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Sakerfalcon makes a belated start to 2018

This is a continuation of the topic Sakerfalcon is still trying to reduce Mount Tbr in 2017.

The Green Dragon

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Edited: Jan 5, 8:59am Top

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for all your comments and book bullets last year; I hope to enjoy your company again as I make further attempts to reduce my Tbr piles.

I read mostly F & SF, women's fiction from the 20th century (especially titles published by Virago and Persephone presses), children's literature (especially girls' school and pony stories), YA and basically anything shiny that takes my fancy. I always start the year intending to read more non-fiction, and regularly fail to do so. This year I have a big stack of books about Russia which I'd like to work my way through, but other than that I don't have specific reading plans.

I ended 2017 by reading a lot of books that I didn't have time to post about. So here is a summary:

Seven surrenders: This sequel to Too like the lightning demanded a lot of concentration that I didn't really have. There is much to admire in these SF novels which blend Enlightenment philosophy with future sociology and politics, but they are dense reads and I didn't really enjoy this one.

Summer will show: This was a very good read. The traditional English country house setting soon gives way to Paris during the first days of the Revolution in 1848. Sophia has always felt stifled by her role as lady of the manor and provider of heirs, but when this life is brutally shaken she finds herself shocked and bewildered, and the only plan she can think of is to track down her estranged husband and try to have another child. However, her plans change abruptly when she meets her husband's mistress Minna for the first time, and Sophia finds herself living a totally different life and mixing with types of people whom she has never before encountered. Sophia is certainly not always likeable but she is interesting, and through her we get a vivid picture of the exciting, turbulent and dangerous days of the French Revolution. This was an excellent book and I'm glad to have read it.

Shiny pretty things: A YA soap opera set in a prestigious NYC ballet school. I will read pretty much anything about ballet but at times the overheated teen hormones and bitchiness was too much. I feel that in real life the school administration would have done more to try and identify the bullies and stop them, but I guess if that happened there wouldn't be much of a book.

Geekerella: Not sure why but I'm on a YA kick at the moment, after not reading any for months. This was a cute take on the Cinderella story about the relationship that develops between a super fangirl and the pretty-boy actor who will be taking on the role of one of her favourite characters. While the basis in fairy tale makes a lot of the plot twists predictable, it is fun to map the parallels between the two - my favourite is the fairy godmother and her pumpkin!

The wanderers: I read this over Christmas while I was staying at my parents' house. It focuses on three astronauts and their loved ones as the three enter an 18 month long simulation of a Mars mission. Helen, Sergei and Yoshi are all experienced and have been chosen as their personalities mean they should work well as a team. This is really a study of character rather than an SF novel (it's not been marketed as the latter, but one reviewer compared it to The martian which is totally misleading). Thankfully the three do get along, so the book doesn't descend into some "Big Brother" house hell; the characters' dramas are mostly internal and quite subtle. I enjoyed it, though not as much as Howrey's earlier novel, Cranes dance.

On my kindle I read A long day in Lychford, which was another excellent novella in the series, and Agents of Dreamland, a Lovecraftian SF/horror/thriller novella which was very good.

Over New Year I read Star's End, which is about a woman, Esme, who is due to take over from her 300-year-old father as CEO of the family business. They own a small planetary system whose main business is manufacturing and selling weapons. As such, there are clearly some serious moral dilemmas which our heroine must face, not least dealing with her father's exploitation of his youngest daughter, Esme's half sister. I found this an engrossing read, although because Esme is determined to hang in there until she can take over and reform the company, she comes across as a bit passive and willing to go along with some morally reprehensible acts. It's a thought-provoking book.

My first completed books of 2018 are Psion by Joan D. Vinge and Keeper of the mist by Rachel Neimeier. The former follows Cat, a half-alien telepath as he gets sucked into political conspiracies and power grabs and must decide where his loyalties and priorities lie. It's quite good but not great. The latter is a YA fantasy which feels very like something Robin McKinley could have written, although apart from the heroine I didn't think the characters were as vivid.

I'm currently reading Marmee and Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her mother Abigail, The unfinished life of Addison Stone, a YA novel that pieces together the life of a recently deceased young artist who lived hard and burned bright, and Strands of starlight, an older historical fantasy novel.

Sorry for such a long first post; I hope you are still with me! I'll try and catch up more often now!

Jan 5, 8:56am Top

Hi, Claire. I have been watching for your 2018 thread so I could grab a ringside seat. I hope you have a great year.

Jan 5, 9:20am Top

I always look forward to your thread. So many good books!!!

Jan 5, 10:13am Top

Still with you? But of course. Happy new year and good reading.

Jan 5, 12:25pm Top

Looking forward to following your thread again this year!

Jan 5, 1:55pm Top

Happy to have found your 2018 thread Claire!

>1 Sakerfalcon: I have Too Like the Lightning but am a little bit nervous about trying it because I've heard people say it's quite a difficult read. Doesn't sound like the sequels get any easier...

I'm really behind with reading the Tor.com novellas but A long day in Lychford and Agents of Dreamland are both ones I've been meaning to try. I heard the latter was inspired by Lovecraft's Cthulhu - do you think you need to have read Lovecraft to appreciate it?

Jan 5, 2:14pm Top

Glad to see you posting! I've got you starred.

Jan 5, 2:54pm Top

You're a star in my LT constellation as well.

Jan 5, 4:06pm Top

Glad you started a new one. That 2017 one was getting a little slow to load...

Jan 5, 4:54pm Top

Following along for another year. Happy reading!

Jan 5, 6:28pm Top

Present and reporting for book-bullet catching duties...

Jan 5, 6:59pm Top

Happy New Year, I shall limber up ready to dodge the bullets, though I'm hoping my new lurking position is adequately concealed not to get hit too often.

Jan 5, 8:55pm Top

Summer Will Show sounds fabulous. Gah! I really need to read Warner. I've had her The Corner That Held Them on Mt. TBR for ages.

Edited: Jan 6, 5:24am Top

>2 pgmcc: Welcome to your front-row seat! It's good to see you!

>3 SylviaC: I can say the same about your thread!

>4 Jim53: Thank you!

>5 zjakkelien: Looking forward to your comments and suggestions. Our reading tastes converge quite a lot.

>6 souloftherose: Welcome! I'd say you can read Agents of Dreamland without having read any Lovecraft and still enjoy it. It's a very creepy take on alien invasion.

>7 jillmwo: Thank you!

>8 Meredy: I'm glad you're here!

>9 BookstoogeLT: I was thinking I'd split it halfway through the year but hadn't got to enough posts, so carried on. By the time it was long enough to be unwieldy there wasn't much of the year left. I'm glad you kept reading anyway!

>10 Narilka: Thanks, you too! You deserve some good reading amid all your work woes.

>11 Marissa_Doyle: Ha! You and I do exchange friendly fire a lot, don't we!

>12 Peace2: I see you over there ...

>13 libraryperilous: I loved The corner that held them too, but then I find books about convents to be interesting anyway. Warner is such a good writer and each of her books seems to be different from the others.

I finished The unfinished life of Addison Stone last night. This YA novel was told through a patchwork of narrators, some magazine articles, photos and artwork, telling the story of an artist who became a cult figure at a very young age. Though she lived in the glare of the spotlight she still managed to slip through the cracks, the severity of her problems missed despite the intense scrutiny of others. Her friends, family and people in the NYC art scene tell of her life, each with their own biases. I love books written like this and would say it was like a teen version of Night film or City on fire in terms of themes and structure though with a narrower focus than those books.

A bit more about Marmee and Louisa - this is excellent so far. The author's premise is that LMA's mother had as much, if not more influence on her daughter as her more famous father, and there seems to be plenty of evidence to support this so far. Abigail is pretty awesome, passionate about women's education and a supporter of abolition at a time when the majority of New Englanders were violently opposed.

Jan 6, 10:17am Top

Hmm, I have Marmee and Louisa on my e-reader...maybe it's time to actually read it.

Jan 6, 12:39pm Top

Happy New Year, Claire!

I look forward to following your reading again this year.

Have you read God Stalk? There's a group read going on for it. I'm about halfway through and it's a fun read.

Jan 6, 12:44pm Top

>14 Sakerfalcon: Yes, I noticed! One of the reasons yours is one of my favourite threads.

Jan 7, 2:16pm Top

Happy New Year!

The Lychford series is one of the few contemporary-set fantasies high on my radar. I'll have to look into Marmee and Louisa, too.

Jan 8, 10:31am Top

Just dropping in to say hello, Claire. I second >16 jnwelch: Joe's recommendation for God Stalk.

Jan 8, 10:36am Top

>15 Marissa_Doyle: I'm into the last third and still enjoying it!

>16 jnwelch: Happy New Year to you and Debbi! I'm looking forward to seeing you both in person this year! I read God stalk a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I'm following the thread and seeing if it moves me to reread.

>17 zjakkelien: :-)

>18 kceccato: The Lychford books have such a great trio of heroines that I think you will really like them. And Marmee and Louisa is terrific so far.

>19 humouress: I may find myself getting sucked into a reread as I eavesdrop on the thread! I do have most of the later books so might start a read of the whole series.

Edited: Jan 10, 8:24am Top

I finished Marmee and Louisa and thought it was an excellent double biography. The author really does pay at least as much attention to Abigail as to her more famous daughter, and through her we see the early days of abolitionism and feminism, which I found fascinating. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in Alcott or the history of C19th America. Now I need to take The Peabody sisters off my Tbr pile and read it.

In its place as my commuting book I'm reading the totally different vN, having enjoyed the same author's Company town in spite of its quite major flaws. This book lacks the fascinating and compelling setting, but Amy the protagonist soon caught my attention and now I'm enjoying the action.

I'm also reading the final book in the Indranan War trilogy, Beyond the empire, which is an action-packed, fast paced read. Hail and her motley band of followers must find and defeat some powerful enemies to secure her throne and the stability of the empire. It's a great read but I'm afraid some of the characters I've grown to care about are going to meet sad ends.

Strands of starlight is an interesting but quite dark alt historical fantasy. Set in a version of Mediaeval Europe with the Inquisition ever increasing in power, it looks at religious intolerance and the oppression of women and dissenters, and adds elves and magic into the mix. There is a rape which is key to the plot; sadly, given the background, this feels all too plausible an occurrence. I've come to care about the community of St Brigid, a "Free Town" whose tolerance is about to be stamped on by the powers-that-be.

>16 jnwelch:, >19 humouress: OK, I've been sucked into rereading God stalk! Tai-Tastigon has to be one of the best fantasy cities ever written, IMO.

Jan 10, 8:55am Top

>21 Sakerfalcon: Good grief. I've been in the pub for less than half an hour and been hit by two book bullets this morning. I must be moving slow. I have Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs on my shelf and I remember enjoying it. I have always been fascinated by Marmee. Rather one of my ideals when raising my own children.

Jan 10, 9:14am Top

Just added Marmee and Louisa to my TBR list based on your comments. Last year, I read Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott and this sounds like an ideal follow-up.

Jan 10, 9:46am Top

God Stalk sounds intriguing. Our library here doesn't have it; I'll have to check the new one next month.

Jan 10, 10:00am Top

>16 jnwelch: which group? Looks fun although it gets some mixed reviews.

Jan 10, 12:03pm Top

The Peabody Sisters was very good. What an interesting trio of women!

Jan 13, 7:05am Top

>22 MrsLee: It's a dangerous place where so many booklovers are together!

>23 MinuteMarginalia: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'd like to get hold of the letters now.

>24 Jim53: It's had a complicated publishing history, but Baen have the whole series so far in print, so with luck your library will be able to track the first (omnibus) volume down for you.

>25 reading_fox: I'm really enjoying it, though it's not perfect. Tai-Tastigon is a fun place to read about. The thread is here (if I can remember how to do this ...)

>26 Marissa_Doyle: Glad you thought it was a good bio of them. I enjoyed the same author's Margaret Fuller: a new American life a couple of years ago. The Peabody sisters pop up in so many books about this period that it's time I read about them as the main focus!

I finished a couple more books to end the working week.

vN was a bit of a disappointment, as it failed to engage me the way Company town did, in spite of that book's flaws. While the plot elements were better integrated, I didn't find the setting as interesting and didn't really care about the characters as I did those in CT. Amy is a vN, or sentient artificial human, child to a vN/human couple. In order to give her as normal a childhood as possible they've kept her on a special diet so that she ages at the same rate as a human child. Usually vN's come to maturity within a few months, it seems. When Amy's mother is attacked by a vN claiming to be her grandmother, Amy's instincts take over and she devours the woman in front of her kindergarten and all the parents. What a great beginning to the story, right? But after that the plot is that Amy grows to maturity at once (as a result of the extra nutrients she consumed) and goes on the run. VN's are supposed to have a "failsafe" to keep them from harming humans and to want to please and serve them (like Asimov's robot laws) but Amy's model is clearly defective in that regard. The book looks at issues of what constitutes a human, and of consent and agency, but although some parts of the story are exciting, mostly it just didn't make me care.

On the other hand, Beyond the empire was a great conclusion to the Indranan war trilogy. Hail and her gang must overcome some major political and military obstacles to retake the throne and bring stability to her people. There is a lot of creativity in the characterization and tactics in the book which make it far more interesting than a series of battles would have been. There were some losses of beloved characters but it wasn't as bad as I feared, and the deaths weren't milked for effect. This was a solid and very enjoyable series, a good mix of action and thoughtfulness, humour and emotion.

Now I'm going to start reading The Peabody sisters, although that will be a "home" read as I have the hardback edition. I haven't yet chosen my next "commuting" book.

Jan 13, 9:28am Top

I did my senior year history project in college on Alcott. The recommendations for Marmee and Louisa as well as for The Peabody Sisters is making me wonder if I shouldn't find time to revisit the period.

Jan 13, 9:52am Top

>27 Sakerfalcon: I’m happy to hear Beyond The Empire is out! I must have missed seeing it on my library’s acquisition list. I enjoyed the previous books.

Jan 13, 4:12pm Top

Found and starred :-)

Jan 14, 6:14am Top

>27 Sakerfalcon: Looks like I should add the Indranan war trilogy to my wishlist. Sounds right up my space lane.

Jan 15, 8:56am Top

>28 jillmwo: That must have been a fun project to research! There have certainly been some good recent books published about the period (including the two mentioned and the Margaret Fuller bio) that you might enjoy another foray.

>29 tardis: This was a good conclusion to the trilogy. The author is writing a second series that follows on from this one, but you are not left on a cliffhanger at the end of Beyond the empire.

>30 FAMeulstee: Welcome! It's good to "see" you here!

>31 AHS-Wolfy: I think you'd enjoy it quite a bit.

This weekend I read Vision in silver, the third book in Anne Bishop's Others series. It was so good to be back in Lakeside with Meg, Simon and the rest of the community. They are facing several new challenges in this book - how to care for the vulnerable girls who were released from captivity in the previous book; how to work with human allies; a possible shortage of food and resources; and the rise of the destructive Humans First and Last (HFL) movement. It's quite hard to read about the latter, as their rhetoric is all too familiar from the racist and xenophobic movements of our own world; but then it is satisfying when the Others and the sympathetic humans manage to work together in spite of them. This volume has less action than the previous two, but it's good to see more of the world of the Others and learn about the forces which shape it. We also see Meg suffering some setbacks and learning more about herself. I really like this series and am looking forward to the next 2 instalments.

I also read While the music lasted, the sequel to She shall have music. At the end of the earlier book, Karen had won a scholarship to study the piano at a London college. This book sees her move into lodgings with a family and other students, making friends, developing her talent and experiencing first love. As it is 1937 when the book opens, we also see the political situation in Europe encroach upon Karen's world. It was really interesting to see how the crises and accommodations in the pre-War years affected the general British public, and the variety of responses to the situations. I was less satisfied with the love story, as Karen's partner Andy is a musical genius with a tendency to self-centredness. He cares passionately about the fate of the Jews in Europe, but when something happens in the world that he dislikes he becomes overwrought and almost incapable of functioning - not something that would be helpful to a professional musician, you'd think, and certainly not the basis for a good marriage. Still, this was a nice story with lots to enjoy, not least Andy's pragmatic mother, the only non-musical person in the household.

I've started to read Three daughters of Eve, a novel about Turkish women set today and in the 1980s, which is very interesting so far. Also The vigilante poets of Selwyn Academy, a YA novel about an artsy high school which has been taken over for a reality TV show. Ethan and his friends start a campaign to restore their school's integrity. It's quite funny so far.

Jan 20, 9:25pm Top

While the Music Lasted and The Vigilante Poets both sound very intriguing. The Indranan series hadn't been on my radar, but it sounds like it might be worth it. Some of the reviews make it sound like it might be a bit similar to the Ancillary books, in the sense that they also touched on the ramifications of empire.

Edited: Jan 22, 8:59am Top

>33 libraryperilous: I would say that the Indranan war trilogy is lighter and more mainstream in feel than Leckie's work, but still thoughtful and a huge amount of fun to read. It does feature a range of interesting female characters both good and bad, and shows that a matriarchy is not the peaceful fair utopia that we might like to think it would be.

