwhelming to me, much less alarming than those in The haunting of Hill House. However, the last few chapters took me by surprise when the ghostly action really heats up, and I couldn't put the book down at that point. I really enjoyed the scenes of Dahlia and co exploring the house and its buildings, making discoveries and deciding what they can save, and wondering if they can complete the project in time to save the family business. This was as gripping to me as the supernatural storyline. I recommend this if you like haunted house stories - it would be a good one to read in October.
I also enjoyed The atrocity archives, despite the shortcomings I mentioned above, and I think that anyone who has worked as in IT and/or for a bureaucratic organization would like it even more. However, I've carried on to the next book in the series, The Jennifer Morgue, and am finding it a bit dull. It feels too long and slow moving for what should be a really exciting story that mixes the James Bond archetype with Lovecraftian nasties. I think the slowness is due to all the infodumping; either that or it's just not the right book to suit me at the moment.
For my commute I'm reading The house of fiction, which is about the Australian author, Elizabeth Jolley. It's a memoir written by Jolley's stepdaughter Susan who discovered at the age of 20 that her father, who left her mother when Susan was 4, was living a new life in Australia with a secret family. He had let his relatives think that he'd moved there with Susan and her mum, but in fact he was living with Elizabeth Jolley and it seems she cooked up a whole fictional life to report to the folks back in England. As Susan's mother had promised her father never to contact his family, it went undiscovered until Susan's marriage at the age of 21. I'm curious as to what could have made the Jolleys create this fiction, even to the extent of sending photos of "Susan" to her aunt.
I finished The house of fiction which was an interesting read although (perhaps obviously) we don't learn what Elizabeth and Leonard's reasons were for the elaborate lies they told to their family. Different family member and friends seem to have been given different pieces of the jigsaw, but for various reasons it wasn't until Susan started asking that anyone put them together. This mystery is at the centre of the book, which is basically a memoir of Susan's life. She was quite an ordinary person apart from the deception practiced upon her, so much of the narrative is showing Susan's life in the 1960s and 1970s England, growing up with her mother and almost no other family. As such, it's an interesting piece of social history. But obviously, if it weren't for the mystery of her father and stepmother's behaviour she wouldn't have written the book. It would have been nice to know what the Jolleys were thinking, but this is real life not fiction and so there are no easy answers. I've read a couple of Elizabeth Jolley's novels and have some more on the tbr pile; I suspect I will be reading them soon.
I've started to read one of the books I've been looking forward to most - The strange case of the alchemist's daughter by Theodora Goss. I adore the original short story from which the novel springs, The mad scientist's daughter which imagines that the daughters of some of literature's most notorious experimenters have found each other and are living together as a community. The novel begins with orphaned Mary Jekyll desperately trying to think of ways to make money to support herself and her devoted housekeeper, Mrs Poole, and seeking out Sherlock Holmes to help her trace Mr Hyde and claim the reward for his capture. Instead she is led to one Diana Hyde, a wild 14 year old girl, and from there the action ramps up as they are drawn into a murder mystery. Along the way they collect Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein, and learn that the murders may have a personal dimension for them all. This is delightful so far, told in third person from Mary's perspective but written by Catherine with frequent interjections from the other women. Holmes and Watson are not in the short story, and I was worried that they would dominate the story in the novel but so far that's not the case.
I'm also reading Hard to be a god, by the Strugatsky brothers. So far I've only read the prologue in which the protagonist is a child, but that was very good.
>241 Sakerfalcon: I think you winged me with The Atrocity Archives. Having worked in software development for thirty-plus years, I'm interested to see how various things are portrayed. Based on some of my experiences, Lovecraftian beings won't be all that exceptional.
Add me to the list that likes City of Illusions best of the early Hainish books. I'm still a big fan of LHoD and TD, and I also enjoyed The Telling.
And you got me with The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter--that sounds wonderful!
You got me with The strange case of the alchemist's daughter, too. I've just put a hold on it.
I love Stross' Laundry Series. I just got a hold pickup notification from the library so I have to go get it today!
>243 Jim53: I'll be interested to hear what you think of the Laundry Files. I enjoyed book 1, found book 2 boring, and am enjoying book 3. I got into the series through the novella Equoid which I absolutely loved (and which is why I'm carrying on despite not liking book 2).
The telling is on Mount Tbr; I'll probably get to it fairly soon as I'm in the mood for more Le Guin.
>244 Marissa_Doyle:, >245 tardis: I've finished The strange case of the alchemist's daughter and I loved it, less for the plot than for the wonderful cast of characters. Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine and Justine are awesome, and I loved that the servants too are given voices and roles to play. Holmes and Watson don't take over the action, and I suspect they were included in order to get the women involved in investigating the crime. I liked the way the narrative includes interruptions from the women as they disagree with something Catherine has written - their characters are effectively revealed through their comments as much as by what we see of their actions. The details of Victorian life and London seem well researched - Mary's house is very near where I work, so I know the area well - and apart from the mad science it's realistic historically (not steampunk). I recommend reading the original short story as well - there are no spoilers as it's plotless, and there are a couple of major differences. It's free at Strange Horizons: here
I also finished Hard to be a god which unfortunately suffered in comparison to Roadside picnic. HtbG is set on a planet which hasn't evolved beyond a mediaeval level of technology and society (therefore it reads more like fantasy than SF for the most part). Our protagonist Anton is from a far more developed planet which sends observers to others with a device to film and report back on what they see. But they are not allowed to intervene ... well, not much. We see Anton growing ever more frustrated at not being able to act as the society he is observing seems to be sliding towards fascism. Also, he finds himself taking on the personality of his cover persona, the debauched Don Rumata. These are interesting strands to follow, but the world and its people are mostly so unlikeable (unless you enjoy reading about others drinking and fighting) that it wasn't always easy to make myself pick up the book. I did find it interesting that the book escaped censorship, as it's not always subtle in its critique of the real-life regime. Cautiously recommended.
I've also read a YA historical fantasy, Singer, which is based on the Irish legend of the Children of Lir. The book follows the life of Gwenore, despised daughter of the evil sorceress Rhiamon, as she escapes her mother and is led to safety among a community of women. There she discovers gifts for healing and music, and potentially stronger powers. But she will have to flee again, until finally she is forced to confront her mother once and for all. This is a dark but beautiful book which shines with hope. It doesn't downplay the cruelty of the Dark Ages in which it is set, but shows how the powerless can band together to find strength. The children of Lir story comes in right at the end to make for a satisfying climax to the story.