I finished Three daughters of Eve which I enjoyed quite a bit. I found Peri to be sympathetic - true, her hesitancy and caution could be annoying but I felt that I would have been just as timid and tongue-tied in similar situations. I had expected the book to centre around the friendship of the three young women at Oxford, but actually it is very much about Peri's own emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey with fewer scenes with the other women than I'd expected. I very much enjoyed the 2016 scenes, where Peri is the conventional wife of a businessman, mingling with social climbers in an amusing satire on class and materialism. I was very relieved that Peri's backstory didn't go where I expected I was dreading a "naïve student sleeps with her tutor" storyline and what did happen seems a reasonable cause for her change in direction. I wasn't so interested in the discussions of God and belief, but as it was a theme that ran through Peri's life they weren't out of place. This was an interesting book that I'm glad to have read.

I've also finished Chronicles of the Kencyrath, which contains God stalk and Dark of the moon. While the first book is set in the fascinating city of Tai Tastigon, the sequel takes us into remote mountains and river valleys. The narrative is split between Jame and her brother Torisen, whom she is seeking. Torisen is High Lord, holding together a fractious alliance of minor lords and nobles at a time when a ghastly horde is threatening their lands. Time and space behave very strangely in this world and it becomes clear that Jame and her brother are of a strange heritage. The plot was a bit loose and rambling at times, with lots of little things thrown in that I'm sure are going to be important later in the series. Fortunately there was plenty of action and intrigue to make this a mostly satisfying instalment.

I also finished The vigilante poets of Selwyn academy which was a fun read. Ethan and his friends are determined to expose the corruption and greed behind the reality TV show which has taken over their school for filming. Using poetry, illicit printmaking, computer hacking and a very heroic gerbil, our heroes come up with a plan. The teens aren't quite as funny as the author wants them to be, and I feel that Jackson and Elizabeth could have been fleshed out more, but this is still an amusing and affectionate book.

Jan 22, 1:47pm Top

>34 Sakerfalcon: Heroic gerbil? I’m intrigued. :0)

Jan 22, 8:23pm Top

Happy belated New Year, Claire. I'll be dropping in when I can. (And dodging bullets!)

Jan 23, 10:27am Top

>34 Sakerfalcon: Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy sounds intriguing. If you read it in hardcopy, was the format/design part of the appeal of the book? (I ask because that element is sometimes lost in ebook format, which means using other routes to investigate the work.)

Edited: Jan 24, 8:35am Top

>35 humouress: His name is Baconnaise; all the family pets are named for condiments!

>36 clamairy: Welcome again! I'm glad you stopped by!

>37 MinuteMarginalia: I did read it in hardcopy but the physical formatting is conventional. Each chapter starts with a verse of the poem, but you don't see the illustrations or graphic design; they are just mentioned.

I've started and finished Infomocracy since I last posted. It's a political near-future SF novel about elections, which may hit a bit close to reality for some. It imagines that the world is no longer organised by nations, but in units of 100,000 citizens, called centenals. Each centenal is able to vote for its own government, which might be corporate, nationalist, based on a single issue, etc. Elections are held every 10 years, and this book is set just before the 3rd such event. I found it quite a hard set-up to imagine, but the physical reality of this world is quite well described, such as how you know when you have crossed into another centenal (a bit like crossing a state line - the road quality may deteriorate or improve, signage and laws may change, etc). We follow Daniel, a campaigner/researcher for the idealist Policy1st party; Mishima, who works for Information, the non-partisan body which distributes information to every citizen thus enabling them to make informed choices; and Domaine who is opposed to micro democracy and working to undermine it. Despite being unnecessarily written in the present tense I did enjoy reading this; the issues were interesting, the action was exciting and the characters and settings were interesting. I never really understood how the world was able to make the transition from our current state to the system in the book; it's kind of explained but still didn't really make sense to me. Despite that it's an interesting and worthwhile read.

Now I'm reading a YA dark urban fantasy, Nightstruck, which appealed to me because it's set in Philadelphia, where I used to live. The author has captured the city really well, and the story of dark forces haunting the city by night is exciting.
I'm still reading The Peabody sisters which is an excellent biography which balances general historical detail with the story of the sisters and their family.
And for my commuting book I've just started After the death of Don Juan, which imagines what Dona Ana, Don Ottavio and Leporello might have done after the original tale ended.

Jan 24, 9:55am Top

>38 Sakerfalcon: You may have hit me with Nightstruck--I went to university outside Philly.

Jan 24, 11:26am Top

>32 Sakerfalcon: - I haven't decided how much more to read of the Others, the next book Marked in Flesh seemed to come to a natural stopping point as the HFLissue is resolved. There are at least another two but the fun seemed to be going from them and I haven't yet continued.

Jan 24, 11:37am Top

Belated Happy New Year, Claire! I'm slowly catching up with the threads, including my own. It looks as though you've had a good start to 2018; keep up the good work!

I'm also intrigued by the heroic gerbil.

Jan 25, 8:22am Top

>39 Marissa_Doyle: I really enjoyed imagining the city as the characters travel around it. My only quibble is that she refers to "Center City" for areas which I would consider out of its range.

I finished Nightstruck last night and very much enjoyed the read. I thought it was really dark for a YA novel; the evil forces which are taking over the city are deadly and our heroine loses people she cares about in horrible situations. She also has to make a terrible decision about whether to kill her best friend. There is some humour but not so much as to jar with the serious material, and a bit of romance, which compared to the horror is very YA in tone. I had my doubts about her crush being her best friend's boyfriend, but it was handled about as well as I've ever seen with that trope. One thing is for sure; I will never look the same way at the goat statue in Rittenhouse Square after reading this book! Warning: it ends on a real cliffhanger; I can't wait to read on.

>40 reading_fox: I thought the series had ended with Etched in bone (book 5). I love the characters and the world but I really don't want Bishop to milk it til all the goodness is gone.

>41 kidzdoc: Welcome, Darryl! It's good to see you here; hopefully we'll meet up in person before too long. The heroic gerbil is awesome but I suspect the YA voice of the novel would irritate you, based on past conversations.

In honour of the late Ursula Le Guin I've started reading the stories in The compass rose. I'm really saddened that she is no longer with us.

Feb 1, 7:58am Top

So I finished After the death of Don Juan and found it to be a very good read. It develops from an amusing continuation of the Don Giovanni story into an examination of class and inequality in Spain. Although set in the 18th century Warner is clearly referencing the situation of her time, the 1930s, with the rise of fascism. The isolated estate of Tenorio Viejo is poor, largely due to mismanagement by the noble landowners - Don Juan's excesses mean that any profit has to be spent paying off his debts rather than investing in the land. Thus the peasants are overjoyed to hear of his death, foreseeing the possibility of a better future for them. The dry dusty landscape is brilliantly evoked, so clearly that you can picture it as you read. Another excellent work by this author.

I've also read The secret history of Moscow, an urban fantasy which is described as a Russian Neverwhere. I was hoping this would be a great read, as I love Russian and Russian-inspired works, and was looking forward to reading a fantasy by a native. Sadly, it didn't live up to my hopes. We don't really have time to get to know the characters or what they care about before the adventure begins, so it's hard to feel engaged with their quests. The secret underworld into which they fall is rather flat and hard to visualize, with characters (many from history or myth) introduced, their story told in a flashback, and then dropped. Our heroes don't actually seem to do very much for most of the time, and I found myself skimming in places. I didn't expect anything as action-packed as The night watch but I did hope it would be better written and more atmospheric. It is good for showing the burden of Russia's history upon the present (1990s in the book) but I wanted it to be better overall.

I'm savouring the stories in The compass rose, though not having the book here with me I can't remember the titles of the ones I've enjoyed most. I'll edit this when I can name them.

I'm still enjoying The Peabody sisters, which is adding to my knowledge of the social and intellectual history of New England and the early USA.

And I've started The brimming cup by Dorothy Canfield Fisher for this month's Virago author read.

Feb 2, 9:47am Top

Feb 7, 8:06am Top

>27 Sakerfalcon: I'm way behind here, but I want to say thanks for doing the lifting on vN. I've been wondering whether I should read it, but given that my response to Company Town was exactly the same as yours, and you found this one more disappointing, I think I can find better uses for my reading time.

Edited: Feb 7, 11:03am Top

>44 libraryperilous: She is such a great writer! I really need to read more of her short stories now.

>45 SylviaC: You're welcome! I'm sure you've performed the same service for me in the past! I will certainly take a look at anything she publishes in future, but she's not an automatic-read author for me.

I finished The compass rose and enjoyed the collection a lot, though perhaps not quite as much as I did The wind's twelve quarters. This volume was more varied in theme, with several stories that weren't F/Sf - not that that is a bad thing but it made for some odd transitions between pieces. There were a couple of Orsinia stories which I liked a lot, and Sur, the tale of the first expedition to the South Pole - which isn't the one in the history books. Also SQ (I think that's the title) which imagines a future where everyone has to take a sanity test and if they score below a certain benchmark they will go to special places to be treated and recover, for their own good and that of society. It is disturbing but also rather funny.

I've also finished The brimming cup which was a very good read. It focuses on Marise, whom we first see as an idealistic young woman in love with her fiancée, setting lofty goals for a perfect marriage of hearts and minds. We then see her years later as she sends her youngest child off to school and suddenly feels bereft of purpose. Newcomers to the sleepy Vermont village where she lives cause her to further question her life and her marriage, and she is tempted by her attraction to one of the men. This book gives us not only Marise's point of view, but that of her family and neighbours so we learn not just how Marise sees herself and others, but how they see themselves and her. Canfield has clearly read Freud and other psychologists of her day, and uses Marise's character to explore their theories and their impact on the individual and society. My main quibble with the book was that it was hard for me to believe in Marise's attraction to the obnoxious and selfish Vincent; however, overall this was a very good read that I'd recommend to fans of the author's friend Willa Cather.

I also read Into the drowning deep by Seanan McGuire, the novel which continues her theme of killer mermaids. This was a fun, if gory, read, with a mix of fairly plausible science and plenty of drama. There was some repetition of facts and character detail that was unnecessary, and the action was drawn out over a longer period of time than seemed realistic - it felt as though the characters had a lot of time to breathe and plan. I think this might have been helped if the chapter headings had been more detailed - each one has a place and date stamp, but as all the action takes place over the same 2-3 days it's a bit meaningless. Having an exact timestamp would have given a better idea of the pacing of events. Still, the characters were entertaining and the horror was effective.

Still reading The Peabody sisters; my slow pace is not a reflection of the book's quality or readability, but it's a big heavy hardback that I can't carry around with me.

I've just started my first Heinlein - The moon is a harsh mistress. I'm going in with some trepidation given what I've heard about his female characters and his thinly-disguised political ramblings, but as I've never read anything by this big name in the genre I thought it was time.

I'm also reading a YA book, A corner of white, which is a fantasy set in our world and the Kingdom of Cello. It's quite enjoyable but to be honest the worldbuilding is confused and I don't love the characters. The author's earlier series, Ashbury High, is much better.

And I've started a fantasy novel called Bell weather, which is set in a world that feels like colonial America but with some magical phenomena. I'm not very far in yet so I can't say more.

Feb 7, 5:43pm Top

>46 Sakerfalcon: I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I read my first Heinlein last year (Stranger in a Strange Land) and had mixed thoughts about it, but was left with a bad impression because I hated the second half. My next Heinlein will likely be Starship Troopers since I already have it on Kindle, but Moon is on my list also.

Feb 7, 6:53pm Top

>46 Sakerfalcon: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my favourite of his works that I've read so far so I'm looking forward to seeing what you think. Don't worry, I won't be (too) offended if you don't like it. ;)

>47 YouKneeK: I'm glad Stranger in a Strange Land wasn't my introduction to Heinlein Not sure I'd have been too enthusiastic to carry on reading his books after that one. I didn't hate it (gave it a 4★ rating after all) but I didn't love it like some of the others I have actually read.

Feb 7, 10:12pm Top

>46 Sakerfalcon: Hmm. Bell Weather looks interesting. Will await your comments.

Feb 7, 10:11pm Top

>46 Sakerfalcon: Hmm. Bell Weather looks interesting. Will await your comments.

Feb 7, 10:13pm Top

>46 Sakerfalcon: Hmm. Bell Weather looks interesting. Will await your comments.

Feb 8, 12:06am Top

Despite some dated views, Heinlein is nonetheless a towering figure in SF. I read him by putting what I object to in perspective. It was a different time. I know that won’t work for everyone.

Stranger actually was my first Heinlein (in 5th grade) (in 1969), one of my original Five Free Books from the Science Fiction Book Club. I was perplexed by it at the time. I read TMiaHM at age 47. It was a fun romp.

Starship Troopers is just not my cup of tea. I liked Time Enough for Love. And Citizen of the Galaxy.

Edited: Feb 11, 11:29am Top

>52 stellarexplorer: I read Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love while in college and must admit that I found both a bit questionable in terms of the sexual politics shown. I know it's Heinlein but I think it's just too dated to be enjoyable now. (At least for me.) The one thing that I've never forgotten was Michael's realization that the human concept of humor was reliant upon on someone else's pain and/or discomfort. It's a harsh realization, but I give credit to Heinlein for positioning it in just that way. (It's different from the way one simply thinks that laughing at another's humiliation is an instance of bad manners. It re-positions the idea of humor beyond the immediate social interaction.)

Feb 11, 12:07pm Top

>53 jillmwo: It’s been a long time since I read either. It’s more than likely that I’d find both unreadable. I remember reading Time Enough as a high school student, and liking the words of wisdom found in the interludes. But that was a long time ago.

Feb 11, 4:09pm Top

>53 jillmwo: >54 stellarexplorer: Yup. Yup. As a youngin' I read I Will Fear No Evil, Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love, and I'm never going to try to reread them. I loved them when I was 17, but now that I think back on it they were all loaned to me by the young man I was dating at the time, and he might have had some nefarious intentions. ;o) Now I'd most likely find them horrifying. I might give The Moon is a Harsh Mistress a shot at some point, though.

Edited: Feb 12, 8:28am Top

>47 YouKneeK:, >48 AHS-Wolfy:, >52 stellarexplorer:, >53 jillmwo:, >54 stellarexplorer:, >55 clamairy: I finished The moon is a harsh mistress and, while it wasn't awful or offensive, I can't see myself rereading it. I picked this one because I thought (and still think) it is the Heinlein most likely to work for me, but I didn't love it. The plot of the former penal colony on the moon revolting against tyrannical government and building its own free society should have been exciting, but it was mostly told through the dialogue of the main characters sitting around talking. Mike the supercomputer (AI) was the best personality of the bunch, but his omnipotence took most of the tension out of the story, as he was able to find a solution to all problems and manipulate the environment so that it worked in our heroes' favour. There was some casual sexism, despite the supposed power that women have on the moon due to their scarcity (which I found implausible in itself, given that societies where women are scarce, such as India and China, have not valued women more) and a couple of skeevy references, but nothing as bad as I've seen mentioned in reviews of other books. No, it was really the interminable talking that caused this to be a let-down. Most of the time while I was reading it I was thinking of Ian McDonald's Luna: new moon and wishing I was rereading that instead - so that is what I'm doing now! Conveniently the sequel has just been released in the smaller paperback edition so I'll carry straight on to that.

>49 Marissa_Doyle: Unfortunately Bell weather was another let-down for me. The magical world mentioned in the blurb stays very much in the background while the plot focuses on the story of Molly, specifically the events which lead to her being rescued from the river at the opening of the book. We are plunged into her backstory very quickly, before there's time for a mystery to build up about her or for us to get to know the present-day characters and their world. I found Molly difficult to like or relate to as she is careless, thoughtless and headstrong and never learns from her mistakes. Her impulses get her, and often others, into trouble and although she usually gets herself out of it she leaves damage behind. There is a villain in this book and when near the end they confront Molly with her faults I had to agree. The setting reminded me quite a bit of Julie Czerneda's A turn of light as both are based on Colonial New World history with the addition of magic, but Czerneda built and used her world more effectively. (It is worth mentioning that I didn't like the protagonists or plot in either of these books!) I did like some of the side characters, particularly Bess and Benjamin, but they don't get a lot of time in the spotlight. The book is not badly written, although there were a few male-gazy moments which sat oddly and inappropriately, but when I think of how Patricia McKillip, say, might have used this setting and brought it to life with her prose it just seems even more of a disappointment.

So I actually finished all my current reads this weekend, as well as the above two. A corner of white was another disappointment. I love this author's Ashbury High series, set in an Australian high school and told through notes, memos, essays, etc. A corner of white is set partly in Cambridge, England, in the real world, and partly in the magical Kingdom of Cello. The stories are connected when Madeleine and Elliot discover that they can pass notes between their worlds. Cello is pretty random - colours can be evil or benign and some attack people and towns causing anything from minor damage to death and maiming - and feels totally made-up and implausible. Madeleine thinks Elliot is a wannabe author making it up when she first finds his notes, and it's not surprising. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their glamorous wealthy lifestyle with her father (and that felt made-up too) and are living in poverty in Cambridge (not sure that is where you would choose to live if short of money given what rents are like there) but because her mother hasn't given her a reason why they left Madeleine comes across as a spoiled brat moaning about her new life and friends. All the characters are quirky to the point of being irritating, and they drift without direction through the story. Needless to say, I will not be reading the sequels and this book goes on the pile for rehoming.

Thankfully, the last of the four books I finished was excellent - The Peabody sisters by Megan Marshall. This told the sisters' stories in the context of C19th New England and its changing social, political and religious movements. Elizabeth was the strongest personality, a forthright woman who was inspired by the foremost minds (male of course) of her day, but who in turn inspired others herself. Mary and Sophia could have been overshadowed by their elder sister but managed to forge their own paths in the fields of education and art respectively. Highly recommended, especially if you are interested in the period.

So as well as rereading Luna: new moon, I'm also reading the fun, Ruritanian-style romp Coronets and steel, and I've started The home maker by Dorothy Canfield. The latter has sucked me in right away and I can't wait to carry on with it.

Feb 12, 4:59pm Top

>56 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for that--I think I'll give it a miss. I do wish someone would do a good fantasy with an 18th century American setting. The only ones I've read have been...meh.

Feb 12, 5:24pm Top

>56 Sakerfalcon: Thanks, that was a helpful review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress! It was the unending monologues that were most problematic for me in Stranger in a Strange Land, so maybe unending dialogue will seem like a small improvement once I finally get around to it. :) Although really, it was dialogue in Stranger too. It just felt like monologues because it came mostly from one character.

Feb 12, 6:28pm Top

>56 Sakerfalcon: Sad to see you not enjoy The Moon is a Harsh Mistress but at least you gave it a shot and if we all liked the same books then I guess LT wouldn't be the diverse place it is. I have yet to try any of Ian McDonald's works though I do have one on the tbr shelves but unfortunately not Luna so can't offer an opinion on that.

Feb 12, 6:53pm Top

>59 AHS-Wolfy: Which McDonald novel do you have? I have read two so far, (Brasyl and Sacrifice of Fools). SoF was very good while Brasyl pretty much blew me away. I definitely plan to read more of his work. Next up for me will probably be River of Gods.

Feb 12, 8:04pm Top

>58 YouKneeK: Your comment on Heinlein's unending monologues left me wondering if that's why I preferred his YA books -- more action, less philosophizing. It's been years (decades) since I read most of them, though I still remember Have Space Suit, Will Travel with affection (and recall how wrenching some of the plot twists in Podkayne of Mars were).

Edited: Feb 12, 8:37pm Top

>60 ScoLgo: McDonald is one of the three writers whose books I’ll buy sight unseen. At his best, he’s great. To me, Luna was good, but not one of his best. I thought River of Gods and Dervish House were both outstanding. Some of the best near future SF I’ve read.

Feb 13, 6:24am Top

>61 MinuteMarginalia: That would make a lot of sense to me. I did enjoy his writing in the first half of Stranger, before it turned into a series of philosophical monologues.

Feb 13, 6:27am Top

>60 ScoLgo: I have River of Gods awaiting my attention at some point. No idea when that will be though.

Feb 13, 7:48am Top

>57 Marissa_Doyle: It's a time and place that would seem to have plenty of potential ... let's hope someone does it justice!

>58 YouKneeK:, >59 AHS-Wolfy: I think my issue was that I felt I was being told how to stage a revolution (and then structure the new society) rather than living through it with the characters. That makes sense as Mannie is telling the story after the events, but for me it made the book quite a dry read.

>61 MinuteMarginalia: I've heard good things about Heinlein's juveniles but to be honest I doubt I will seek them out. They're hard to come by in the UK and my Tbr piles are already overwhelming!

>63 YouKneeK: I'm becoming less and less likely to read my copy of Stranger in a strange land!

>60 ScoLgo:, >62 stellarexplorer:, >64 AHS-Wolfy: I'm in a minority for liking River of Gods the least of the McDonald's I've read so far; I felt that 10 was too many POV characters and not all of them were necessary. That said, his vision of a future India is incredible and I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading the book. I thought some of the related short stories in Cyberabad days were excellent.

I'm flying through The home maker which is about as different as a book can be from Heinlein! It's the story of a traditional American family - perfect but frustrated stay-at-home mum, hardworking but ungifted father, and three children - whose lives are shaken up when the father has a crippling accident. He is no longer able to work, but his old employer gives Eva, the wife, a job, while Lester stays home and manages the housekeeping with the help of friends and children. As a result, everyone blossoms, having found roles that suit them far better than those allotted to them by tradition. As this book is set in the early C20th, it was quite radical to show this role-reversal and to suggest that men, women and children might all be happier by flouting convention. It's a lovely read so far.

Edited: Feb 20, 10:04am Top

So I've read a few books since I last had time to catch up.

My reread of Luna: new moon was just as enjoyable as the first time, though I still think that some of the details about the characters' sexual proclivities were unnecessary! It's an exciting and interesting look at how the moon might be developed and settled, and what its relationship with Earth might be. I've started the sequel, Luna: wolf moon and it seems that we'll learn more about the Earth view of things, as well as finding out what happened to the Corta family after the events of book 1.

I finished The home maker and loved it. Sure, things might work out a bit too perfectly to be realistic as everyone settles into their new roles, but Canfield's point was more to critique society's rigidity with regard to gender roles than to show all the hiccups that might have occurred. That said, the family and their neighbours feel vivid and alive, and the small town atmosphere feels all too plausible. Even today people still look askance at couples where the man stays at home with the kids while the woman goes out to work, so the attitudes shown in the novel seem sadly all too true. This was a lovely and satisfying book which I highly recommend. I've now started my third and last of Canfield's works for the month, Her son's wife.

Coronets and steel was a fun romp of a book, though I had to not look too hard or I'd see the plot holes. Kim is a likeable narrator and protagonist despite being something of a Mary-Sue - brilliant fencer and ballet dancer, fluent in multiple languages (and able to learn a new one in a few days), and agile at escaping from danger. Dobrenica feels like an anachronism with its peasant population who revere the nobility and lack of technology - the book is set in the present but the 1950s might have felt more plausible. The backdrop of family lines and marriages is complicated, and there is quite a lot of info-dumping as various characters fill Kim in on the family, the country, and history. The book felt to me like a modern-day Mary Stewart - naïve heroine travels to exotic location and falls into adventure and romance - which isn't a bad thing. I doubt I'll read the sequel, but this was a fun read. I've just started another book by Sherwood Smith, Banner of the damned, which is set in the same world as the Inda series but 400 years later. So far I am really enjoying it.

Also this week I read a book that's been on Mount Tbr for a very long time - The famished road by Ben Okri. This novel is set in (unnamed) Nigeria, at the time of Independence when society is changing. We see events through the eyes of Azaro, a spirit child, who has chosen to stay on earth and live in a human family. The book is classed as magical realism, but I would say that compared to the South American novels I've read in this genre there is even more magic than realism. The supernatural world so infuses the book that it's hard for the reader and the characters to tell what is real and what is visions. The characters tend to be larger-than-life - Azaro's father who is unable to make and keep money but has sporadically invincible powers as a boxer; Madame Koto the ambitious bar owner, who becomes something monstrous over the course of the book; the mysterious blind man with his accordion who lurks ominously at the edge of the scene. There is some amazing imagery and spectacular set-pieces which occur during the novel, but as a whole I found it quite overwhelming and difficult to engage with at times. I admired it but couldn't love it.

And I'm reading a non-Chalet School book by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, The Susannah adventure, which follows a pair of older teen cousins on a sailing holiday as they unwittingly rescue a pair of runaways and find more adventure than they bargained for.

Edited: Mar 7, 9:37am Top

Time for another update, as it's been a while since the last one.

I finished Luna: wolf moon which was a decent follow-up to the first book although not up to quite the same standard. With the remaining members of the Corta family scattered and their business empire carved up by rivals, the narrative has a lot of ground to cover and characters to follow. This means that some storylines felt rushed and a bit thin, and there are some long gaps between episodes with certain characters. There were fewer sexual episodes in this volume, but those that were present felt shoehorned in rather than necessary to plot or character development. It was good to follow the characters and the political machinations and get some closure to the story, but a couple of threads were left hanging and I wonder there will actually be another volume in addition to the two planned originally.

Her son's wife by Dorothy Canfield was another excellent read by this author. It examines the relationship between respected schoolteacher Mrs Bascombe, her adored son Ralph, and Lottie, the common, flighty woman he marries. All three of the protagonists seem more or less unsympathetic at the start of the novel, but they grow and change over the course of the story. There's a fascinating moral dilemma at the heart of the plot which raises interesting questions for the reader - is it permissible to damage a mother's life in order to save her child? This is a compelling and disturbing but very satisfying read.

I also finished Banner of the damned, which was mostly good. Not quite so overloaded with detail as the Inda books, it still requires quite a lot of concentration to keep track of the large cast and many locations. (A better map would have helped.) Emras has trained as a scribe all her life and ends up serving the Princess Lasva, a duty that will take them both far from home and lead them into danger. Scribes are a sort of combined confidant, secretary and admin assistant, who are sworn not to interfere with events but to observe and report truthfully. The first half of the book takes place in the refined kingdom of Colend, a peaceful land that has managed to avoid war by diplomatic means but where the subtle cruelties of word and gesture are common. There are lots of characters and detail in this section, but once the action moves away it all becomes irrelevant. As Emras, Lasva and her royal entourage arrive in the military-obsessed land of Marloven Hesea they are forced to adjust to life in a land with very different values, that rejects everything they hold dear. Emras has been charged with a secret mission that draws her into the study of magic, something that soon starts to take over her life. It was very obvious to me what was going on and how Emras was being used, so the twist near the end didn't come as a surprise to me; Emras' lack of suspicion seemed unbelievable to me. As she becomes obsessed with magic she cuts herself off from her friends and court life, which means that we lose touch with characters who've become dear to us, which is a shame. There were some nice female friendships, and Emras is a rare asexual protagonist, so those aspects were nice to see. I enjoyed the book but can't see myself rereading it.

I flew through the seventh (?) Incryptid book by Seanan McGuire, Tricks for free, which follows Antimony Price as she cuts herself off from all her family and friends to keep them safe from the Covenant of St George. She finds a job at an amusement park very similar to Disneyworld, and reconnects with old acquaintances while facing new dangers. This was a fun read as usual for the series, and I'm looking forward to finding out what Antimony and her friends do next. My main quibble is that she is not so different a character from Verity as she thinks she is.

I've also read a graphic novel, Munnu, about a boy's coming of age in Indian-occupied Kashmir. This was a fascinating and moving read about a conflict that we hear little of in the West. The details of everyday family life are juxtaposed with the conflict, oppression and random violence from which no-one can escape. It was a really good read.

Now I'm reading Jenny Wren by E.H. Young for this month's Virago author read. It's the story of two sisters who have been educated to a higher standard than their mother and are now out of place in both their original class and the more respectable one to which they aspired. Jenny is very self-conscious and tries to attain respectability through her discretion, but her pretty sister Dahlia cares less and seeks love and attention where she can. It's good so far.

I'm also reading The cold eye which is the sequel to Silver on the road which I enjoyed. This one is quite slow moving and repetitive so far, but it's beautifully written. And I started Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora but am finding it quite unengaging, so this may be a DNF.

Mar 7, 12:06pm Top

I think The Cold Eye suffers from Middle Book in a Trilogy Syndrome. The final book is due out in June, IIRC.

Mar 14, 7:50am Top

>68 Marissa_Doyle: I think you are right. I'm now in the last 1/3 and it has picked up, but there was an awful lot of wandering around and Isobel trying to determine what was wrong before we get to this point.

I've just finished Jenny Wren and thought it was very good. It gets compared to Sense and sensibility for its focus on two sisters with different personalities. Jenny and Dahlia are pleasingly characterised in the different ways they have adapted and reacted to their uncertain place in the social hierarchy. Dahlia is inclined to laugh at people's judgement and seems to take life lightly, not letting herself aspire to the higher station that her education fitted her for. Jenny however is rather ashamed of her working class mother and longs for the arts and social graces that her father valued despite his hasty marriage. When she falls in love with a young man of a higher class she finds herself disguising her identity. The minor characters are very well-drawn too, such as the mother Louisa, the various lodgers and neighbours, and the girls' suitors. I've continued with The curate's wife which follows directly on from the events of Jenny Wren.

I'm plodding along with Aurora, reluctant to DNF it yet, and it is getting a bit better now that the ship has arrived at its destination.

I've also started Cast in silence, the fifth book in the Chronicles of Elantra. This volume sees Kaylin continue to grow up and mature a bit as she has to come to terms with events from her past. There is a lot of exposition through dialogue in this series which slows the plot down and can be quite tedious depending on who is talking - some of the characters seem to talk in a mysteriously oracular fashion which makes it hard to know what exactly they are trying to tell us.

And I've taken The broken citadel off Mount Tbr. It's a portal fantasy which follows 11 year old Sibby into a mysterious other world where she joins a group of travellers seeking to rescue an imprisoned princess. Despite my synopsis and the protagonist's youth, I don't think this is a children's book. There's no sex or graphic violence yet, but it just doesn't feel as though it was specially aimed at younger readers. I am enjoying it.

Mar 21, 7:41am Top

I finished The curate's wife and very much enjoyed this follow-up to Jenny Wren. This book is from Dahlia's point of view and contrasts her marriage to the upright, well-meaning but priggish Cecil with that of the vicar Doubleday and his wife, the latter serving as a warning to the former. Cecil adores Dahlia but she frequently shocks him and offends his sense of propriety, while she doesn't understand why he cares so much what other people think and finds his religious duties rather ridiculous. Both want to make each other happy but their opposing natures get in the way. The Doubledays' marriage has ticked along quietly for many years as he lets his overbearing wife have her way while he retreats into his study. The arrival of their grown son from abroad however disrupts this arrangement and harshly reveals the ugliness at the core of the relationship. We also see Jenny and find out what happened to her after the events of the first book. I like Dahlia and Cecil and want them to learn how to be happy together, while feeling less sympathy for Jenny who tends to be shallow and judgemental. These are excellent books by a writer who deserves to be better known. I'm now reading William, which is about the relationships between grown-up daughters and their parents.

I also finished The cold eye, which did pick up a lot in the last third but I wish there had been less wandering and repetition in the first part of the book. I am looking forward to the sequel though, and I hope we see Isobel start to have more conscious control over her powers instead of seeming to try things at random which may or may not work.

I ended up skimming Cast in silence from the halfway point, when the action slowed to a crawl and the cryptic dialogue took over. I realised that while I like Kaylin, her friends and their world I just didn't care what was happening in this book; it all seemed very detached from the events that opened the story and was quite hard to follow. Although I own some of the later books in this series I'm not sure how much longer I will keep going with it.

The broken citadel was a really good read, with interesting sympathetic characters, interesting magic and a fast-moving plot. Sibby makes an appealing heroine, thrust into a new world but adapting willingly and playing a key role in events. The snippets of poetry, song and memoir that end each chapter add a nice gloss on the story. I have the other two volumes of this trilogy and will read them soon.

Now I've started the third in the Chronicles of the Kencyrath, Seeker's mask, in which we find Jame trying unsuccessfully to fit into the rigid Women's World of her people after years alone. She is pursued by strange forces both earthly and otherworldly and is soon back in trouble again. I'm really enjoying this fantasy series.

I also read two YA SF books this weekend, Riding Tycho and Voyager, both by the late Jan Mark. They follow Demetria in her hard life in a rigidly gendered society where women are expected to obey their fathers, brothers and husbands and spend their lives knitting and keeping house for the men who go out fishing. Their remote island is where political prisoners are sent into exile, and when one of them is boarded with Demetria's family she starts to learn more about the world. This book managed not to feel too clichéd - I think it helped that there is no romance as the stranger is an older man with a family of his own - and Demetria is a likeable heroine as she struggles with whether to believe Ianto's talk about more equal societies and wider horizons. Voyager continues Demetria's story as she leaves her island and finds her way to the mainland - but not to the area she was aiming for. She finds herself among strangers and must decide who to trust and whether she wants to play a part in helping her world survive. It is very sad that Mark died before she could complete this series, as the second book ends just as Demetria is about to take the next step on her journey. But they are worth reading anyway.

Mar 27, 7:37am Top

I finished William, my last book by E. H. Young for the Virago group read. This is the story of a husband and wife and their adult children, and the different ways that people love their family. William and Kate have a happy marriage and are enjoying seeing their four daughters and one son marry and start their own families. Lydia has always been the most beloved child, but when she takes the decision to leave her husband - something that was Not Done in 1930s England - she will test the love of her family. Kate believes she knows what is best for her children and seeks to mould them appropriately, even when it's obvious that she is wrong. William, however, is far more accepting and shows unconditional love, which puts a strain on his relationship with Kate. Although the character of Lydia isn't really fleshed out and it's hard to see why she is the favourite this is still a really good book, with the other characters all observed in detail and coming to life on the page. The various responses to the crisis are fascinating to observe; something I've noticed in all of Young's novels is just how painfully accurate she can be in portraying people's emotional states and the reactions that result. All in all this was another excellent read from an author whose work deserves to come back into print.

Also this weekend I read Moonshine, a fantasy set in a 1920s Chicago-inspired city. Daisy is the epitome of the Modern Girl, independent and stylish, about to set out on a career in the big city. Her job as a typist is perhaps not exactly what she imagined doing after college, but it's a start - and it's about to get a lot more interesting and dangerous than she expected. Daisy is a magic user, but magic is outlawed in this world and she finds herself attracting some unwelcome attention when her secret comes to light. But her employer and colleagues are also not what they seem, and the whole gang must work together to protect each other and their business when they find themselves targeted by an assassin. Then there is the added complication of the faerie visitor who gets trapped in our world and needs to get home. This was a fun read with characters I liked and cared about, set in an interesting world. The plot could perhaps have been better structured, and Daisy was perhaps rather a bland heroine, but I kept reading avidly despite these quibbles. I'll look for more from this author.