Now I'm reading Madame Solario, a novel published in 1956 and set on the shores of Lake Como in 1906, among a shifting community of foreign hotel guests. The titular character is rumoured to have a scandal in her past, but nevertheless people are fascinated by her. Unfortunately it means she is at the mercy of blackmail. I'm really enjoying this; the Italian scenery is so well described that I can imagine myself there, and the characters are ambiguous in their motivations thus adding tension to this portrait of idleness.
At home I'm reading the next book in the Laundry Files, The Fuller memorandum, which so far is much better than the previous tale. Despite my disappointment with book 2 I'm proceeding with the series because of how much I enjoyed the novella Equoid which was written later. We see more of the awesome Mo in this one, and her very scary violin.
>246 Sakerfalcon: That settles it. Alchemist's Daughter is up on deck after my present book.
>248 Marissa_Doyle:, >249 catzteach: I hope you love the Alchemist's daughter as much as I did! And Cindy, I look forward to seeing what you think of The family plot.
I finished Madame Solario and loved it! The sense of place was so wonderfully vivid that you feel as if you are on the shores of Lake Como, yet Huntingdon doesn't need pages and pages of description to achieve this. The characters come to life as well, and watching the constantly shifting relationships and social statuses is fascinating. Madame S herself is an intrigue especially as we only see her through the eyes and talk of others so we can't tell what she thinks or feels, or how complicit she has been in the main events of her life. The middle section did feel overlong at times, with the endless repetitive conversations, but once part 3 got underway it soon picked up again. The characters, setting and relationships reminded me of Henry James, but written in a way that was actually pleasant to read. I will certainly read this again, hopefully in the Italian lakes!
>250 Sakerfalcon: The books will be delivered to my school on Monday! So excited! But I have a book club book to read first. I've been told it's a good one, too.
>251 catzteach: It's great to have new books lined up to read!
I haven't finished The Fuller memorandum because a couple of other things have got in the way.
The bear and the nightingale is a lovely, Russian-set fantasy with echoes of folk tales running through it. Vasya is the wild, fey daughter of a wealthy landowner, but her mother died during the birth. When her father eventually remarries it is to a nervous, shrewish woman who sees demons. But those demons are actually the friendly protective spirits of the land, who inhabit homes and woodlands and keep evil at bay. Vasya has befriended the protectors of her family's lands, but as her stepmother's religion diminishes their power, hostile forces threaten the villagers and their livelihoods. This is beautifully written (my only criticism is that the author needs to find some synonyms for "shrill") and the characters, their surroundings and clothing spring vividly from the page. I thought the beginning was a little slow, but after the first few chapters I was hooked and am finding it difficult to put down.
I'm also reading an ARC of Future home of the living god by Louise Erdrich. This features a native American protagonist and narrator living in a frightening near-future USA where babies start being born as more primitive forms of human. Pregnant women are taken from their homes by the authorities, and it's rumoured that their babies are taken from them, and the women themselves may not be seen again. Our heroine, Cedar, is pregnant and so this becomes very personal to her. She is also just starting to get to know her Native birth mother and family and wrestling with her identity. This is a compelling, very readable book. I'm not sure the apocalyptic stuff would hang together plausibly if I think about it too much, but I like Cedar and her real and adoptive families, and her adventures are gripping. This will be released in January 2018, l believe.
The premise of that one reminds me a lot of Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear only in that one women start having babies that have evolved further than humans are now. Same results though - blame the women, kill them and/or babies, round them up into camps, segregate, study, fear. It has a follow up, too - Darwin's Children.
>253 Bookmarque: I liked Bear's Blood music a lot, so I will give Darwin's radio a try if I find it.
I finished Future home of the living god quite quickly as the prose was easy to read and the story kept me wanting to find out what happened next. The ending came as quite a surprise to me, but fitted with the scenario in which the story takes place. Cedar is an imperfect but sympathetic lead and I enjoyed the ways she interacts with her birth and adoptive families, both of whom are interesting in their own right. My main criticism is to do with the limited perspective of the book, which is told completely from Cedar's point of view; this means that we only see what see does of what is happening as the US slides into chaos and thus we can't get the bigger picture. She seems to be deliberately incurious about watching the news or keeping up with events and so we are barred from seeing them. The obvious comparison title for this book is The handmaid's tale in which Offred gives us more background to the situation she is in than Cedar does in this book. HT is the better book but this is certainly a worthwhile and engaging read if you want more of this type of dystopia.
I also enjoyed The bear and the nightingale with its beautifully drawn Mediaeval Russian setting. The fairytale elements are skilfully woven with the historical detail, and the narrowly defined social roles of the characters are realistic for the period. Vasya is a satisfying heroine, talented but not a Mary Sue, and the supporting characters are mostly well drawn too. Apart from the supernatural threat, the "bad" characters are acting as they do because they believe it is for the best - "This horrible thing has to happen to you for your own good". I have some issues with the character of Anna (not least that she needs to be described as something other than "shrill" occasionally!) who is a typical evil stepmother but whose own suffering is treated without sympathy. Religion gets a bad rap in this book, but there are hints in the character of Vasya's brother Sasha that it can be a force for good as well and I hope the next book gives us a more nuanced portrayal. Although this is the first in a trilogy the book is complete in itself so there is no need to read on if this volume satisfies your craving for Russian historical fantasy. I expect I will be reading on however.
I also finished The Fuller memorandum which I liked more than The Jennifer morgue, much to my relief. I still wish that Stross would rein in his tendency to info-dump and find a better way to get the information across, as it seriously hinders the storytelling. I love Mo though and she gets a much bigger role in this book. As the next volumes in the series are expensive to buy even second hand, and my library doesn't have them, I will be taking a break from this series for a while.
This month's author in the Virago monthly read project is Margaret Kennedy, best known for The constant nymph. I took the two unread novels by her off my shelf and have read them both. Together and apart is a brilliant look at a couple's divorce at a time when it really Wasn't Done to end one's marriage for any reason. Alec and Betsy are pretty well matched and there is great physical attraction between them, but their changed social circumstances have pulled them apart and they don't really communicate their feelings. This means that when well-meaning but interfering friends and family get involved the break-up is hastened instead of halted. We see both parties points of view as well as those of the two oldest children and the son's friend. There are also some letters between the interfering friends. This was a brilliant read that I never wanted to put down. Alec and Betsy both have very real faults but it is clear that they could have salvaged their marriage with a little more communication between them and less from others. The impact on the children is sensitively done, as is the development of relationships with future partners. I will definitely reread this in future.
The other book of Kennedy's was Troy Chimneys, which I didn't enjoy as much. It's a historical novel about the character Miles Lufton, a poor but respectable man who must make his way in the world. He is reasonable and intellectual and instinctively shies from public life, so develops the persona of Pronto, man about town, to cope with his career as an MP. It took me a long time to feel interested in Miles and his world and I wasn't really convinced by his dual personality. The timeline of events also got quite confusing due to it not being clear when Miles' narrative is written and whether what he is describing is in the past or his present. This is supposed to be one of Kennedy's more important novels but it didn't really work for me.
As light relief I've read a couple of school stories - The bravest girl in the school and It was fun in the Fourth. The first was entertaining but predictable - we know from page 1 who the bravest girl will be - but the second stands out for its humour. I also read a wonderful older novel about a girl becoming a pianist, She shall have music (which I've wanted to read since Rumer Godden mentioned it in a note in Thursday's Children. This is very like a Noel Streatfeild in showing Karen's struggles to become a musician and the portrayal of a lively family life. I think it is autobiographical. If only it was easier to get hold of.
I'm currently reading The gradual by Christopher Priest, Children of the Arbat by Anatoly Rybakov, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The stars are legion by Kameron Hurley. The latter is failing to grip me even though I'm half way through, but the others are all excellent.
>255 catzteach: I'm so glad you're enjoying this!
So I've finished some of the books I was reading when I last posted.
The gradual is set in Priest's Dream Archipelago, thousands of islands each with their own unique character, which fill the hero (and the reader) with the longing to explore them. Alessandro Sussken lives on one of the two main continents which are at war with each other; the archipelago lies between and is forbidden territory to mainlanders. Sussken becomes a renowned composer and to his surprise, is invited to join an orchestral tour of the islands. They prove just as inspirational as he'd hoped - but upon his return home he gets a terrible shock and has to rebuild his life. This is a more straightforward narrative than other books by Priest, but I love the setting of the Dream Archipelago and its mysteries so this was a good read, though The islanders is even better.
The stars are legion was disappointing to me. I had high hopes for this SF novel which is set in decaying worldships populated only by women. However, the two main characters who narrate alternate sections might as well have been robots as women for the connection I felt to them. Even though we are supposedly inside their heads it felt as though I was watching them rather than experiencing their thoughts and emotions - there were none. (The present-tense prose didn't help either.) Part of the issue is that one woman is amnesiac and the other is hiding a secret so you don't get much revelation of the world or plot through them, but I could have dealt with that if I had felt engaged at all with them as people. As a result the book felt slow and distant, and although the worldships are decaying and different clans are at war there didn't seem to be much sense of urgency or purpose. I have to say that the worldbuilding seemed truly original - organic worlds/ships which are birthed by certain women, populated by women who give birth to new components for the world as needed. Only very rare individuals can bear children. The nature of the worlds means lots of ick and gore, and life tends to be brutal, so not good for the squeamish. In the second half of the book we meet some secondary characters who I started to care about, but by then it was too late for the book to redeem itself. Despite an ending that I liked, this was a dud.
I'm really enjoying both Children of the Arbat and Homegoing. The former shows us life in Soviet Russia under Stalin as he consolidates power in the early years of his rule. Sasha falls victim to the arbitrary "justice" system despite his loyalty to the party and is first imprisoned then exiled to Siberia. His mother and college friends are left in Moscow trying to carry on as normal in this dangerous new world. Yuri was never friends with Sasha, in fact had always seen him as a rival, and is picked to work in the NKVD, gathering information about citizens suspected of disloyal actions and conspiracy. Varya has just left high school and finds herself drawn into a high-living group of friends who date Europeans and enjoy meals in restaurants - but she still thinks of Sasha. And we also see Stalin as he ponders how best to seal his reputation as the true heir to Lenin, and discredit and eventually eliminate his rivals. These latter sections can be a bit dry as they detail the political theory of the USSR at that time, but it is never long before we return to another character's point of view. It's like War and peace in the mixture of the personal and the political.
Homegoing is the sort of book that makes you want to read just one more chapter when it's already past time to go to sleep. It begins with two half sisters (who never meet), one of whom marries a slave trader, the other who becomes a slave herself. Each section that follows passes down to the next generation, so we see how each person's life is shaped by their parents' fates. The stories are divided between the USA and Ghana and cover about 200 years of history. Gyasi writes beautifully, in smooth understated prose that is a pleasure to read and while she is writing of some terrible, traumatic things, she never exploits tragedy to manipulate the reader's emotions.
I'm also reading The winter long, in the October Daye series of urban fantasies. In this instalment Toby learns an unwelcome secret about her family background, and discovers that an enemy she'd thought dead has returned to cause destruction to those Toby loves. This series just keeps getting better and better (although I would like to see more of May and Jazz in this one).
>257 FAMeulstee: Darryl loved it too so we are in good company! I expect to finish it today as I brought it to read on the train.
Last night I finished Children of the Arbat and The winter long, two very different books but both immersive reads. Long as it is, Children of the Arbat ends with plenty more story left to tell, so I shall have to seek out the other two books in the trilogy. Sasha, Varya, Sofya Alexandrovna, Yuri and the others are all fascinating characters, and the increasingly oppressive regime is chillingly portrayed.
The winter long sees Toby and those she loves in physical peril (as usual) but somehow I can never get complacent and think "Well, I know she'll get out of trouble in the end" because McGuire has not been afraid to depict real loss and tragedy. The Luidaeg has many moments of awesome in this volume which makes me happy.
I've been lurking for a bit, but I wanted to surface to say thanks for the review of The Bear and the Nightingale. That's been on my list for a bit.
>259 souloftherose: I have seen some very enthusiastic reviews for The stars are legion, but it does seem to be something of a Marmite book. Homegoing is a great read, I hope you like it as much as I did.