I'm still reading Seeker's mask and really enjoying it. Jame is such an entertaining heroine, and her adventures are both dramatic and mysterious. Also, there is Jorin, her snow leopard companion, to love!

I started The Nakano thrift shop as my commuting book. It's by the same author as Strange weather in Tokyo and shows the same slightly quirky approach to life, but is nevertheless very perceptive in its observations.

And I've started Black wine by Candas Jane Dorsey; I've only read the first chapter so far but that was very good.

Mar 27, 4:54pm Top

Well, now I must look for copies of E.H. Young because Jenny Wren and The Curate's Wife both sound good. And nosing around looking for information about The Broken Citadel trilogy -- which I don't think I've ever heard of -- is another thing to keep in mind!

You are turning into quite the pinger of book bullets, m'dear.

Mar 29, 11:54am Top

>72 jillmwo: I think you will like E. H. Young's books. The only one that I was less than enthusiastic about is The vicar's daughter; all the others I've read have had well-rounded characters, interesting plots and emotional truths that resonated with me. I found the Tredana trilogy when mooching around on LibraryThing and liked the sound of it enough to track down the books second hand. I enjoyed The broken citadel enough not to have regretted the impulse.

I've finished The Nakano thrift shop and liked it, though a bit less than I did Strange weather in Tokyo. Thankfully it's not the cutesy romance that the cover blurb on my copy implies; Hitomi and Takeo's relationship proceeds in fits and starts, taking as many steps backward as forward. The other characters, Nakano and his sister Masako, his lover Sakiko and the various customers and second-hand goods dealers who drift through the scenes were, I thought, more interesting than the would-be lovers. The book covers a year in the life of the shop, evoking the seasons subtly, with a structure that is almost more like a set of linked short stories than a novel.

Edited: Apr 12, 7:37am Top

I went away for a short break in Devon, SW England, after Easter, so took a few books with me, but didn't get as much time to read as I expected. However, I can report on the following:

Seeker's mask is, I think, the best so far in the Kencyrath series. The boundaries between reality and the other are thin which can be confusing, but the writing is more coherent and the story generally better constructed in this volume. My edition is an omnibus also containing the next book in the series, To ride a rathorn, so I daresay I will be reading that soon.

This month's Virago group read focuses on Rosamond Lehmann, an author whose books I've enjoyed and admired on previous readings. I chose A note in music of the two unread titles remaining on my shelves. This is a quiet novel with no great events but deep emotional upheavals that reveal much about two middle-aged couples living in a bleak northern English industrial town. Grace and Tom, Norah and Gerald, find their lives shaken up by the arrival of the young siblings Hugh and Clare. Grace feels drawn to Hugh, and this attraction brings her a new awareness of how dissatisfied she is with her life, but also leads her to show compassion to someone in a socially unacceptable position. Gerald becomes infatuated with Clare, which causes both him and Norah to express feelings which have long lain beneath the surface of their marriage. Tom longs for his youth, which is beginning to disappear into middle age, but finds it's not so easily reclaimed. Lehmann's writing is lovely and she is brilliant at evoking both the characters' internal states and the details of the world around them. It sounds like a dull, clichéd book but it is in fact far more subtle than it seems from the plot description.

I also read a fantasy novel, Senlin ascends. This is a bit Weird, a bit Steampunk, and very original. Thomas Senlin is a headmaster who has long yearned to visit the Tower of Babel, which he believes to be the heart of all that is sophisticated, creative, erudite and admirable; it seems the perfect destination for his honeymoon. However, he and his wife become separated and the rest of the book follows Senlin's misadventures as he searches for her. Of course the Tower is far from the idyllic place described in Senlin's books, and he learns the hard way not to trust in people's goodwill. The different levels of the tower are worlds in themselves, with different rules and customs that must be negotiated. The worldbuilding here is very creative and the characters colourful yet plausible in their motivations. Despite the corruption of the Tower I didn't find this a dark read and enjoyed exploring along with Senlin. The book was originally self-published but got picked up by Orbit recently; I don't know if they did much editing but it is well-written and contains none of the errors I expect to find in self-published books. Recommended if you want a steampunk adventure yarn. (Warning - this is the start of a series.)

I'm still reading and enjoying (OK, that's not really the right word) Black wine. It is dark, containing some disturbing scenes and explicit sex but nothing that feels gratuitous. There are multiple narratives following different women who are linked in some way - it's not yet clear how. They all live in more or less brutal societies which may be on another world, or far in the future. There is no magic or advanced technology but the book definitely has an F/SF feel to it; I'd class it as social/anthropological SF, comparable to Le Guin but more brutal. It can be hard to read because of the violence and oppression but the quality of the writing and the strength of the characters makes this a very good read so far.

On my commute I'm reading To the bright edge of the world by Eowyn Ivey. This is a historical novel about the exploration of Alaska by the US Army following its purchase from Russia. Colonel Forrester is leading a small team up the Wolverine River to survey the land and report on its people and resources. His group will face physical hardship, for which they were somewhat prepared, but also inexplicable occurrences that shake their pragmatic worldview. Meanwhile, Forrester's young wife Sophie remains at the barracks in Washington territory with the other wives while she awaits the birth of their child, frustrated by her inability to follow her husband into unknown lands. She has a passion for nature, particularly birdlife, something that causes misunderstanding and friction between her and the other women. The stories are told through Sophie and Forrester's personal journals, with the occasional letter, report and other historical documents (including some illustrations). This is a very well-written and compelling book which I'm reluctant to put down when it's time to get off the train!

I'm also reading The light-hearted quest, a Mary Stewart-esque adventure set in Morocco featuring a journalist heroine trying to find her cousin who has gone AWOL. He was last seen purchasing a boat to start an orange-selling business around the Mediterranean ports, but as several people point out, this seems suspiciously unsustainable. Julia is a lively heroine, concealing a shrewd mind and considerable resourcefulness beneath her dumb-blonde looks and manner. There are some dated racial stereotypes, as is sadly inevitable of books from this period (1950s) but other than that it's a very enjoyable read so far.

And I've started the dauntingly-large Camilla which is the latest book in the Virago chronological read project. Burney was an influence on Jane Austen and her books also concern women's coming of age and courtship, but the portrayal of society shows more of its seedy side and feels a far more dangerous place than that of which Austen writes. So far we have been introduced to Camilla, her siblings and cousins, and her well-meaning but impulsive and impractical uncle.

Apr 12, 9:50am Top

>74 Sakerfalcon: I hope you enjoyed your short break in Devon, Claire.

I liked The snow child by Eowyn Ivey, and I see that To the bright edge of the world is available in Dutch translation at the library, so I added it to mount TBR.

Apr 12, 10:31am Top

>74 Sakerfalcon: A bullet may have been taken for To the Bright Edge of the World...

Apr 12, 10:31am Top

Hi, Claire. I had the same reaction to Nakano Thrift Shop. I liked Strange Weather in Tokyo a lot; NTS was interesting and okay, but not at the level of that first one.

Apr 13, 7:22am Top

>75 FAMeulstee:, >76 Marissa_Doyle: I've almost finished To the bright edge of the world and unless something goes terrible awry in the last 40 pages it looks set to be a 4.5 star read. I'll keep you posted!

>77 jnwelch: Glad I'm not alone in my opinion!

Apr 17, 9:45pm Top

The Susannah Adventure and The Light-Hearted Quest sound fun!

I've wavered on To the Bright Edge of the World, but my sense is that the prose might be too flowery for me. I'm glad you've continued to love it. It's always nice when books live up to the high expectations we set for them when we like the first few chapters.

Edited: Apr 18, 6:52am Top

>79 libraryperilous: The prose in To the bright edge of the world is formal, as befits the period in which it is set, and there are vivid descriptive passages, but I wouldn't say it was flowery. However, it's a very subjective thing!

To the bright edge of the world does indeed get 4.5 stars from me, as it stayed strong to the end. I enjoyed both Sophie's and Forrester's narratives, as well as the present-day correspondence between their descendent and the historian which allows us a glimpse at the modern-day state of the Wolverine River. Forrester is a good man, with a more sensitive attitude to the native peoples than many of his time, but he is still driven by the belief that it is the Americans' destiny to tame and develop the land and civilize its people. The other soldiers in his party have their own responses which develop on the journey. I thought that Ivey did a good job of portraying the native peoples as individuals not stereotypes and conveyed respect for them even while showing the contempt that white Americans had for them. As in The snow child, magical realism plays a part in the story but to a lesser extent; I thought it was used effectively here. If you haven't guessed by now, I recommend this book!

This weekend I read Nightingale Wood, a social comedy by Stella Gibbons. Under the surface of this frothy romp lies a critical treatment of the class structure of 1930s England, with its petty divisions and restrictions. Viola is the young widow of a man socially her superior who, being left penniless at his death, goes to live with his parents and sisters. Her father in law is obsessed with money management, seeing it as an invalid that needs constant attention, now rallying, now suffering setbacks. His wife tries to keep the peace in the family. Their older daughter Madge is a hearty, sporty type who despises any physical affection as "beastliness", while her sister Tina secretly longs for romance and an escape from their dull life in the country. Viola would rather be living the hectic social life of her friends in London, but the country has its compensations in the form of Victor Spring, the local Prince Charming, whom she has a crush on. These and others make for an entertaining cast of characters, none wholly sympathetic or perfect but all of whom end up in the situation most fitting for them. This isn't as good as Gibbons' more famous Cold Comfort Farm, but it is still an enjoyable read.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through A light-hearted quest and enjoying it, though the prevailing belief in the good of colonialism is quite hard to take in this day and age. Neither Julia nor the author have any time for the American who believes that the Moroccans should be allowed to govern themselves and not live under the rule of the French. Despite this the plot is engaging and the author paints an engaging picture of Casablanca, Tangier and other areas of Morocco.

I'm still reading Black wine, which is very good - I've just found the link between 2 of the 3 main story threads and am looking forward to fitting the rest of the pieces together.

I'm persevering with Camilla, which is a good read but slow going due to the size of the book.

And for this month's Virago group read I'm reading the short stories collected in The gypsy's baby by Rosamond Lehmann. The first two stories are seen through the eyes of children as they view adult relationships and complications. As always, Lehmann's writing is lovely and she creates a sense of place without needing long descriptions.

Edited: Apr 18, 10:04pm Top

>80 Sakerfalcon: Oh, have you read any Fanny Burney before? I have not, but I believe I snagged Evalina as an Amazon freebie for my Kindle at some point. Can't wait to hear your final word on Camilla.

Edited: Apr 20, 10:22am Top

>81 clamairy: I've read Evelina and Cecilia. I definitely recommend starting with Evelina, as it is a fraction of the length of all Burney's other novels, and thus faster moving. They all seem to be total soap operas, with events conspiring to put the characters in tricky situations, especially where romance is concerned, but Burney was trying to illustrate the need for girls to be educated and given more knowledge of the world before being launched into society. Cecilia and, so far, Camilla, both have a lot of extra obstacles thrown into their heroines' paths to prolong the action, which can feel repetitive at times. But they are certainly engaging and make Regency society seem full of traps and snares for sheltered innocents. There are group read threads (with spoilers) for all three of the novels so far - I'll find the link for the Evelina thread.

ETA: Here's the Evelina discussion

This morning I finished The gypsy's baby which was a very strong collection of 5 stories - three long, two short. The title tale tells of the uneasy and inevitably doomed friendship between the children of a poor family and those from a middle class background. Our narrator is Rebecca from the better-off family, to whom the Wyatts are objects of fascination, pity and allure. Rebecca also narrates The red-haired Miss Daintrys, in which she and her siblings observe the four unmarried sisters who stay at the same hotel and subsequently drop in and out of each other's lives. The remaining stories are vignettes in the lives of a single mother, based on the author, and her two children, set in the country during WWII. The war is ever present in the background, yet seeming quite distant from everyday life. I love how Lehmann showed the short attention span of the children, one moment obsessed with something but later having moved on to a new passion. The dynamics between the characters in all the stories were subtle and realistic, and the settings clearly evoked without wasting a lot of space on description. I've always liked Lehmann's writing and these stories added to my admiration.

Edited: Apr 21, 6:35pm Top

>82 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for the info. When I finally get around to reading any of those Burney's I'll hopefully remember to look for those threads. LOL At least I'm leaving a virtual trail of what I plan to read in here.

Edited: Apr 24, 6:49am Top

>83 clamairy: If I see on your thread when you start the Burney I can post the thread link for you :-)

This weekend I finished Black wine and A light-hearted quest. These two books could not have been more different!

Black wine was a challenging read technically, due to the interwoven threads whose connection was not clear for a long time. Its content was also challenging, due to the abuse and sexual violence that occurs. It's hard to tell if the setting is a future earth or an alternate world; there is no magic, and the technology is recognisable, but the societies aren't obviously based on particular Earth cultures. Women as well as men commit brutal acts against the less-powerful and we see the outcomes for both male and female victims, although our POV characters are women. I thought this was beautifully written in smooth, unfussy prose that, while spare, still evoked some vivid images. This is not a book for everyone given the disturbing nature of some scenes but I'm very glad to have read it.

By contrast, A light-hearted quest lives up to its name. This Mary Stewart-esque adventure follows the dauntless Julia Probyn around Morocco as she seeks her cousin and unwittingly uncovers an international intrigue. The cities of Tangier, Marrakech and Fez come to life, as do the native and expatriates who live there; the author had clearly spent time in this part of the world. There were a few times when I felt the pace dropped a bit and I came close to losing interest, but the sense of place drew me back in. Sadly, the casual racism and derogatory references to gays make this a less fun read than it might have been to its original readers, and I found Julia's pro-colonialist views hard to take as well. If you can overlook this, it is an enjoyable read with colourful characters and a terrific sense of place.

I'm lugging my copy of Camilla on my commute in an attempt to increase my reading pace and catch up with the group discussion. There is a large cast of characters to follow who range from being endearing to profoundly irritating, and the path of true love is running anything but smoothly.

At home I've started to read Amberlough, a political fantasy set in a 1930s inspired world, complete with a dangerous right-wing politician on the rise.

And I'm rereading Margaret Atwood's Life before man, one of her early titles that I remember not being keen on the first time around. I thought I'd give it another go and see if my feelings have changed.

Apr 27, 9:31am Top

I finally threw in the towel and DNFed Aurora. It was way too dry and I just stopped caring about the community on board the generation ship. Instead I'm trying another by KSR, New York 2140 about which I've heard better things. It's started out more engagingly so fingers crossed!

Apr 27, 11:51am Top

>85 Sakerfalcon: That was the way I felt about Rama Revealed.

Edited: May 3, 9:07am Top

>86 pgmcc: I shall bear that in mind if I'm ever tempted to read it!

Happily, New York 2140 is a much more engaging and interesting read than Aurora. It is made up of a variety of narratives from about 8-10 different POV characters which keeps the story moving at a good pace and provides a range of prose styles. The book is set mostly in NYC after two major catastrophic sea level rises caused by human neglect of climate change. Unusually the book doesn't just look at the environmental, social and political effects of this, but the economic aspects as well, showing that the world of high finance is still thriving in this otherwise changed world. It adds an unusual slant to the story.

I finished Life before man and while it's not my favourite of Atwood's novels I did like it better this time round. Elizabeth, Nate and Lesje are difficult people to like (Lesje is probably the most sympathetic) and I find it hard to relate to their motives or actions, but the writing and characterisation is as good as one would expect from Atwood.

I'm over half way through Camilla and very much enjoying it despite the soap-opera ish nature of the plot. Countless obstacles contrive to keep the lovers apart but despite the artificial nature of events they do serve to critique the society effectively.

May 5, 12:35am Top

>87 Sakerfalcon: I’m not sure if your touchstone is working, but I assume you’re referring to Fanny Burney’s Camilla? In which case, in its defence, it was written before soap operas were ever dreamed of. :0)

May 6, 5:19am Top

>88 humouress: I find the concept of dreaming of a soap opera somewhat disturbing. :-)

May 9, 8:46am Top

>88 humouress:, >89 pgmcc: I suspect that stories like Camilla, and works by later authors like Charles Dickens, are what inspired today's soap operas! Convenient or improbable coincidences, lovers kept apart by unfortunate events, wild plot twists, misfortune and peril - all the ingredients are there! And it's all quite addictive too. Burney uses her characters and plot to critique her society though, with Camilla's misfortunes largely caused by her inexperience and lack of agency, a situation that many young women of her class would have been in. A lack of guidance and support from those who should be her protectors, combined with restrictive social rules about what a young woman could and couldn't do, lead Camilla into increasingly desperate circumstances, but onlookers judge her harshly - as if she should have known somehow to act differently.

At the weekend I read a YA novel that my line manager recommended while we were talking about books the other day (one of the perks of working in a library!). It's called Seed (by Lisa Heathfield) and Kirsty compared it to The handmaid's tale for its depiction of women trapped in a restrictive religious cult. Seed is a different take in many ways - our young heroine and her companions were born into the community and have never known life in the outside world, which they believe to be polluted and dangerous. Pearl loves her home and family and longs for the day when she can be a "companion" to Papa S, the head of their community. This small group live in harmony with nature, and their daily routine and worship are all in praise of mother earth. The story follows conventional lines - a young man who is newly arrived starts to teach Pearl about the outside world and she comes to see that all is not as perfect as it seems in her home. This was a quick and entertaining read, powerful in places despite its predictable plot.

I finished New York 2140 and really enjoyed it. I liked the cast of characters and how their stories entwined, and how they came together and combined their skills and gifts to work for a better future. The flooded New York City is an appealing setting, retaining much of the character of the city as we know it today as people live and work in this new world.

I'm also reading Last term at Taverton High, a school story set in the Chalet School universe that serves as a prequel to the original series. I'm enjoying it and the tone is true to the original books.

May 9, 7:18pm Top

>90 Sakerfalcon:

That's a great summary of Camilla, Claire---perhaps you could copy it to the discussion thread?

May 10, 5:44am Top

>91 lyzard: Thank you! I've got about 4 more chapters left so I'll copy that summary and post final remarks when I'm done.

May 10, 11:43am Top

>80 Sakerfalcon: Catching up on people's threads. I think you've scored another solid hit with your description of To the Bright Edge of the World. We're reviewing suggestions for our community book club next month and this sounds like a goof candidate.

May 10, 11:44am Top

>84 Sakerfalcon: Thank you. Might be a while! :o)

>93 Jim53: *waves*

May 10, 5:51pm Top

May 11, 6:34am Top

>93 Jim53: I hope you enjoy it. I think you should be able to have some good discussions around the story, themes and characters.

>94 clamairy: I have to be in the right mood to pick up a long C18th classic, even without real life distractions, so I can understand that it might be a while before you get around to trying Burney's work!

I finished Camilla last night and found it a very satisfying end to my 900 page journey. The good people are rewarded and the bad ones suffer appropriately in proportion to their misdeeds. I was sorry that some of the colourful characters disappear half way through the novel (particularly Mrs Arlberry and Sir Sedley Clarendel); I felt they were more interesting than the people who replaced them in the story. But I did enjoy the latter half of the novel's focus on debt and how easily Camilla becomes ensnared by money woes despite her best efforts. The book certainly could have been shorter, but I always found it entertaining and am glad to have read this tome.

I've also read a short novel by Angela Carter, Several perceptions. Carter is the May Virago author of the month so I'm taking the opportunity to read some new-to-me work by her. This one shows 6 months in the life of Joseph, a young unemployed man who drifts around 1960s Bristol searching vaguely for meaning in his life. Along the way he frees a badger from the zoo, posts a turd to Lyndon Johnson in protest at the Vietnam war, and sleeps with his friend's mother. This is a colourful, seedy novel which vividly conveys the slightly grimy, plastic feel of popular culture of the times. Joseph isn't particularly sympathetic but his world is an interesting one. It's very interesting to compare it with the more genteel 1930s Bristol depicted by E. H. Young.

Now I'm reading Carter's other Bristol novel, Love, which I think is even shorter than Several perceptions.

May 13, 6:12am Top

Catching up on your thread Claire. You've hit me with a book bullet for To the Bright Edge of the World and reminded me that I've had Black Wine on my list for a while.

Also glad to hear you enjoyed New York 2140 - I have that on loan from the library at the moment although the length is intimidating me a little. After Camilla I feel a bit chunkstered out!

May 16, 11:20pm Top

I always feel like a terrible feminist when I try to read Angela Carter and then fail spectacularly.

I had mixed feelings when I read Amberlough, but I'm interested in trying the sequel. I think it's out in the US this week.

>97 souloftherose: Ditto Black Wine, which I think I added to my TBR after reading Jo Walton's book about books?

May 17, 5:52am Top

>97 souloftherose: I hope you enjoy To the bright edge of the world. Black wine was very good, but it was difficult to take all the violence and misogyny in it.
To me, New York 2140 didn't feel as long as it looked because of the way it switched between narrators. I found I was always keen to keep reading just one more section.

>98 libraryperilous: Some of Carter's writing is really hard to get into, whether due to the ornate prose style or the themes. In general I think people find The magic toyshop, The bloody chamber and Nights at the circus to be her most accessible books. If you look at our thread in the Virago group you will see that she is far from universally loved, so no need to feel bad!
You may have noticed a lack of comment from me on Amberlough, after I claimed to have started reading it. I'm finding it hard to care about the characters or the plot so haven't been picking it up.
Reading Walton's chapter on Black wine is what prompted me to move it to the top of Mount Tbr!

I finished Love last night and thought it was very good, though not an easy book to read due to the unlikeable characters and their destructive relationships. Carter's prose is, as usual, brilliant, and her hyper-real descriptions and metaphors bring colour to the sordid background of the story. Childlike, superstitious Annabel is married to the beautiful Lee, but there is a constant disconnect between them and neither really satisfies each other. Lee's brother Buzz forms the third side of the triangle as he and Annabel share an uneasy fascination with each other. My edition had an afterword by Carter in which she tells us what she imagines would have happened to the characters after the story closes.

Now I'm reading some of Carter's short stories in Burning your boats, trying to focus on those I haven't read before, or not recently.

I've also read a YA novel on my kindle, A season of daring greatly, which is about an 18 year old woman who becomes the first female to play professional baseball. It follows her selection in the draft (she finds out in the middle of an exam when her cellphone rings and she's allowed to take the call - this seemed totally improbable to me as in the UK you are forbidden to bring phones into exams) and her subsequent season in the minor league. There is a LOT of baseball jargon and not all of it is explained or easy to figure out from the context. Jill is a likeable protagonist, though her humour is not as funny as the author thinks it is, and her struggles against misogyny, homesickness and nerves felt plausible. I enjoyed the minor characters in the story, especially her teammates whose reactions to playing with such a controversial figure are very varied. The story breaks off at an odd point with lots more still to tell, so I hope the author will write a sequel.

I'm also reading another YA book, The girl who drank the moon which won the Newbery medal recently. It's like a fairy tale in which villagers are led to believe that an evil witch requires them to sacrifice a baby every year. In fact, the witch isn't evil and has no idea why the villagers are randomly leaving babies in the swamp; she rescues them and takes them to adoptive parents elsewhere. One year she accidentally infuses a baby with magic which means she needs to bring the girl up herself. This is quite a lovely book so far, though with a touch of darkness.

May 17, 12:00pm Top

I'm glad you're enjoying The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Claire. That's a nice description of it. I had a good time with it, too.

May 17, 5:27pm Top

Oh, I need to move A Season of Daring Greatly up my TBR, especially as I love baseball but am mad at my team right now. Drafts are very popular with fans here in the US, and pretty lucrative for ESPN et al. I don't know if they have a similar popularity in the UK, but it surprises me that the author didn't write it as Jill skipping her exam to wait for a draft call! :)

Emerson White wrote a series of Vietnam War-set books that were favorites of mine in high school.

>99 Sakerfalcon: Ha, those three are the ones I owned in high school and college but hated, even when I was super into psychoanalysis. But I have a low tolerance for retellings, ornate prose, and the kind of white feminism I've always associated with her. Wise Children perhaps might be worth a try.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon sounds fun and a bit of an unusual twist on the usual retellings.

Edited: May 18, 9:18am Top

>100 jnwelch: That's good to know! Our tastes in books do seem to overlap a lot!

>101 libraryperilous: Obviously we don't have baseball at all in the UK, but the equivalent period in which football (soccer) players are transferred between teams generates a lot of interest, at least in print and online media. I think you'll enjoy A season of daring greatly even more than I did as you are a baseball fan. I haven't read White's Vietnam series but I really like The president's daughter series (with the same caveat that I don't always find the humour very funny).
Hmm, it does sound like Carter is not the author for you, given that ornate prose is one of her distinguishing features! The Cockney dialect of Wise children is fun though.

May 27, 12:55pm Top

>99 Sakerfalcon:, >100 jnwelch: That's a confirmed book bullet hit for The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

May 30, 8:41am Top

>103 souloftherose: I really liked it! It's set in a society that has traits of a dystopia (while still feeling like a fairytale) but manages to balance that with humour and tenderness. The characters are based on fairytale archetypes but change and grow beyond the tropes. I think it would be a great one to read aloud.

I just finished reading Borne by Jeff Vandermeer on my kindle and really enjoyed it. It's set in a decaying city littered with old biotech and roamed by strange, dangerous creatures and violent children, where the narrator Rachel survives by scavenging among the ruins. The giant bear Mord dominates the city leaving destruction in his wake but one day Rachel finds a strange anemone-like creature caught in his fur and on impulse takes it home with her. She names it Borne, and becomes increasingly attached to "him", as he develops the ability to communicate and seems to have a human sensibility. He will cause Rachel and her partner Wick to question humanity and the world around them - but can he be trusted? The book is very well-written and while the world is quite grim and there are some gory details I didn't feel that it was unnecessarily dark or hopeless. I wouldn't want to live there but it is a fascinating place to visit and Rachel is an interesting protagonist. I would say the book is more similar in feel to the Southern Reach trilogy than to Ambergris, but all show the same wild imagination and skilled prose style.

I've started reading The reluctant queen, sequel to Queen of blood which I thought was very good. It's set in a world infused with nature spirits who will kill humans if they are not controlled by a strong queen. Daleina is the only survivor of a massacre of potential queens by the spirits, but she has no sooner taken power than she learns that she must urgently find a successor. The queen's champions are sent out to find suitable candidates, but few women have the necessary ability to control all six kinds of spirit. Naelin is content with her life making charms and raising her children so when her husband manipulates a situation where her powers are revealed to a champion, she is unwilling to start training to be a queen. It makes a nice change to have a mature female heroine in a novel; however, Naelin's single-minded devotion to her children and stubborn refusal to see the bigger picture is getting a bit annoying. I'm also not keen on the hints at romantic feelings between her and Ven, the champion who found her. However, the writing is as good as in the first book and Daleina and the other returning characters are as compelling as ever. I look forward to seeing where the story leads.

I'm also rereading The dragonbone chair at present, intending to complete a reread of Memory Sorrow and Thorn before starting the new book, The witchwood crown. The world of Osten Ard is as rich and delightful as ever. Scenes from this book have remained strong in my memory over the years since I first read it and while it has its faults, the magic is still there for me.

I will be visiting Philadelphia for 10 days from June 1st, so am currently trying to decide which of the books on my tbr pile will be coming with me. Of course I'm bound to acquire at least a few while I'm there!

May 30, 6:57pm Top

I hope you have a nice trip! Try a water ice while you're there.

May 31, 9:40am Top

>105 libraryperilous: Thank you! I managed to live in Philly for 8 years and never tried water ice, so maybe this is the time.

I finished The reluctant queen this morning and while I enjoyed it I liked it a bit less than the first book. I found Naelin's story arc rather predictable - of course she will step up and agree to become an heir to save her country in the end, and the romance felt forced to me rather than something that sprang naturally from the characters. However I still liked and engaged with Daleina and I enjoyed the addition of her sister Arin to the cast, along with Hamon's fascinatingly amoral mother, Garnah. I'm interested to see where the story with Merecot will lead in the third and final book, Queen of sorrow.

So I've decided to take three print books on my trip - The readers of Broken Wheel recommend, Every mountain made low and You will know me. I think the first and third of those will appeal to the friend I'm staying with, so I can leave them with her if I finish them and have more space in my luggage for my inevitable purchases. I'll also take my kindle which has many unread titles on it.

May 31, 3:13pm Top

>106 Sakerfalcon: Cool! Philly's such a rad city. I have it high on my back up list if I can't afford to move back to New York after my trip. I lived in New York for about a decade and only went to the Empire State Building once, to buy a stamp at the post office in it. It's funny how so much of what's iconic about a city is ignored by its residents.

May 31, 3:21pm Top

>107 libraryperilous: Your last sentence is absolutely right! Indeed with regard to tourist sights I'd go so far as to say that "Don't ask me, I only live here" is close to being a law of nature.

Jun 1, 9:48am Top

>105 libraryperilous: Me too! Me too! Those look lovely, especially since we will be in three digit days before my trip to Philadelphia.

>106 Sakerfalcon: Missing you. :(

Jun 1, 12:27pm Top

Safe travels to Philadelphia, Claire! Sorry that I decided to return to Atlanta early and had to cancel our planned meet up. I look forward to hearing of your activities there, especially the restaurants you dine in.

Jun 1, 1:28pm Top

Safe travels Claire!

Jun 1, 6:11pm Top

>108 hfglen: 'Tis truth you speak. (Although my friends and I did have a kind of relationship with the Empire State Building: We'd feel like real New Yorkers only after we had managed to stay out until after its lights went out in the wee hours of morning.)

>109 MrsLee: Ooh, report back which flavors you try!

Jun 6, 8:25am Top

Jun 7, 9:10pm Top

Oh, dear! How did I miss that you were en route to Philadelphia? I absolutely would have made time to meet up with you, although I realize that by now that your trip is nearly over. (Rats!)

*Much wailing and gnashing of teeth*

Jun 14, 9:10am Top

Thank you for all your comments while I was away! I had a great trip and will post some photos soon. For those of you on facebook, I've just made an album on there if you are curious.

>107 libraryperilous:, >108 hfglen: You're right; there are many things in London that I've never done, or didn't until I went with visitors. I did a lot of the Philly tourist stuff on my early visits, before I moved there, and again when family and friends came to visit. This time I spent relatively little time downtown and more on day trips into Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

>105 libraryperilous:, >109 MrsLee: I did have a water ice, on a very hot and humid day when it was the perfect treat! We went to Rita's and I had mango flavour which was delicious. MrsLee, I hope you enjoy your visit to Philly. It would have been so cool if we'd managed to overlap, but maybe the stars will align better another time.

>110 kidzdoc: I'm just glad your parents were well enough that you felt confident in leaving them to have more time to prepare for your trip. I got to eat at two of my favourite Philly restaurants, Shiroi Hana on 15th between Walnut and Locust (excellent Japanese food) and Saigon Café at 43rd and Spruce, a couple of blocks from where I used to live. I had a vegetarian bento box at the former, and bun cha with veggie spring roll at the later. Both were as good as I remember. Oh, and in Baltimore we had Afghan food at Helmand restaurant in Mount Vernon which was also excellent. Otherwise I ate far more bar food than was comfortable, or home-cooked meals with my hosts.

>111 FAMeulstee: Thank you Anita; my flights and trains all worked out smoothly (apart from discovering in the check-in line at Philadelphia airport that my return flight was to Heathrow and not Gatwick ...) and I had a great time.

>113 Karlstar: I have not. Do I need to?

>114 jillmwo: It would have been great to see you. I do come to Philly every couple of years or so, so next time I will let you know my dates and we can arrange to meet. I saw one LibraryThinger, Laura from the Virago Group, on this visit.

Jun 14, 10:07am Top

So, what did I read while I was away?

The readers of Broken Wheel recommend was cute, about a Swedish woman who visits a small Iowa town to meet with an elderly pen friend, but finds that said friend has just died before she arrives. Swedish woman is adopted by the town, at first with some doubts and then enthusiasm, and she opens a bookshop with the contents of her friend's vast library. Of course there is a romance, which took over too much of the plot for my liking, and events moved a bit too fast to be realistic. But if you can suspend disbelief and like books with a quirky cast of characters then you might enjoy this.

You will know me was a good read for its background of competitive gymnastics, although I thought the thriller plot was a bit too straightforward to be suspenseful or even much of a mystery. The main focus of the book is the question of how far one will go for the sake of their child, and the exploration of this is relatively successful despite lacking depth and complexity. I'd recommend it if, like me, you are interested in gymnastics, rather than as a gripping psychological thriller.

Every mountain made low is an urban fantasy with an autistic protagonist, set in some alternate, altered America. Loxley can see ghosts, and when her best friend is killed violently she sets out to uncover the truth of what happened. She makes some brutal enemies, but also finds some new friends along the way. I enjoyed this, despite some violent scenes, and thought that Loxley made a very interesting protagonist.

While staying with my friend I raided her library of fantasy books and caught up on some Sharon Shinn novels that I'd missed. Wrapt in crystal is a murder mystery set on a planet where a goddess is worshipped by two very different cults. Priestesses are being killed and an interplanetary agent is sent in to try and solve the mystery, while also persuading the planet's powers-that-be to join the federation. The mystery was slow to be solved, with some twists and turns, and Cowen's investigations gave us a good tour of the planet and its society at various levels. Heart of gold is another SF novel, set on a planet with three different humanoid races that live uneasily alongside one another. Nolan is a scientist despite coming from a matriarchal culture that doesn't encourage men to have serious careers. Kit is the same race as Nolan, but grew up in another culture, one where male dominance is the norm and men have absolute power over their wives and children. The two are brought together when a conspiracy to commit genocide is uncovered. It takes a while for the two to meet, and I found Nolan's storyline to be more interesting than Kit's up to the point where they converge. Finally I read Quatrain which is a collection of 4 novellas set in some of Shinn's established worlds. We have stories from Samaria, the Twelve Houses, and the worlds created in Heart of gold and Summers at Castle Auburn. I think I enjoyed the Heart of gold story the most, and the Castle Auburn one the least. A nice collection of light reads.

On the flight home I read Red sister on my kindle, about which I had heard good things. This was an excellent book, following 8 year-old Nona's rescue from the gallows and her subsequent life in a convent of fighting nuns. The world in which this is set is a planet where only the equatorial region is habitable; the rest is covered in thick ice. Most of the action takes place within the convent, although outside politics make unwelcome intrusions. This book is full of amazing women and girls! Nona, Ara, Clera, Hessa and their classmates bond as a group and build friendships even while they squabble and fight and compete against each other in class. The teaching nuns, although shown to us through the girls' eyes, are also well developed characters and provide varied models of female strength and agency. This is quite a brutal world, but I wouldn't class the book as grimdark because of all the trust and loyalty between characters. If you can read about violence committed by and against children then I do recommend this strongly.