>260 cmbohn: I hope you enjoy it. It wasn't perfect, as I noted, but still a great read for a first novel.
I finished Homegoing this weekend and loved it. The high standard of writing, storytelling and character development remained strong, and the ending was very satisfying. While the book contains some dark themes and events Gyasi resists the temptation to milk them and turn the storytelling into melodrama. It's a very good read.
I've also read The feast for the Virago Margaret Kennedy month. The story covers a week in the lives of the staff and guests at a hotel on the Cornish coast. We know from the prologue that a terrible landslide has occurred and that not everyone managed to escape. As we get to know the characters and see their relationships develop it is fun to try and work out who the victims will be - there are some very unlikeable candidates. There is a large cast of characters but Kennedy manages to make them all stand out as individuals. I enjoyed seeing behind the scenes at the hotel and watching some of the characters come out of their shells as they meet new people and leave their everyday lives behind. This is an excellent read that deserves to be more readily available.
I've also read a children's historical novel, A circling star, which is set at the Imperial Theatrical School in St Petersburg in the 1840s. Aniuta is the daughter of servants, whose mistress decides that the mischievous girl would be better off at the school learning to earn her living on the stage than training to be a servant. She gets to know a mix of girls, some talented, some kind, some vain and some sly, and to discover her own gifts - although they are not obvious at first. Most of the usual stage school clichés are avoided - in part due to the historical setting which is well-rendered - and Aniuta has to suffer several setbacks before finding success unexpectedly. This is a lovely book which would appeal to fans of Noel Streatfeild.
I've also finished Urban shaman which I read on kindle after seeing majkia and tardis praise it recently. This was an enjoyable urban fantasy set in Seattle, which follows Joanne as she learns that there is more to life than meets the eye. She is a member of the police force, but only because that was required for her to work for them as a mechanic. However, she is forced to start using her investigatory skills as she gets caught up in the race to stop humans being killed in a fight between a god and his son. I like that (so far) there are no vampires or werewolves in the series, and that the hinted-at love interest is human. I will be reading more of the series.
I've just started reading The way of kings, which has been on my tbr piles for ages. It's a huge hardback edition so I expect it to take me a while to get through but so far I'm enjoying the adventures of Kaladin and Shallan.
I've also just begun reading The witches of New York on my kindle. This tempted me from the shelves of Forbidden Planet last week, but I resisted buying it because I thought I'd seen a review that put me off it. However, I've looked on the usual review sites and can't find anything, and when I saw that it was only 99p on kindle I decided to take a chance. So far this historical novel set in a C19th New York City where magic exists but is forbidden is interesting and well-written.
I read A Circling Star when I was a kid. I can't recall anything about it now, but I must have liked it enough at the time that I can remember that I did read it, and which library shelf I got it from.
Good timing on Way of Kings - the 3rd in the series has just been published. They're all massive, and I believe he's planning 10 or something!
>262 SylviaC: I can imagine you enjoying A circling star and other books by Mara Kay, given what I know of your taste in literature. I wish the books were easier to find - even the recent reprints have sold out already.
>263 zjakkelien: I finished The witches of New York and will review it below. It had good and bad points but overall I was glad to have read it.
>264 reading_fox:, >265 cmbohn:, >266 BookstoogeLT: I think there is no danger of me racing through the first three books and being left waiting for the first 5 book arc to be finished! It is a good read so far but there is a LOT of detail and not being able to carry my copy around limits the amount of time I spend reading it.
I enjoyed The witches of New York for the most part, although there are a few faults I found with it. The details of the city in the 1880s are very well drawn, as the author shows both the squalor and splendour of New York and its residents at all levels of society. I love the idea of the teashop run by the titular witches as a place where women can go for help, support and friendship - its name, Tea and Sympathy, is perfect. (I know there is a real Tea and Sympathy in NYC and I wonder if it is at the same location as this fictional one?!) There are plenty of female characters - strong, weak, good, bad and in between, from all walks of life - and they support rather than compete with each other. My criticism lies mostly with the pacing and the time it takes for the many scattered incidents and characters to coalesce into a plot. I like books that build slowly but this one felt disorganised with lots of random things being thrown into a pot but not mixed together for quite some time. As a result, I was 75% through the book before I felt a sense of urgency - we'd been shown several potential threats before then but they hadn't come into contact with our heroes. There are also some instances where characters do things because the plot (when it arrives) demands it, rather than springing from that person's nature. There are a few loose ends at the end of the book, but if you didn't want to read a sequel (I presume there will be one) you won't be left on a cliffhanger. Most of the book was like exploring a new place and meeting new people, rather than an action packed journey so if you like a quiet historical read (with magic) then this might be for you.
I've also read another Margaret Kennedy, The oracles, which is both the story of a marriage and a satire on modern art criticism. The sculptor Conrad Swann has disappeared and left not only his mistress and their various children, but the artwork he was intending to enter for a competition. Martha Rawson has appointed herself the guardian and promoter of his oeuvre, and when she finds a work in his shed that is a total departure from his usual style she is determined to champion this rather ugly, peculiar piece. Dickie is a young lawyer who desperately wants to learn what is "good" art and culture, and finds himself caught up in Martha's plans for their town to purchase this masterpiece. But his wife, and Conrad's children, know the real secret of the strange sculpture. The satire on the pretentiousness of the art world is very funny, but the impact the sculpture has on those who encounter it is more serious. Dickie and Christina's marriage will never be the same again due to their contact with the Swanns and their world, and the children's lives are seen as less important than their father's art by most of the characters in the book. This wasn't quite as good as The feast but it is still a very good read.
And also this week I read Icon which is the sequel to Persona which I read last year. These are near-future thrillers set in a cut-throat world of political rivalry between the nations. Countries or regions are represented by Faces, who appear in the media, vote in assembly and sit on committees but who basically do as they are told by the real powers behind them. After her near-assassination, Suyana, who represents the United Amazonian Rainforest Coalition, has been having a better year. She is now among the highest profile Faces, meaning more influence for her country on the political scene, she's dating the American Face which brings more power and security as well as trade deals, and no-one has tried to kill her for a while. But her old enemy is not content to rest until her plans come to fruition, meaning more danger for Suyana and her followers, especially as her terrorist contacts have another plan afoot too. This was a good read, exciting and twisty but intelligent with well rounded characters. Occasionally people's motives were a bit too obscure for me but that didn't stop me from enjoying the ride. Suyana is a good character, someone who has learned to play the game required by the media but who underneath is determined to keep her integrity intact. Grace and Martine play a larger role in this book and I was glad to get to know them better too.