Now I'm reading Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard. I'd heard mixed reports of this series, which is based on Aztec culture and mythology, but I decided to grab the $1 copy which I found on my trip to Philadelphia and give it a go. I'm actually really enjoying it. The worldbuilding is detailed and vivid, the murder mystery plot is compelling and the characters and politics are very interesting. I'm not keen on all the animal sacrifice but it's not described in detail or dwelt upon - for our first-person narrator it is just a part of his life as a priest and not remarkable.

And I've returned to my reread of The dragonbone chair.

Jun 15, 6:06pm Top

>116 Sakerfalcon: I was given a copy of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend for Christmas 2016 and still haven't got around to reading it - despite my best intentions! (It's on my list of books to tackle this year - not that I'm doing terribly well with that at the moment).

Jun 16, 12:01pm Top

The Philly trip sounds great. My original home, family still resides there, impossible to keep current with all the great restaurants unless you live here! I think about moving back one day...

Jun 21, 9:23pm Top

Mango anything always is an excellent choice! I'm glad you had a nice trip.

Red Sister sounds intriguing, although I'm not sure I can stomach it right now.

Jun 22, 5:24am Top

>117 Peace2: I'll look forward to your thoughts if you get around to reading Broken Wheel. It was a decent read for a long flight, but turned into too much of a romance for my taste.

>118 stellarexplorer: The Philadelphia restaurant scene is amazing! I ate out so much when I lived there, anywhere from no frills neighbourhood places run by generations of the same family to high-end destination venues downtown. I always tell people that you're far more likely to eat well in Philly than in New York because places have to attract repeat business from locals rather than relying on millions of one-time tourist visits to make their money.

>119 libraryperilous: Thank you! I always enjoy visiting Philly, it still feels familiar even though I've been back in the UK for 10 years now. Red sister was excellent but I do recommend it for when you are feeling strong enough for something quite violent (though as I said before, I wouldn't class it as grimdark, quite).

I really enjoyed Servant of the underworld, although I felt that it could have been a little shorter overall. But de Bodard did a great job of setting up the Mediaeval Aztec world without info-dumping, and creating an effective atmosphere of ritual and the supernatural. The story is narrated by Acatl, a priest of the god of the underworld, and his is an interesting, though detached, point of view. We don't learn much about him as a person other than his sense of inferiority and his parents' disappointment; he is generally cool and cerebral rather than emotional, which I see from reviews has put some readers off. My favourite character was his sister, who within the rigid social structures of her world is feisty and competent, not afraid to learn and use her magical skills. The story is a hybrid of historical fantasy and detective novel, and I thought the mix worked very well. I've got the sequel lined up to read soon.

The dragonbone chair was as excellent as ever, and I will be continuing on to Stone of Farewell soon. This is a classic fantasy with all the tropes of the genre, but the settings and characters are well rounded and vivid; it's like being with old friends again.

For this month's Virago author read we picked Winifred Holtby, best known for the excellent South Riding. I chose to read Poor Caroline, which is a satire on idealism and self interest, structured as a series of linked narratives from different characters through whose eyes we see the titular character. Her passion is the formation of the Christian Cinema Company, which she believes will have a positive moral effect on Britain and also make her fortune. She draws a mix of people into her web, some who want to get what they can out of her, others who are sucked in almost against their will - but is she a deluded old lady or a swindler intent on taking people's money? Each character has their own opinion, but it's not until the end of the book that we are given a hint of the truth from the author. This was a very good read.

Now I'm reading another Holtby, The land of green ginger, which is very different in tone and theme but just as well written.

I'm also reading Shadows by Robin McKinley and Tin star by Cecil Castellucci, both YA novels with young female protagonists. Shadows is McKinley's take on urban fantasy, while Tin star is SF, set on a space station.

Jun 24, 6:08pm Top

>115 Sakerfalcon: I managed to have a water ice, they called it an Italian ice, and it was a street vendor, so I'm not sure it was what you all were talking about, but it was wonderful on the very hot and humid day we were there.

Of all the places on our trip, Philadelphia is the one we all want to return to and spend more time in. A lovely place.

Edited: Jun 29, 10:57am Top

>121 MrsLee: Philadelphia and the surrounding area has so much to offer that you could easily spend a couple of weeks there and not see everything. There are some gorgeous gardens in the suburbs that I think you'd like, as well as many great second-hand bookshops.

I finished The land of Green Ginger and enjoyed it though overall I think I like it least of the books by Holtby that I've read. If I hadn't seen the blurb on the back which described it as Holtby's "most delightful" novel I might have given up, as this story gets quite bleak. Joanna marries Teddy who seems to offer romance and escape from the drudgery of everyday life, but in fact they end up struggling to make ends meet on a lonely farm, with Joanna bearing most of the burdens because Teddy has TB. When foreign men come to work on a tree plantation, xenophobia and suspicion rear their heads in the small Yorkshire community. I did like the ending very much, but I would hesitate to describe book as delightful!

Shadows began well for me, as I loved being drawn into Maggie's world and meeting her friends and family. However, once the action began I found the narrative quite confusing with a lot of random elements thrown in that just seemed to add clutter rather than substance. However, there was one thing McKinley did in the book that I loved Maggie starts out hating her stepfather and finding him creepy, but she discovers that her feelings are unjustified and learns to appreciate him. It was great to see this trope turned on its head. I think part of the reason the book lost me was my mood, so I'm keeping my copy to reread at a better time.

Tin star had a great premise and plot, but I found the writing clunky and a bit odd, as though the author's first language was not English or I was reading a translation. Tula was beaten and left for dead on a space station where she finds she is the only human. This gives a really interesting perspective as she has to survive in a place where humans are not well thought of. When three more humans find themselves on the station Tula must decide whether she wants to trust them and become involved in their plans and politics. I enjoyed the story and characters but kept finding myself wanting to rewrite sentences and paragraphs.

Now I'm reading Stone of farewell and still enjoying my return to Ostern Ard.

I'm also reading Lilith's brood, an omnibus edition of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy. I've read the first volume before but never carried on to the sequels. It is excellent, disturbing SF.

And I'm rereading an Australian YA fantasy, Darkfall, about twin sisters who are transported into a parallel world, separated, and partially lose their memories. I like the world of Keltor, which feels kind of Mediterranean to me, with some very different societies living uneasily alongside each other.

Jun 29, 6:32pm Top

>122 Sakerfalcon: I read and enjoyed the whole Lilith’s Brood trilogy a couple years ago. It was my first experience with her writing. I hope you enjoy the second two books at least as much as the first! I liked all of them a lot.

Jun 30, 7:43am Top

>122 Sakerfalcon: & >123 YouKneeK: After reading that trilogy I definitely need to read more of her work. They are the only ones I've read so far but have Seed to Harvest omnibus waiting on the tbr shelves to get to at some point.

Jul 6, 4:51am Top

I need to revisit Osten Ard too, now that Williams is continuing (I assume) the story. So many books, so little time ...

Edited: Jul 6, 12:52pm Top

I'll have to start exploring some of the restaurants in Philadelphia that you like, Claire! Now that lauralkeet and her husband Chris have moved to Fishtown I hope to meet up with them on a regular basis when I visit my parents, starting later this month. Chris and I are both fans of Michael Ondaatje and Karl Ove Knausgaard, so we'll have plenty to talk about.

Edited: Jul 17, 6:01am Top

>123 YouKneeK: I've read the first 2 books now and thought both were very good. I'm taking a break before completing the trilogy but am looking forward to the last book. Butler is a great writer, with some very disturbing and thought-provoking ideas.

>124 AHS-Wolfy: I too have Seed to harvest on the tbr pile, and Kindred too. I thought the Parable duology was very good, though disturbingly prophetic in many ways.

>125 humouress: I'm really enjoying the reread, being back in such a vivid world.

>126 kidzdoc: There are so many great restaurants in Philadelphia; I think it's easier to find a good meal there than in New York. Laura will know of many more places than I do, as her knowledge will be more up to date than mine. It would be great if I can time a future visit to overlap with you being there - an LT meetup would be fun.

I've taken a break from Lilith's brood, having completed the second book, to read some Molly Keane for this month's Virago group read. I finished Treasure hunt which is an amusing tale set among an impoverished Anglo-Irish family. Consuelo and Hercules resent having their extravagances reined in by the younger generation who are seeking to restore the family finances through hard work and economising. No more champagne, biscuits or days at the races - instead, three paying guests arrive from England. It shouldn't be too hard to drive them away ... but if only dotty Miss Anna Rose could remember where she'd hidden her rubies all problems would be solved ... This was a romp, with colourful if exaggerated characters and a great sense of place.

Jul 17, 7:27am Top

>127 Sakerfalcon: I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the first two!

I liked Kindred quite a lot also. I wasn’t as crazy about the first book in Seed to Harvest and decided not to continue that series, but it might have partly been timing. I’ll likely try the Parable of the Sower duology when I next cycle around to the author, so I’m glad to read you enjoyed it.

Jul 17, 11:33am Top

>122 Sakerfalcon:, >123 YouKneeK: & >124 AHS-Wolfy: So happy to hear you're enjoying the Lilith's Brood trilogy, as I have the first one waiting on my kindle, as well as the Seed to Harvest omnibus, and Kindred. The Parable duology blew me away when I read it a few years ago. I couldn't understand how I had never heard of Octavia Butler before. I still don't.

Jul 17, 2:29pm Top

>126 kidzdoc: >127 Sakerfalcon: I would enjoy meeting up if you're coming to the Philly area!

Jul 18, 5:49pm Top

I really need to read Butler. I know that. I just don't know if I can handle the grimness.

Edited: Jul 18, 9:00pm Top

>131 libraryperilous: You have the best profile photo on all of LibraryThing.

Jul 20, 8:56am Top

>128 YouKneeK: I'm not sure that "enjoyed" is the right world for the Parable duology - it's very dark and a bit too scarily resonant with current events. But it is gripping and thought-provoking and I thought it was excellent.

>129 clamairy: She really deserves to be a household name like Le Guin, Herbert, Heinlein, etc. What I've read of hers so far is amazing.

>130 Jim53: That would be great! LT meetups are so much fun! I was disappointed that I couldn't time my visit to come at the same time as MrsLee.

>131 libraryperilous: Maybe try Dawn, the first book of the Xenogenesis trilogy. I would advise you to avoid the Parable books for now.

>132 clamairy: That is awesome!

I've read another Molly Keane book, Young entry, which is centred on the friendship between two Anglo-Irish girls, Prudence and Peter They are careless and carefree, obsessed with horses and dogs, and live for hunting in the Irish countryside. Prudence lives with horrible guardians whose morals seem to come from the Victorian age - they make her wear a long coat over her riding breeches so that the shape of her legs doesn't show. The contrast between them and the more relaxed younger generation (and the servant class) is interesting to see. Of course, the girls' friendship is tested when romance rears its head, and I enjoyed seeing how their relationship is changed. At times this book reads like a pony story for adults, especially the thrilling finale which sees Prudence riding against the clock to try and prevent disaster. Avoid if you don't care to read about foxhunting - there is a lot of it in the book.

I'm also reading The crystal variation, an omnibus of books that show the origins of the Liaden universe. I really enjoy this SF series but its prehistory is completely new to me. It took me a while to get into Crystal soldier as the beginning was quite slow, but once the action ramped up it hooked me and now I'm really enjoying it.

I'm also still reading Stone of farewell. I think this is the slowest book in the trilogy and probably some of it could have been cut, but we see the characters develop and relationships build and change.

And on kindle I've started Rocket fuel, a free anthology of non-fiction from the tor.com website.

I will return to the Xenogenesis trilogy next week.

Edited: Jul 20, 2:52pm Top

>133 Sakerfalcon: I need to revisit Osten Ard too, but they’re such big books! Especially To Green Angel Tower.

Jul 31, 7:22am Top

>134 humouress: They are indeed! I haven't picked up Stone of farewell at all this week, as I've been distracted by newer, shinier things!

I enjoyed Crystal soldier a lot once it got going. Jela and Cantra are good characters and I like the dynamic between them. It's interesting to see the origins of some features of later Liaden books, especially the Tree which is a character in its own right. I will be proceeding to Crystal Dragon very soon.

I read another Molly Keane for the Virago group read, Devoted ladies. This is a very black satirical comedy, with the ladies of the title far from devoted; rather, they are locked into an unhealthy relationship. Jessica and Jane have been living together for 6 months, with Jessica jealously guarding her friend and controlling her interactions with others. Jane is pretty and passive, with a tendency to drink too much and over-dramatise events to attract attention. The eligible bachelor George Playfair decides that Jane is need of rescue and that he's the man to do so; he invites her to his home in Ireland and thus the stage is set for a battle of wills that will come to a shocking end. None of the characters are really likeable, but they are fun to read about and I very much enjoyed this book, which must have been quite scandalous at the time of its publication.

I've been distracted from my plan to return to Octavia Butler by two more recently acquired titles, Winter tide and Before Mars. I finished Before Mars already, as it drew me in immediately and I had a hard time putting it down. It's the third of Emma Newman's Planetfall series, this one following a geologist and painter who has been sent to Mars to join a survey team there. Upon arrival, however, Anna finds a note to herself apparently in her own hand, telling her not to trust the team psychologist. Other evidence soon suggests that either all is not as it seems, or that she is going mad. I love this SF series, and this latest volume was another strong entry. Anna is an interesting protagonist through whom Newman writes of post-partum depression and reluctant motherhood, with the associated guilt and alienation that result. I hope this isn't the last book in this universe, as it feels like there are more stories to tell.

I'm about halfway through Winter tide and enjoying it a lot. It's a quiet book set in the Lovecraftian mythos but without the racism and sexism of the original. Aphra and Caleb Marsh are survivors of the raid on Innsmouth, rounded up and taken to camps by the US government in 1928. Years later, as their numbers dwindle, they are joined in the camps by Japanese-Americans being detained in the second World War. After the war the camps are emptied and Aphra and her brother, the only survivors of their people, make a new life with their adopted Japanese family. But the FBI are still interested in her people and their magical heritage, and Aphra must reopen old wounds from the past as she reluctantly agrees to help. I've seen a few negative responses to this book, some from people whose opinions I trust, but I liked the original short story which serves as a prequel to this book and couldn't resist giving it a try anyway. I'm not regretting that decision. I've seen criticism that Aphra is an unemotional narrator, but I think that fits with her otherworldly nature - she isn't quite human and sees the world differently. The cast of characters which form her found family are an interesting and diverse mix and I'm enjoying getting to know them too.

I'm still dipping into Rocket fuel, the tor.com non fiction collection. Some of the pieces I've read before, but others are new to me and most are thought provoking and interesting. They range from an in-depth character study of Galadriel to the importance of writing queer characters well in SF. I'm reading this while commuting and it is perfect for that.

Jul 31, 8:46am Top

>135 Sakerfalcon: Hi Claire! I'm another big fan of the Planetfall novels and also really enjoyed Before Mars. I haven't read any of her fantasy novels yet but have the first one (Between Two Thorns) on my kindle.

I've also got the Rocket Fuel collection but haven't started it yet.

Jul 31, 10:44am Top

I'm just re-reading planetfall and hadn't realised it was a series - enjoyig it so far, with more to look forward to apparently.

Jul 31, 4:44pm Top

Ooh, that Rocket Fuel sounds intriguing. Consider me struck. My library doesn't have it, so I took a quick peek at eBay. After my initial search, I decided I'd have more luck by restricting it to books ;-)

Jul 31, 4:58pm Top

>138 Jim53: If you have a kindle-compatible e-reader, Rocket Fuel is currently a free download.

Aug 1, 2:25pm Top

>132 clamairy: Awww, shucks. Tyvm, Clare. :)

>133 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for the recommendation. I'll get to it soonish, I hope. I'm behind on all my sci-fi reading this year.

I'm very intrigued by the Planetfall books, although I usually wait for a series to finish publishing before reading it. Are the books standalone-ish enough to go ahead and read?

Aug 2, 8:11am Top

>136 souloftherose: I read and enjoyed Between two thorns once it got going. I haven't continued with the series yet, although I might if my tbr pile ever gets any smaller!

>137 reading_fox:, >140 libraryperilous: The Planetfall books are very loosely linked, with each one being told from a different perspective and telling a stand alone story set in the same universe. I've loved them all so far.

>138 Jim53:, >139 ScoLgo: Yes, I got it free from amazon but it's available from other sources too.

I've started to read Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell as she is this month's Virago author. Her books are mostly light social comedies with some satire, very amusing and frothy. This one takes place at a weekend house party at the titular residence, with a cast of eligible young people in search (knowingly or not) of love and happiness. The older generation are both helping and hindering. One of the most striking characters is the author Hermione Rivers, a ghastly woman who apparently was based on the author Ann Bridge. She must have crossed Thirkell quite badly to have earned this poisoned portrait!

Also still enjoying Winter tide and Rocket fuel - in the latter I'm part way through an analysis of Maggie Stiefvater's Cabeswater YA series.

Aug 2, 9:59am Top

Oh, thanks. I'll go ahead and try the first one in the Planetfall series, then. Loosely linked I can handle!

I read Thirkell's O, These Men, These Men in high school and liked it. I've not been able to finish any of her books as an adult. I've never been very enamored of domestic fiction, so it was a surprise to me even as a teenager that I liked OTMTM as well as I did. I hope you continue to enjoy Pomfret.

Edited: Aug 6, 10:07am Top

>142 libraryperilous: I can see that Thirkell's books would not appeal to everyone. They are very light and frothy, with a strong focus on romance (or at least suitable marriages) and the characters are usually amusing stereotypes. For me, I'm finding that they are perfect light reading for this very hot summer that we're experiencing in the UK.

I finished several books this weekend, due to spending quite a bit of time on trains.

Pomfret Towers was quite delightful, if rather silly. The couples all sorted themselves out, the ghastly mother got a nasty shock and the nice people ended up happy. I've got some more in this series lined up to read for the rest of the month, but I'm alternating them with different material because otherwise I think they'd become too repetitive. Next up will be August folly.

My next Virago was No more than human, an Irish novel from 1944 though set in the 1920s. It was a great read. It continues the adventures of Delia Scully, the young Irish woman who we met in Never no more. This sequel sees her becoming a governess in Spain - but her natural high spirits and naivety mean that she soon finds herself in trouble. Delia, strongly based on the author, is a delightful heroine, and the depiction of Spain in the early C20th is vivid and compelling. There is a section near the beginning about food which had my mouth watering! We mingle with all levels of Spanish society, and with Irish governesses young and old, as our heroine makes her way through life and love. This is an excellent read, highly recommended.

Winter tide was a very good read as well. I enjoyed Aphra's calm narrative voice and the many scenes in libraries and archives. As the story progresses Aphra's found family grows, and I really enjoyed getting to know each character. I think it helped me to have read some of Lovecraft's short stories already, so that many of the places and terms were familiar to me. Thankfully Emrys resisted the temptation to imitate his purple prose! I am looking forward to reading the sequel when it comes out in paperback, though you are not left on a cliffhanger at the end of this book.

I also finished Rocket fuel which was overall a strong and varied collection. I must admit to skipping the long, detailed description and analysis of an episode of DS9, but that piece might appeal to someone who'd watched the series. I was also dubious about the "playlist" constructed for Neil Gaiman's American Gods as some of the connections made seemed tenuous. But considering this was a free download I can't really make any serious complaints about it!

I've started reading Crystal dragon the next Liaden book. After forcing my way through the bizarre and uncompelling prologue I'm now back with Jela, Cantra and the Tree again.

I've picked up my Octavia Butler omnibus again and am well into Imago, the third book of the Xenogenesis trilogy. I'm enjoying this more than the previous book, perhaps because the story is told in first-person narrative.

I'm also reading Perfect little world, a novel about a co-operative parenting experiment. I loved the author's earlier novel, The family Fang, but so far this one, though pleasant and interesting, isn't living up to it.

And I really must finish Stone of farewell soon!

Aug 15, 8:08am Top

I finished August folly which was another frothy romp among the upper middle classes of inter-war England. This one is set around an amateur production of a Greek play, which no-one except its producer seems enthusiastic about. There are the usual ups and downs of romance, and the bonus addition of a snarky cat and donkey.

Now I'm reading another Virago, I'm not complaining. It's a rather bleak view of teaching in a primary school in a deprived area, but the stories of the teachers and their pupils and everyday life in the school are keeping me hooked. Back then (1930s), as now, school inspections are the bane of teachers' lives, as their performance is judged on a few minutes observation of their class by an outsider.

Nearing the end of Crystal dragon. I still don't enjoy the dramliza scenes; I don't remember that stuff from the later books in the series (time for a reread) and it's all quite confusing and odd. But the main storyline with Jela and Cantra is excellent.

Aug 23, 6:41am Top

A few more books finished ...
I'm not complaining was excellent. The teachers and children really came alive for me with their various stories, and Madge makes a hard-headed, interesting narrator. Her life is hard, but not without satisfaction. While certain social mores have changed since the book was set, in other ways it still rang very true. Recommended especially if you have an interest in social history (this is fiction but seems true to life) or education specifically.

I've also finished Crystal dragon which was mostly a good read, at least when we followed Cantra, Jela, dea Syl, and Tor An. I disliked the dramliza stuff which was too handwavy and magical for me in an SF world, as well as just plain confusing. It was good to see the origins of the Liaden universe as I know it from the later books though. Now I've continued to the third book in my omnibus edition, Balance of trade, which follows young Terran Jethri as he finds himself apprenticed to a Liaden Trader.

I've also finished my reread of Stone of farewell. It was a bit of a slog as there is a lot of travel in this volume, and it is obviously setting things up for the conclusion of To Green Angel Tower. But for a traditional pig-boy fantasy this is one of the best.

I enjoyed another Angela Thirkell, Summer half, which is set in a boys' boarding school. Colin Keith decides that he can't in good conscience depend on his parents for as long as it will take to become a lawyer, so he gets a job as a teacher. So in addition to the usual upper middle class social comedy and romantic ups and downs we have some entertaining scenes with the schoolboys and a dramatic sports day. The boys were my favourite characters (one of whom is Tony Morland from High rising, still irrepressible but entertaining rather than annoying now) as well as 16 year old Lydia, with her love for Horace and Shakespeare. There is also a chameleon who plays a small but memorable role. This is probably my favourite book so far of the series.

I followed that with a very different Virago book, The unlit lamp by Radclyffe Hall (better known for The well of loneliness. This is a rather depressing book about a toxic mother-daughter relationship and love at its most possessive. Joan is the odd elder daughter of Colonel and Mrs Ogden who live in genteel comfort in a small, conservative seaside town. Elizabeth, just graduated from Cambridge, arrives as governess to the two sisters, and a passionate friendship grows between her and Joan as Joan's exceptional academic ability becomes clear. The two plan that Joan will go to Cambridge, train in medicine and then share a flat together in London. However, Mrs Ogden has no intention of letting her daughter go, and uses every trick in the book to stifle her plans for freedom. She must surely rank as one of the most monstrous mothers in fiction. She, Joan and Elizabeth are vividly drawn in their power struggle, and there is much to admire, if not like, in this novel. It was a good but depressing read that I can't see myself revisiting in future.

I'm still reading Imago, which is an excellent conclusion to Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy. I'm also trying to read The wanderer by Fanny Burney for a group read, but it is heavy going. And I'm still enjoying my travels in the Liaden universe with Balance of trade.

Aug 28, 6:35pm Top

I liked Balance of Trade, Claire. I thought it was one of the better Liaden books.

Edited: Aug 29, 8:53am Top

>146 jnwelch: I'm enjoying it, though as it's part of a big omnibus volume I'm reading it quite slowly. I'm very much looking forward to seeing you and Debbi next month in London!

I spent this weekend binging on the Penderwicks series, of which I have the first 4. These are delightful MG family stories about four sisters, their friend Jeffrey and various pets. They have an old-fashioned feel about them, comparable to the Melendy family books, but passing references to computers and other technology place the stories in the present day. The dynamics between the girls, their widowed father and (in the later books) their extended family, are beautifully portrayed with gentle humour and wisdom. I highly recommend these to anyone with children in their pre or early teens. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the final book in the series.

Now I'm back to Angela Thirkell with The Brandons, another light social comedy, and continuing with Jethri's adventures in Balance of trade. I'm not sure I will be picking up The wanderer again any time soon ... it may have defeated me.

Aug 29, 11:47am Top

Angela Thirkell is perfect late-summer reading, I think.

Aug 29, 2:23pm Top

>147 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for the reminder to get back to The Penderwicks, Claire. I have only read the first book so far.

Edited: Sep 5, 9:56am Top

>148 Marissa_Doyle: I agree! Her books were just what I needed this summer.

>149 FAMeulstee: I've loved all the Penderwicks books so far. The characters are very well drawn and easy to relate to and care about. There is also just the right mix of humour and seriousness.

I finished my last Angela Thirkell for the month with The Brandons, which centred around an attractive widow and her family. Aunt Sissie is dying and everyone wants to know who she is leaving her estate to - each hoping desperately not to be the heir. Lovely widow Lavinia Brandon is quite content in her single state, with her two adult children still at home, but can't seem to help attracting admirers. Romance and confusion reigns for a while, but all is resolved satisfactorily in the end.

Balance of trade was very good, a nice episode in the Liaden universe which could stand along. When Jethri becomes the apprentice to a Liaden trader he finds himself thrust into a world where inattention to etiquette and social nuance can be fatal; he must learn quickly if he's to survive. It's interesting to learn about the Liaden and Terran trade customs and how the two people live alongside each other, with a certain degree of mistrust and unease.

I also finished the Xenogenesis trilogy, which was excellent. I think I liked the first volume, Dawn, the best as Lilith's disorientation and her gradual discovery of the Oankali is so vividly portrayed. But I liked Jodahs' first-person narration in the third volume, seeing the world from his alien, yet relatable, point of view. I still have Kindred and Seed to harvest to read and am looking forward to them.

And this weekend I read Sleeping giants, having seen it recommended by several GDers recently. It's an SF/thriller that opens when a little girl falls into a deep hole and lands on a giant metal hand. Years later that girl is a scientist and finds herself involved in researching the artefact. The story is told in the form of interviews and diary entries, making it a fast read. As the nature of the artefact is revealed, and the stakes become higher, questions of power and ethics arise - but there are still mysteries to be revealed. This was an engaging read and I'll look for the sequels at the library.

Now I'm reading An alchemy of masques and mirrors, an alt-historical fantasy set on floating islands that resemble C18th France and Spain. Isabelle is the daughter of a nobleman but due to her deformed hand she can't expect to take her place in society or be considered as a bride. Yet against all expectations a betrothal is arranged with the heir to the throne of a neighbouring land. However, Isabelle soon learns that she wasn't the first choice - and that her predecessors met with mysterious fates. I'm really enjoying this, though as regards the worldbuilding the floating islands might just as well be in the sea as the air. Isabelle is a clever, curious heroine with a passion for science and technology, who is thoughtful and resourceful despite her inexperience.

I've also started a realistic novel, Oracles and miracles, which is the story of twin sisters born into a large, poor family in New Zealand in the 1920s. Ginnie and Fag narrate the story of their hard life, with added passages by a "historian" who provides the larger picture and context. It's quite effective and I'm looking forward to seeing where life takes the twins.

And I'm also reading Reluctant voyagers, an SF novel by Elisabeth Vonarburg. It is slow-moving but engaging, following the day-to-day life of Catherine, a lecturer at the French language university in Montreal. It soon becomes clear that her world is not the same as ours - the dates of WWII are different, the history of Canada varies in some details, the Christian story is not the same. I'm very interested to see where this story is going.

Sep 10, 10:08pm Top

Ooh, Reluctant Voyagers and Oracles and Miracles both sound fascinating. Looking forward to your reviews when you've finished them.

Sep 12, 5:07pm Top

>150 Sakerfalcon: So glad to hear you enjoyed the Xenogenesis trilogy. It's been on my radar for quite some time.

>140 libraryperilous: I have a confession to make. I swiped your profile pic and used it on Facebook because l loved it so much. It was very popular. 😂

Sep 12, 5:09pm Top

>152 clamairy: It is a good profile picture.

Sep 13, 8:49am Top

>152 clamairy: & >153 pgmcc: It's really a mystery I can't be bothered to solve. :D

Sep 13, 4:09pm Top

>145 Sakerfalcon: My apologies, I missed that you asked about The Heart of What Was Lost way back when. You definitely should reat it before starting the new trilogy! Not only is it shorter, so there isn't as much time investment, but it goes into some things that are not well covered in previous books. Its also a great welcome back to Osten Ard, which you're already familiar with and just a good read.

Sep 18, 6:31am Top

>151 libraryperilous: Oracles and miracles was a good read. I liked Ginnie and Fag, the twin sisters who grow up in poverty and struggle to make their way in life. It could have been a very depressing book but somehow the author manages to avoid making it miserable. It is sad to see how little the girls are valued by their mother, who regards them as a burden useful only to wait on their brothers. Despite their unpromising background, both girls turn out to be academically bright and do well at school, but even then options are limited for those of their social class. As they grow up their paths diverge and new relationships take the place of the old bond between them. I enjoyed the way the author told the story, with sections narrated by Ginnie and Fag interspersed with the more distant voice of "a Historian" who puts the sisters' story in the context of its time and place. It made the book stand apart from similar stories of impoverished childhoods.
I'm still reading Reluctant voyagers, which is a strange and sometimes difficult book. It's very hard to describe and I now understand why there are very few reviews of it. Catherine is a university professor in the French-speaking enclave of Montreal, who suddenly starts to forget things that she should know. The knowledge comes back quickly, but she is aware that the brief disconnect isn't right. Through her we learn of the history of this alternate North America, where religious and political factions are intertwined. A young girl appears and accompanies Catherine for some time, but disappears for periods and seems older when she reappears. Catherine falls in with some old friends and new acquaintances who share mystical beliefs and theories and, through them, she comes to believe that she may be a Voyager, one who journeys through alternate worlds. It's all quite nebulous and hard to grasp at times, but something is keeping me intrigued all the same.

>152 clamairy: I will look forward to seeing what you think of Butler's work when you get a chance to try it.

>153 pgmcc:, >154 MrsLee: *snort*

>155 Karlstar: Thank you for that, I appreciate the advice. No worries about the delay, I haven't yet started To Green Angel Tower so it will be a while before I get to the newer titles!

Sep 21, 11:43am Top

>152 clamairy: Haha, excellent. I swiped it from somewhere else on the web because I couldn't resist it, so I know just what you mean. :)

>154 MrsLee: lol, so what you're saying is this is you when someone asks why you haven't started your investigation yet? :)

>156 Sakerfalcon: Two more to bump up Mt TBR, and thank you for these insightful thoughts.

Edited: Sep 25, 10:45am Top

>157 libraryperilous: I will be very interested in your thoughts if you decide to read the Vonarberg. It was difficult to sum up and I'm sure a lot of it passed me by as I was reading, but something about it was strangely compelling.

A rather belated catch-up is due.

An alchemy of masques and mirrors was an excellent read, which I should have believed it would be based on kceccato's recommendation. Isabelle is a great heroine, and while many readers may wish for more of the gallant musketeer Jean-Claude I for one was happy that the narrative followed them equally. They made a great team. The loose ends of the plot are tied up at the end of the book, but there is a sequel and anyone who loved the characters as much as I do will want to read more. I think this book could appeal to many people in the pub.

I've also read Night magic, the sequel to Nightstruck, a teen horror novel set in Philadelphia. This book opens where the previous one left us, with Beckett having become nightstruck - essentially, turned to the dark side, with no conscience or moral sense and unable to survive the light of day. This is one of the darkest YA series I've come across, and really ratchets up the tension as Beckett tries to fight the evil forces which she inadvertently let into the city. The sense of place is excellent (speaking as a former resident of Philadelphia), and used very effectively. Once again we are left on a cliffhanger at the end of the book, and I will almost certainly be reading the final volume.

I'm currently reading The shadow of the lion, an alternate history novel with magic set in C16th (?) Venice. It's a collaboration between Mercedes Lackey and two other authors and I imagine that each picked specific characters and their storylines. But everything intersects and merges nicely, and the imagined Venice is a fun, if dangerous, place to spend time. The prose is easy to read though it won't win any literary awards, but there are lots of errors in the Italian words and names. I'm trying to put this down as intentional to show that it's not our world, but seeing Giuseppe written as Guiseppe (to give just one example) is irritating. The main characters are engaging, especially brothers Marco and Benito, courtesan Francesca and feisty Maria; they are stock types but I care about them. It's a very long book that could probably be shorter; however, I'm enjoying my immersion in this other world.

I've also started to read Red clocks, a recent dystopian novel set in the USA after a Personhood Amendment has been passed by Congress. Not only does this prevent abortion, but also IVF - because the child-to-be can't consent to be relocated. The book has four viewpoints - the Biographer who is trying to get pregnant, the Mender who provides herbal solutions to women seeking to conceive or abort, the Daughter who falls pregnant accidentally and the Wife who seems to have it all but feels trapped by her life. I've only just started to read it but already I'm finding it hard to put down - the format makes me want to keep reading just one more section.

I'm still reading and enjoying Null states though I must admit to putting it aside for a week or so in favour of the easier-to-read Lackey book. Null States isn't that difficult but the political intrigue wasn't appealing to me for some reason. But now I'm back on track.

And I've also started to read the next Liaden book, Dragon Ship, which is the further adventures of Theo Waitley as she becomes a pilot and trader for Clan Korval. It's a slow starter but I expect it to pick up soon as all Liaden books do.

Sep 26, 10:55am Top

158: So glad you liked An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors! I'm on something of a mission to make sure more people know about that book. It deserves our attention.

Edited: Sep 29, 11:36am Top

I love the Penderwicks. I’ve only read two. I didn’t realize there were more! I’ll have to see if my library has them.

Edited to add: just checked my library. They have all of them but the second one. It must’ve been lost because I know I borrowed it at one point.

Oct 2, 9:31pm Top

Hiya, Claire. It was great to see you in London. Debbi and I are back home, and getting back in the swing of things here.

I'm glad you're still enjoying the Liaden series. Me, too.

Oct 7, 2:25am Top

*sigh* Yet another Penderwicks BB. I'll have to get the series. Maybe I can put it on the kids' bookshelves so I can save space on mine.

If you're up to another meet up, I'll be in London for a couple of weeks where I'm planning on raiding the bookshops. Joe obviously missed me on purpose ;0)

Oct 8, 5:10am Top

>159 kceccato: It does indeed! I'm looking forward to the sequel, though I like that the author basically tied up the loose ends in book 1 so as not to leave us on a cliffhanger. I just want to spend more time with Isabelle.