I'm still reading The way of kings, though slowly, and on my kindle I've started Under the pendulum sun which is a historical fantasy that imagines men have discovered the land of the Fae. Our heroine has travelled there in search of her missing missionary brother and I'm sure there is mystery and danger to come.
So I've finished a few more books since I last posted.
Under the pendulum sun was an interesting, though ultimately unsatisfying, read for me. I had hoped to love it based on pwaites' enthusiastic review, but for some reason it just didn't excite me. It's set in an era that feels Victorian, with its strong religious fervour, burgeoning technology and discoveries of new worlds - and there are also many references to the Brontes, mostly indirect. Catherine is given permission to travel to the Faelands in search of her brother who went there as a missionary but has stopped corresponding. Upon her arrival Catherine is escorted to the lonely gothic mansion where her brother was living, and told that she must stay there with only a couple of servants, as it's not safe for her to leave. In other words, there is a whole new world out there but neither Catherine or we get to see any of it. We do meet some of the Fae and they are as weird and unpredictable as you would expect, and certainly not to be trusted. I found Catherine's brother to be pretty unpleasant, and wasn't keen on their relationship. Ng is a good writer and has some good ideas but I just didn't find the plotting or the characters very engaging.
I read a short novel by Margaret Mahy, Kaitangata twitch which was pleasant but not one of her best. Meredith and her family live in a semi-rural area of great natural beauty which is threatened by the profit-making schemes of a local developer. As her father and sister try to fight against the changes the local community is divided and secrets from the family's past are revealed. Meredith starts to hear voices and feel the land moving. Does she have the power to stop the development in its tracks? The strength of this book was its even-handed treatment of the pros and cons of the development - Mahy shows that it will benefit many of the local residents even though it means some sacrifice of wild land. But the developer is a bit of a cardboard villain, and Meredith and her family never quite came to life for me - apart from her brother Rufus who loves to stir people up to escalate arguments - I wanted to smack him! The book has been picked up for adaptation on a Maori TV channel, but while Meredith's great uncle is Maori, Meredith didn't seem to identify as one or even to acknowledge that part of herself. With a good cast it could make for decent viewing, however.
I've also read a vintage school story, Triplets at Royders, which follows three sisters as they start boarding school. Sheila won a scholarship, but Robin and Anne's fees have been paid by their uncle and they need to prove that his investment was a wise one. Robin is gifted at music and could go far, if her pride and carelessness don't get in the way. But quiet Anne lacks confidence and is put in a lower set than her sisters in spite of being the same age. How can she prove her worth? This was a nice read, with vivid characters who all have strength and weaknesses. I did feel some plots were resolved too easily, and we didn't get to see Anne's triumph; instead we are told about it second hand after the fact, which was a shame. But overall this was a nice read, if not quite as good as the author's Melling series.
This month in the Virago group we are reading Margaret Atwood, so I'm taking the opportunity to read some of her books that have been on my tbr shelves for a while - mainly the short story collections and non-fiction. However, I started with the short novel The Penelopiad which is a retelling of The odyssey from the point of view of Penelope and the 12 murdered maids. Penelope is a lively, mostly (but not entirely) likeable narrator, sympathetic as a bride who had no say in her marriage, but whose (appropriate for the period) view of slaves as property is unpleasant. There is humour as well as sadness in the story, and Atwood's use of the maids as a chorus is very well done, giving us another perspective on the story. I really enjoyed this.
I've just finished Bluebeard's egg, a collection of Atwood's early stories. A few of these stood out, notably Loulou, the Emma stories, and the first and last tales which felt autobiographical, but mostly the stories left me feeling as though I'd missed the point and failed to understand something vital. Atwood is good at making it clear that neither men not women are saints or angels; all are deeply flawed and not always likeable, but while realistic that doesn't always make for the most enjoyable reading. These were mostly not up to the standard of her more recent collections, Wilderness tips or Stone mattress.
I'm taking a break from Atwood now to read A gentleman in Moscow, which is a book bullet from so many of you that I didn't stand a chance.
I'm still reading The way of kings, very slowly. There is a lot of good stuff in it, but it's not engaging me the way Elantris, Warbreaker or Alloy of law and its sequels did.
I've been dipping into The best American Science fiction and fantasy 2016, of which most of the stories have been excellent. They tend toward the literary end of the genre, and some have only a slight fantastical element, but so far I haven't read one that I felt didn't belong at all (unlike this series' previous incarnation). Catherynne Valente's Planet Lion, The apartment dweller's bestiary by Kij Johnson, The Mushroom Queen, by Liz Ziemska, No Placeholder for You, My Love, by Nick Wolven and Things You Can Buy for a Penny, by Will Kaufman are the standouts so far, with Tea Time, by Rachel Swirsky and Lightning Jack's Last Ride, by Dave Bailey the most disappointing.
And I'm also reading House of binding thorns which is the sequel to House of shattered wings, both books set in a Paris left in ruins after a supernatural war. I admired Shattered wings, but found myself unable to engage with the characters - I felt distanced from their emotions and it was hard to care about their predicaments. However, Binding thorns is a huge improvement. We still follow Madeleine and Philippe from the first book, but new characters are added and the action is set largely in House Hawthorn and the Dragon Kingdom under the Seine. Madeleine's story is far more interesting in this book, and the plot moves much more quickly and is more exciting. Asmodeus, who was unquestionably a villain in the first book is shown to be a more nuanced character here (though still intimidating and ruthless) and in general, the book is less introspective and more active. I'm enjoying it so much more than the first one.
A local theatre company did an adaptation of The Penelopiad which the performed outdoors this summer. I didn't see it, but it got very good reviews.
I may have taken a bullet with Under the Pendulum Sun. I'll let you know how it goes.
>268 Sakerfalcon: I'm taking a break from Atwood now to read A gentleman in Moscow, which is a book bullet from so many of you that I didn't stand a chance.
Did the paperback come out in the UK or did your yearning to read it force you to resort to some alternative plan?
I shall be reading it once I finish the new Nick Harkaway novel which I am enjoying a lot at the moment. (GNOMON)
>269 SylviaC: That sounds great! Having read the book I imagine a stage version would be very effective.
>270 Marissa_Doyle: I will be interested to see if you like it better than I did!
>271 pgmcc: The paperback came out on November 2nd and I bought it on the 3rd :-) I am enjoying it a lot. I'm not keen on the large format paperbacks which you get in Ireland and which we sometimes find here too. In my opinion they combine the disadvantages of hardbacks (weight, price) with the disadvantages of paperbacks (a propensity towards spine-breaking, easily creased corners) but have none of the advantages. However, I have been known to purchase them in moments of weakness. Fortunately my copy of A gentleman in Moscow is the medium size edition which fits nicely in my bag.
I finished House of binding thorns and remain enthusiastic about it by comparison with the first book. I really liked how the characters connected and the plot threads entwined. The whole book was just so much more engaging and exciting. I'm not if de Bodard is going to write more in this universe as everything was drawn into a satisfying conclusion but I would read more if the standard remained this high.
I also finished The best American science fiction and fantasy 2016 which I found a very satisfying collection. I think it would please literary readers as well as genre fans - although the latter might be a bit disappointed if they are expecting the usual tropes and themes of the genres. The last piece was The eternal silence by Ted Chiang, which is the script for a multi media installation which I saw at an exhibition about human-animal relations. It brought a lump to my throat at the time and was just as moving on paper. I'm looking forward to reading some of the other collections in this series.
This weekend I read An unkindness of magicians which is about the power struggles among the magical families of New York City. Every 20 years or so there is a Turning, when all the Houses compete to see who is the strongest, and the results decide who holds power for the next period. It's also an opportunity for outsiders to establish themselves and gain status. Houses can represent themselves or choose a champion - the latter can prove to be a wise move as duels may be deadly. Sydney is a powerful magician whose origins are unknown, but when she is chosen to represent a minor candidate she soon causes a stir with her immense gifts. The title is well-chosen; this is largely an unpleasant group of people and most have their own agendas of revenge, ambition or sabotage. Sydney's power means that she easily bests her competitors in the official duels; however the real action is behind the scenes and far more dangerous. It took me a while to decide whether I liked this book or not; it was a gripping read and fast moving but so many of the characters were deeply unpleasant and I wasn't always convinced by the worldbuilding. However, as the plots thickened and people were forced to decide where their priorities lay we begin to see that several characters defy the ruthlessness that is expected of them and work together for good. There is a serial killer plotline that is a bit clichéd, but allows us to see wonderful collaboration between some of the female characters, both magical and mundane, for example. In the end I think I liked it less than the author's earlier book, Roses and rot, but I still enjoyed it and would read it again.
Now I've started Sisters of the crescent moon on kindle, just because the first book seemed to have potential (although it didn't quite reach it) and I wanted to see where the story went. I've also started Slaves of the lamp by Pamela Frankau, and To trade the stars by Julie Czerneda.
More books finished this weekend ...
A gentleman in Moscow was a delightful read, just as good as I'd been led to expect. Alexander Rostov is a very likeable and interesting character, which is just as well as he is at the heart of the book. The other major character has to be the Metropole Hotel itself, with its many rooms, corridors, kitchens and public spaces. Within its doors, Rostov - and the reader - will discover secrets and intrigues and get to know the people who work and stay in the hotel. The book covers a span of 40 years, which naturally we don't see every moment of - that would make for a very long book. Instead, we dip in and out to witness key moments and incidents that shape Rostov's life, the hotel and even Russia itself. The book is basically a fantasy - we see very little of the hardships and fear that most Russians faced during this period, and it seems unlikely that Rostov would have been left to his relatively benign fate by Stalin and his cronies. That makes this a great read for when you want to escape the harshness of the world and find comfort in good friendships, quirky acquaintances and the safety of an enclosed society.
I also finished Sisters of the Crescent Moon, which continues the story of the imperial daughters after they've been exiled from the capital. Again we see events through each sister's eyes and through their understanding. Elise is sympathetic to the rebellion and the plight of the common folk but the other sisters are either fearful of the new regime or attempting to regain the power they once had. This is a very obvious retelling of the Russian Revolution with magic and some steampunk-type technology added; as such, we know that the ending will not be upbeat. I found the sisters a bit too similar; given that they range in age from 6 to 18 there should be much clearer distinctions between their narrative voices. This was a pleasant enough read but it should have had a much greater sense of tension and threat given the dangers that the sisters face. It doesn't really bring anything new to the real-life events upon which it is based.
To trade the stars was a decent conclusion to the Trade Pact trilogy by Julie Czerneda, although I didn't like it quite as much as I did the first two instalments. It took about 100 pages for me to feel engaged with the book - after Sira and Morgan are separated, basically. Sira is pretty stupid to get herself captured - it needed to happen for the rest of the plot to unfold, but the way it takes place undermines the supposed strength and intelligence of her character. The Drapsk are as cute and infuriating as before (I do like Czerneda's aliens!) and we learn a lot more about Huido's species which is fun. I'm just not that keen on the way she writes romantic relationships, and I didn't really like the scenes where Sira and Morgan are together - I can't quite put my finger on why that is. (I didn't like the couple in In the company of others either, and I hated the romances in A turn of light.) But apart from that I do enjoy Czerneda's work and I'm looking forward to starting Beholder's eye and its sequels.
I've also read a short, old-fashioned fantasy novel, The serpent's egg by Caroline Stevermer. The wicked Duke of Tilbury has far too much influence on the Queen, and has subtly arranged the deaths of some of her loyal followers. But the Queen trusts him and doesn't look kindly on those who criticise. Her nephew and heir, the royal scholar, a lady in waiting, a minstrel, a gambler and a soldier must work together to foil Tilbury's plotting and reveal the truth to the queen. This was a fun read, a bit cliched but with nice characters and fast pacing. It's not as original as her later books but a solid start.