>160 catzteach: They are such delightful books. The characters with their hopes and dreams feel very real, and I love the old fashioned feel that the books have. They are like modern day Melendy family (Elizabeth Enright) stories.

>161 jnwelch: It was so great to see you and Debbi again! I wish I'd been able to see more of you both, but what a lovely day we did have together. Glad you've settled back into life at home. I will have to make it to Chicago for a visit, it's one of my favourite American cities.

>162 humouress: I am always up for LibraryThing meetups! Let me know when you'll be over and we can arrange a time and place.

Oct 9, 9:07pm Top

>164 catzteach: they do have an old fashioned feel. That’s part of why I like them.

Edited: Oct 11, 9:36am Top

Now for a long overdue reading update:

I've recently read two "angry women" dystopian type books, Red clocks and Gather the daughters. The first was a lot better than the second, though both were hard to put down. Red clocks felt disturbingly plausible: a Personhood amendment is passed in the US which (obviously) makes abortion illegal but also IVF (because the egg can't consent to being relocated). Another law, Every Child Needs 2, is about to come into force which will prevent adoptions by single people. We follow the perspectives of four women in different situations as they navigate through the nightmare that society has become for women.
Gather the daughters is set in a patriarchal cult that lives on a remote island, cut off from the "Wastelands" which have apparently been destroyed in a apocalyptic disaster. Our narrators are teenage girls who have grown up in this society, obedient to their fathers in every way, knowing that as soon as they reach puberty they will be married and expected to bear children. As all the information about the Wastelands comes from the few men who are permitted to leave the island in search of supplies, it seems clear that the rest of the world hasn't actually been destroyed, and the island has been set up as a retreat for a cult that was set up to allow fathers to commit incest with their daughters. I found the ending rather rushed and unsatisfactory, while also have to suspend disbelief at several points in the story. Both books are thought-provoking reads and very timely.

The shadow of the lion was a fun and absorbing read, with characters who were easy to care about and a vivid setting. However, I feel content to have finished this and don't need to carry on and read the sequels.

Null states was a great follow-up to Infomocracy. This time the action takes place mostly in Darfur and Central Asia, areas where the author has lived and worked. As with the previous book it took quite a long time for the action to ramp up, but once it did it was a gripping read. These books are a great escape from the usual European/North America SF settings, and I recommend them to anyone who enjoys political SF.

On my kindle I just read an old school story for girls, Biddy and Quilla. This is a pleasant story about the titular girls and their friendship which forms despite considerable peer pressure. The author's characters have more depth and subtlety in their personalities than is usual for this genre and I enjoyed this book a lot.

For this month's Virago author read I chose The doves of Venus by Olivia Manning. This is the story of naïve 18 year old Ellie who escapes the conservative, dull seaside town of her childhood for a bohemian life as an artist in London. She is thrilled to land both a job "antiquing" furniture and an older, married lover, but reality soon shatters her dreams. Despite her despair she keeps going, forming some new friendships and discovering an inner strength. Meanwhile we also follow her lover and his estranged wife, and their circle of friends. This book is saturated with the atmosphere of 1960s London, showing how both the poor and the privileged lived. Most of the characters are not sympathetic, yet they are fascinating. I really enjoyed this book, much to my surprise.

I'm currently still reading Dragon ship, the first half of which I've found quite heavy going. However, with the arrival of the "Pilots in peril" alert, things might be getting more exciting.

I'm also reading The bone people, which won the Booker prize back in the '80s. It's been on my TBR for about 20 years, and I finally decided to start it. It's not an easy read but I'm loving it. It follows three damaged people - the artist Kerewin who lives alone in a tower by the NZ seashore, Simon, the mute boy who turns up on her doorstep one day, and Joe, Simon's Maori stepfather. Joe loves Simon fiercely, but beats him in frustration; Simon clearly loves Joe and manages to break through Kerewin's physical and emotional isolation. Both Kerewin and Joe are heavy drinkers, and in many ways not suitable guardians for the boy. Yet somehow the three of them are forming a deep bond. The prose is colourful, a mix of third and first person, at times lapsing into stream of consciousness and interior monologue. This isn't the sort of book I'd usually read - its themes and characters aren't the sort that usually attract me - but I am really enjoying it so far.

Oct 11, 6:58pm Top

>165 Sakerfalcon: I'm glad you're enjoying The Bone People.
I believe I have had on my leaning tower of TBR for over a decade. :o/

Oct 12, 6:51am Top

>166 clamairy: Ha! I think there is a right time for each book, and sometimes it is a long time coming. But if you read the book at the wrong time you won't appreciate it.

I totally forgot to mention two more books that I read recently.
Britt-Marie was here is by the same author as the delightful A man named Ove and is similar in that it follows an awkward social misfit as they find a place for themselves in the larger community. Britt-Marie (apparently a minor character in another book by the author) is set in her ways, repressed, with a mania for cleaning and keeping things just as they should be. Somehow she finds herself the mentor to a children's soccer team in a dying town far from the city. There are the usual quirky locals that you find in this sort of book, but I felt that despite the trope-y set-up, Britt-Marie's journey of self-discovery was realistic. She didn't become a different person; more, she learned how to live in the world as the kind of person she is. If you like Ove, I think you will enjoy reading about Britt-Marie too. I certainly did.

The other book I read is Journal of the flood year, which is set in a near-future which imagines that a vast wall has been built out in the Atlantic along the east coast of the USA, allowing land to be reclaimed from the sea. Our narrator, whose journal we are reading, works on the wall and becomes alarmed when he sees increasing amounts of sea water seeping through. However, his superiors deny that there can be a problem, and his increasing attempts to raise the alarm lead him into trouble. This is an engaging read, though it contains all the expected clichés of this sort of fiction, and the narrator is not a terribly likeable man. There are better books of this sort out there.

Oct 12, 6:12pm Top

>165 Sakerfalcon: Kerewin, the Dutch translation of The bone people, is on our shelves. Frank did read it long time ago and I hope to get to it someday.

>167 Sakerfalcon: I liked all books by Fredrik Backman. Britt-Marie first appears in My Grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry, that I rated a ½* better than Britt-Marie was here. I have Beartown from the library and will read it next week.

Oct 14, 10:28am Top

Hi, Claire! I look forward to your review of The Bone People. I've owned a copy of it for at least a decade, but I haven't read it yet.

Oct 14, 1:46pm Top

>169 kidzdoc: You're in good company! 😁

Oct 18, 8:29am Top

>168 FAMeulstee: I too have Beartown lined up to read on my kindle. I hear it is very different to his earlier books but very good.

>169 kidzdoc:, >170 clamairy: and anyone else with The bone people on their TBR pile:
This was a very good, very challenging read. I actually didn't find the prose difficult, even with the lapses into stream of consciousness and the change from third-person to first-person narrative. It seemed clear to me that the first-person passages were a character's interior monologue, and these sections had indented margins so were easy to spot. Thematically though, it can be hard to read. The three protagonists are all damaged in some way, which means they are very flawed. There is a terrible act of violence against a child, which shatters the trust which has slowly been growing between them, and which illustrates the complexity and messiness of love. There is also a lot of heavy drinking. But I loved the way the prose draws us into the New Zealand landscape, evoking nature and the environment without needing reams of description, and I found that I wanted to reach into the book and try to protect the characters from their own worse selves, which come to the fore all too often. This was one of the best contemporary novels I've read in some time and I hope that when you get around to reading it that you too will get as much out of it as I have.

Alongside this thematically heavy book I read an old school story for light relief. The third class at Miss Kaye's by Angela Brazil follows the classic formula of a slightly spoiled girl being sent to boarding school to improve her characters. Sylvia is actually very likeable right from the start (one of her faults is that she reads a lot and imagines herself and those around her as the characters in her favourite novels!) and soon fits in at school. The girls are younger than I usually choose to read about - 10 -12 years old - but they are well-drawn and their friendships and preoccupations feel realistic.

On my kindle I'm reading Certain dark things, a vampire novel set in Mexico City. This imagines that there are several different species of vampires, and that when their existence became public in the 1970s the European varieties were exiled and sought refuge in the New World. Our main characters are Domingo, a human who becomes the servant of a native species of vampire, Atl, who is trying to escape the city. There's also Ana, a cop, who is trying to track down a vampire who's leaving corpses all over the city, and finds herself in the middle of rival gangs. These are not your romantic sexy vampires; they are bloodthirsty and dangerous. It's refreshing to read such an urban fantasy with an unusual setting and that doesn't follow the usual tropes.

I'm still reading Dragon ship, which is definitely not one of the better entries in the Liaden series - usually I can't put the books down but this one I'm finding easy to leave for days at a time.

I've started The gone-away world as my commuting read, Having recently acquired my third title by Harkaway I thought I ought to get at least one of them off the TBR pile and decided to start with his debut novel. It's mad, energetic, and completely engrossing despite a narrator who is garrulous and prone to digressions. I don't even know how to start describing it!

And finally as it's nearly Hallowe'en I'm reading a supernatural novel I found recently, The witch of Willow Hall. This is about a family in 1820s New England who are forced to move from Boston to the countryside by scandal. Their new home seems remote but pleasant, until mysterious things start happening. It's building slowly and subtly but I'm hooked.

Oct 18, 9:01am Top

>171 Sakerfalcon: The Gone-away World does take one a while to come to grips with. I loved it. I had the pleasure of hearing Nick Harkaway reading from it about 8 years ago. If you get a chance to attend any event he is appearing at you should go if you can. He is a lovely guy and is very entertaining, and very clever.

Oct 30, 6:05am Top

>172 pgmcc: I will certainly look out for any appearances he makes in the London area. He must be an interesting person if his book is anything to go by!

I finished The gone-away world last night and really enjoyed it. There was a twist about 2/3 of the way through which caused me to rethink the whole narrative up to that point, but it did make sense and was very effective in creating uncertainty as to where the novel would go from there. The story contains ninjas, pirates and mimes alongside a band of larger-than-life heroes on a mission to save the world as they know it. I haven't read anything quite like this before; although some of the secret research bunker sections reminded me of Charles Stross's Laundry Files in its satire of bureaucracy, that was the only similarity I noticed. The narrative is rambling and long-winded but I always found it entertaining and it really brought the characters and setting to life. I'm glad to have taken this off the TBR pile at last, and am looking forward to more of Harkaway's work.

I also finished The witch of Willow Hall which was a lovely read. It was spooky enough to suit this time of year but the supernatural parts never overwhelmed the historical detail. I think the title is misleading, however. Witchcraft is far less prominent in the book than the spirits which haunt the house, and I think "The ghosts of Willow Hall" would have been a better title. If you read this wanting the story of a young woman discovering and coming into her powers you will probably be disappointed as this isn't a major part of the plot. But I really enjoyed this slow-building historical novel, and its characters whose attitudes and ambitions are realistic for the period but still easy to relate to.

I finally finished Dragon ship most of which, I'm sorry to say, was something of a slog. It felt very much like a filler novel setting things up for future instalments but without much of a plot in its own right. We see glimpses of Val Con and Miri, and Kamele has a storyline of her own, but the bulk of the book is given to Theo, Bechimo and their crew which is less than compelling. I'm still looking forward to the next books though, and hope they return to the usual high standard.

And I finished Certain dark things which was another good read for this time of year. The Mexican setting and multiple races of vampires made this pretty unique in the UF genre, and I enjoyed the break from the usual tropes. I was disappointed with the fate of one character Ana and found the growing feelings of Atl for Domingo to be unlikely, but other than that this was a very good, though bloody, read. These vampires are frightening, dangerous and violent, not ones that teenagers will swoon over. I would read more set in this universe if the author chose to write it.

Oct 30, 7:19am Top

Glad to see you enjoyed The Gone-Away World. It's been 9 years since I enjoyed it myself. I've since gone on to read most of his other work, just have to get around to Gnomon, and while they've all been quite different they were all excellent books.

Oct 30, 11:14am Top

>174 AHS-Wolfy: I have Angelmaker and Gnomon on my TBR pile and am looking forward to reading them.

My current reading consists of:
The salt line, a dystopian novel that imagines North America has been infested by ticks which carry a deadly disease, forcing people to live in restricted areas. The privileged can pay to go on adventure treks outside these areas and the novel follows one such group of people.

The heart of valor - third book in Tanya Huff's Mil SF series about Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr. Torin is a great heroine, resourceful and smart but not a Mary-Sue.

Lives like loaded guns - a biography of Emily Dickinson and her family, which continues after her death to tell of the feuds which dogged her legacy.

Nov 1, 9:13am Top

I enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia's "This Strange Way of Dying" short story, but I've not read any of her novels. I tried to read her Belle Époque inspired fantasy and was put off by the age difference between the main characters, as well as the scorned lover trope.

The Heart of Valor sounds fun!

Nov 4, 4:29am Top

>163 Sakerfalcon: Oh gosh; we left for London on the 9th and my LT presence of late has been more desultory than usual, and I didn't check my posts. We're back from London now - which means, I suppose, I'll have to return to the UK sooner rather than later. What a shame ;0)

We'll have that meet up yet! Though it might be a while.

Nov 7, 6:54am Top

>176 libraryperilous: I have a collection of her stories on my kindle, which I will read at some point. I thought both Signal to noise and Certain dark things were very good, original fantasies. I haven't read your spoilers because I probably will give The beautiful ones a try some time.
Tanya Huff's Confederation books about Torin Kerr are fun! I wouldn't normally read Mil SF but Huff's characters are terrific and she mixes action with humour very well.

>177 humouress: That's too bad! I'm sorry we missed each other, but hope you had a great visit and got to see and do all that you wanted. Did you get to Forbidden Planet?

I finished The salt line and really enjoyed it. It's very well-written and the viewpoint characters are interesting and grow realistically as the result of their experiences. Because the story concerns a large group of people not all of these are fleshed out to the same extent and some never become more than a name before disappearing from the plot. The concept of an apocalypse caused by disease-bearing ticks, which have forced humanity to retreat behind an array of defences, is not one I've come across before - it was a brave literary agent who took a chance on that proposal! Otherwise the story contains many of the usual PA tropes - zones of survivors with rich, poor and middle-class effectively segregated; an untamed, supposedly uninhabitable wilderness; a community of outcasts living on the land; corrupt politicians who know more than they're telling; and violence both threatened and actual. But the well-rounded protagonists kept me reading as I cared about their fates and wanted to see what would happen to them. Recommended if you enjoy this genre.

I'm still reading The heart of valor and Lives like loaded guns. I haven't had as much time for reading as usual due to busyness, and I've also taken time to reread some old school stories for comfort - Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Nancy and St. Bride's series.

And on my kindle I'm reading This is how it always is, which I think I saw recommended on here somewhere, a novel about a family whose youngest son identifies as female from a very young age, and how this affects his parents and four brothers. It's very good, though the family is a little too perfectly quirky to be true, and keeps me reading right up until I need to get off the train.

Edited: Nov 14, 7:25am Top

So I've finished some more books, and started some others. I enjoyed The heart of valor, although perhaps a little less than the previous two books. The middle section of the book was quite slow-going, and there was an odd scene jump near the end, from the final showdown to a few weeks later, with just a paragraph break, not even a new chapter. It took me a few paragraphs to realise that it wasn't Torin hallucinating but real events taking place. Still, this is a great series that I will be continuing.

I also finished This is how it always is which was a good read. I liked Claude/Poppy and the four older brothers and I thought the book dealt well with all the issues around how to parent a trans child without being too preachy. The fairy tale analogy worked okay most of the time, but the whole chapter of it near the end lost me. I still maintain that the parents are a bit too good to be true, but that is far preferable to reading about terrible abusive parenting. This is a moving book, without the melodrama of, say, Jodi Picoult's books, and I liked it better for that.

Still reading the Emily Dickinson book. It's a subject and period that interest me but I don't love the author's style which is why it's taking me a long time to read.

This month in the Virago group we have two authors, Antonia White and F. Tennyson Jesse. I have unread books by both so am making inroads into the TBR pile. At the weekend I read Beyond the glass, the last part of White's Frost in May quartet that tells the story of a young Catholic girl growing to womanhood. It's a difficult and often painful journey (based on the author's own life) which culminates in her mental breakdown and admission to a lunatic asylum. These are profoundly moving books which immerse you in Clara's experiences and paint a vivid picture of life in middle class mid C20th England. Religion is a strong theme but it's Clara's emotional growth which forms the core of the books.

I've also read White's short stories, collected in Strangers. Several of these pieces reflect the same themes as Frost in May, dealing with alienation and emotional breakdown, and they are just as powerful despite their short length. White was a terrific writer, sadly afflicted by writer's block, which is our loss.

Now I've switched to our other author and am reading A lacquer lady which is set in Burma in the 1880s. Fanny is part Burmese, travelling from her girls' school in England back to live with her parents in Mandalay, following her father's return to favour with the king. Fanny anticipates a glamorous life at court, enchanting men and women (but mostly men) and isn't above lying to make herself seem more exciting. The author also wrote a history of Burma, and her descriptions of the country and its society certainly seem well-informed.

At home I'm reading Dave McKean's huge graphic novel Cages. It follow a group of characters who live in the same building and whose lives intersect as they cross paths. It's frequently surreal and unclear what is real and what is dreamed, but the art is great and it is a thoughtful exploration of themes of creativity, alienation and the connections between people.

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