And I also read Hag seed for the Virago Margaret Atwood month. This is part of the Hogarth series of novels based on Shakespeare's plays, and this one tackles The tempest. Felix is a theatre director at the top of his game, when his assistant manages to depose him and take on his job. Felix retreats into lonely solitude in the country, living with his memories of his dead wife and daughter and nursing thoughts of vengeance. After some years of solitude he takes on the job of teaching English in a prison, and when he hears that his old rival, now high in the government, will be visiting the prison, Felix hatches a plan. This is a very creative and effective take on the original play, as well as an excellent book in its own right. The scenes where Felix is creating his version of The tempest with his class of inmates and we see the production coming together as the men get on board are thrilling and inspiring. I had my doubts as to how the revenge plot would work, but it is brilliantly realised. I'd recommend the book to anyone who likes theatre as well as to Atwood fans.
I'm still reading Slaves of the lamp, and have started Curious pursuits and The traitor's daughter.
I do wish Julie's books were more readily available as ebooks. I might have to actually buy the paper versions!
>274 reading_fox: You'd think the publishers don't want to sell her books ... it's ridiculous!
>275 jnwelch: I agree with you. At first I had my doubts about how well the book would work as an adaptation of The Tempest, but Atwood rarely disappoints. I would love it if films existed of those prison productions of the plays!
So I finished The traitor's daughter which was a good read. It's not the first novel it claims to be: Paula Brandon is actually Paula Volsky whose work I've loved for many years. I'm not quite sure why she is using a different name, because this novel has a very similar feel to her earlier work. Jianna is a pretty, rather spoiled 18 year old who adores, and is adored by, her father. In her eyes he can do no wrong, although to their fellow citizens he is a traitor and scoundrel of the worst degree. For they live in a city under occupation, and Jianna's father has done extremely well for himself by co-operating with the invaders against his fellows. He arranges a good marriage for Jianna in a nearby city, but while she is travelling there her carriage is attacked, her servants killed and she finds herself imprisoned by a sadistic woman and her family. It soon becomes clear that there are unpleasant plans being made for Jianna that do not involve her being ransomed and set free. The cover and blurb of this book make it look like a romance, which it really isn't. It's a fantasy, with quite a lot of cruelty, darkness and political themes, although also it has a dry humour at times. There is magic too, although it's a bit more like alchemy and has to be practiced in secret by those with the gift. There is also at least one non-human race, the Sishmindri, who are enslaved and thoroughly oppressed. I have the two sequels already and will be reading them soon to find out what happens next to Jianna and those who are rebelling against the occupation of their country.
I've also finished Curious pursuits, which contained essays, articles, speeches and reviews by Margaret Atwood dating from the 1970s to 2005. Most of them talk about writing to a greater or lesser extent - writing as a woman, as a Canadian, as a career, her own books and those of others. Even if you are not an Atwood fan I'd recommend this if you are interested in literature.
To end Margaret Atwood month I managed to fit in Moral disorder, a fairly recent collection of stories which centre around a woman's life. We see her as the young daughter of slightly eccentric parents, before she herself marries and becomes a mother, then as an older woman with aging parents. Most are written in the 1st person with the narrator nameless, but in the middle of the book the voice switches to third person and we learn that the woman's name is Nell. All of the stories were good, though I think my favourite was The entities, about houses and homes; it features the wonderful Lillie who sounds like the nicest estate agent ever. Animal lovers may wish to be warned that in the title story and White Horse bad things happen to animals - mainly as a result of normal or accidental farming life. Highly recommended.
I'm still reading Slaves of the lamp, which continues the story of the Weston family from Sing for your supper. Gerald is now a successful actor, following in their father's footsteps; Sarah has written a book and left her husband but now has writers' block; and Thomas is working in advertising but having moral qualms about the claims he is forced to make about certain products. As it is 1937, there are also disturbing reports from mainland Europe and the threat of war is in the air. Thomas is the main focus of the book, and particularly his relationship with Romney Butler, his employer. The two are constantly, though unintentionally, at odds and their lives keep entangling in different ways. Thomas must also come to terms with his psychic gifts, which he has renounced out of fear but has been persuaded to use against his better judgement. This is a fascinating and compelling look at life between the wars through a very unusual last of characters.
I've just started Company town, a Canadian SF novel which is set on a city-sized oil platform in the north Atlantic. Life there is rough and our heroine Hwa seems to be at a disadvantage without the biotech modifications that have become standard in this society. The book has grabbed me right from the start and I'm eager to see more of Hwa and her unusual environment.
And I'm over half way through The way of kings and very much enjoying it. I must confess to finding the first 300 or so pages rather plodding and a bit tedious, but now there have been some major events in our protagonists' lives which have increased the tension in the book.
>277 zjakkelien: It was a great read!
I finished Company town over the weekend and really enjoyed it, though I felt that the ending came out of nowhere and wasn't successfully integrated with the rest of the story. There were a very few clues hidden in the narrative, but not nearly enough to give the reader a chance to figure out the mystery. I also wasn't convinced by the villain's rationale for the killings (though I think it is clearly indicated that the reason he gives only covers his deeper desires). In spite of that I really liked this book. Hwa, Daniel and Joel are great characters, the worldbuilding is fascinating and vivid and the suspense and action are high. The Lynch family strongly reminded me of the Cortas in Ian McDonald's Luna, with their politics and alliances, although Joel's siblings are not major characters as their equivalents in Luna are. It's not a comfort read; New Arcadia is a harsh world and the plot contains violence and some gruesome murders, but I'd gladly read more set here.
I also finished Slaves of the lamp which was an excellent read. I like the Weston family who make interesting and mostly likeable protagonists, and the background of life in London in the lead-up to WWII is well drawn. The book is more frank about sex than one written at the time would have been, I suspect, but the ability to delve deeper into that aspect of the characters' lives is actually relevant and adds complications to their stories. I will be reading the final part of the trilogy quite soon. Pamela Frankau is an author whose work should be more readily available.
Last night I read the whole of Mira Grant's novella Rolling in the deep, which is the story of a failed (or perhaps too successful) expedition to the Mariana Trench in search of mermaids. It has been organised by a TV channel who make scientific "documentaries" for the popular market, and in addition to the ship's crew, TV crew, and scientists aboard, there is also a troupe of professional "mermaids" to ensure the camera get the footage they need. We know from the very start of the novella that everyone on the ship will die, but this doesn't make the suspense any less. Grant introduces her characters and sets the scene briskly but clearly, building up to the moment when everyone realises that things are going very wrong. This is a very short read, but that actually brought home to me just how quickly the disaster occurs in the narrative. And it doesn't lack for horror or emotional punch despite its brevity. I just bought Grant's latest novel which is set some years after this incident, and am looking forward to finding out more about the mysteries of the deep. How on earth does Grant/McGuire write so many high quality books each year? By my count she currently has the Toby Daye, Incryptid and this series on the go!
I think I have a couple of hundred pages still to go in The way of kings, and I'm now thoroughly immersed in the action and invested in the characters. It took a long time; I really could have done without large sections of the first half of the book, where both Kaladin and Dalinar are angsting - their narratives were too similar, both men being noble but wronged and misunderstood, only Dalinar has power whereas Kaladin had none. I was so thankful when Shallan's story was reintroduced. Now that we are treated to more action and less agonised interior monologue the book is much better.
This month in the Virago group we are reading Sylvia Townsend Warner, and I've chosen to start with The true heart. This is a lovely tale of Sukey Bond, a penniless orphan sent into service at a remote farm, and the "simple" man with whom she falls in love. Eric's mother is horrified at the thought of her son marrying someone so low (though she didn't want anything to do with such an embarrassing son herself), and separates the couple ruthlessly. Sukey is determined to marry Eric and save him from being sent to an asylum, so she hits upon the plan of asking Queen Victoria for help. Sukey is a very appealing heroine, naïve but determined, and she falls in with several people along the way who help her with her quest. The landscape of Essex, where most of the story takes place, is beautifully described; this overlooked and oft-maligned part of England is rarely portrayed so sensitively. The book is a delightful read.
I'm also reading Seven surrenders, the sequel to Too like the lightning which I enjoyed earlier this year. Both books are challenging reads, and often disturbing, but fascinating and complex. I think most readers will either love or loathe this series.
And for something lighter I'm dipping into one of the Valdemar anthologies, Moving targets, in which fantasy authors write stories set in Mercedes Lackey's universe of Heralds, Healers and Bards. The quality of the stories varies but they are undemanding reads on a cold winter's evening.
>278 Sakerfalcon: I agree completely with your assessment of Company Town. I thought it seemed like one type of science fiction for most of the book, then suddenly turned into another type at the end. And the violence was really horrible.
>279 Marissa_Doyle: I love virtually everything I've read by Frankau, and it's a shame more of her books haven't been reprinted. I don't know how easy this trilogy will be to find in the US, but The winged horse and A wreath for the enemy are both excellent and might be easier to get hold of. Both of those titles are similar to the trilogy in that they are centred round creative, intelligent families.
>280 SylviaC: I agree with your comments about Hwa at the end. I've just read another book that does a similar thing (Ironskin) and I disliked that far more. I have Ashby's earlier novel, vN which I will try and read soon.
I finished The way of kings! It was a long journey, and a slow one at times, but the pace picked up dramatically in the second half of the book. Too much of the first part felt like filler, with repetitive incidents and battle scenes dominating the narrative. I was not happy that we lost Shallan's sections for a couple of hundred pages meaning that we had no female characters at all (unless you count Syl, who is described as female but she's a sort of elemental spirit). There was humour in the form of some supposedly witty banter that more-often-than-not fell flat for me, mainly because the light tone felt out of place in an otherwise epic work. Sanderson leaves us with plenty of hooks to make sure we pick up the next book - although I wouldn't say that the first one ends on a cliffhanger, more that our major characters are placed on new paths. I'm looking forward to seeing where they go next, but so far I don't love the series the way I do the Alloy of law and its sequels.
This weekend I read Ironskin, a fantasy novel loosely based on Jane Eyre. Jane Elliott has been left scarred by an incident in the Great War against the Fae, meaning that she must wear a mask of iron to control the magical infection. She answers an advertisement for a post as governess to a child in a "delicate situation", which Jane realises means that the girl too is Fae-touched. The child's father, Edward Rochart, is a brooding artist, visited in secret by some of society's most prominent and beautiful women - but what is the connection between them and the hideous masks which hang in Edward's studio? The history of this world is excellent - the aftermath of a terrible war against the fae which left lands and people scarred by magic, with a technology and fashions reminiscent of the early C20th. However, I felt the character development was lacking. We, and Jane, barely see Edward, which makes their romance seem to come out of nowhere and is most implausible as a result. He's also quite dull as a character with none of the original Rochester's teasing dialogue. I did like that Jane's relationship with the daughter is an important part of the story, more so than the equivalent scenes in JE. The other staff at the house are mostly in the background until one takes a greater role towards the end, and she is pretty awesome, more so than Jane. Another intriguing character is Jane's sister Helen, who is the focus of the sequel to Ironskin. I liked Jane well enough until near the end of the book when she makes a decision that really annoyed me. This was a frustrating book in that there were lots of good things but almost as many that didn't work for me, meaning that it is not a keeper. However, the other two parts of the trilogy look to be potentially much more interesting, so if I find affordable copies I will give them a try.
I also read a fun YA novel by the same author, Seriously wicked, which is the story of Camellia who was kidnapped as a child and brought up by an evil witch in suburban America. The witch is constantly scheming to take over the world, and Cam finds herself trying to thwart these plans while not using any magic herself (because that would make her as wicked as the woman who is not her mother). A lot of the book is set in Cam's high school, so we see her quirky and awesome best friend, the mean girl, the cute new boy and the science geek who tutors her in Algebra, with all the usual sort of social interactions you'd expect. When Cam's definitely-not-my-mother decides to try and capture a demon to help her with her plans, Cam is forced to take action and in doing so she learns a lot about herself and her friends. This was a nice little read which I'd recommend to young teens and those who like female-centred YA.
Still reading Seven surrenders and dipping into Moving targets, and have just started Summer will show for Sylvia Townsend Warner month.
ETA I'm also reading Ruin of angels on my kindle. I love Max Gladstone's series so much that I've tried to eke it out but this is currently the last book. I hope there is another one on the way as it's one of the most unique fantasy series around at the moment.
>282 Marissa_Doyle: Great news about the Frankau! I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.
Hey Sakerfalcon, I didn't see a thread for 2018 yet so I starred this one for when you make it.
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