cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road (re-read).
Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike, Arsenic for Tea, First Class Murder, Jolly Foul Play, Mistletoe and Murder, Cream Buns and Crime (first four re-reads).
Shira Glassman, The Second Mango (reviewed earlier).
Laura Amy Schlitz, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair
T Kingfisher, The Clockwork Boys
Nancy Garden, The Year They Burned the Books
Dick Francis, Reflex
Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk

84, Charing Cross Road. )
Murder Most Unladylike series, Robin Stevens. )
Laura Amy Schlitz, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair. )
T Kingfisher, Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War book 1). )
Nancy Garden, The Year They Burned the Books. )
Dick Francis, Reflex (re-read). )
Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk. )
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Dear Chocolatier,

Thanks so much for writing for me! Apologies for the lateness of this letter, and if you’ve started work already just go for it.

General likes: I like humour, especially character-driven humour. I like characters who are outsiders in some way, and I love seeing them become part of something larger, whether that’s a cause or a community. Bittersweet endings and angst, worldbuilding, quiet moments; cups of tea. I am fine with experimental writing formats and also with different art styles, from cartoon to stylised to realistic.

Do not wants: child death/harm (outside of canon). Non con. Earthquakes. Mundane AUs (except FFVII), ABO, mpreg.


Gundam Wing. )

The Marlows - Antonia Forest. )

Original Work. )

I hope you have a fantastic Chocolate Box!
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
As per request! I have now done six, so obviously I like them, and I am eyeing up a few more new ones at the moment.

So. An escape room is basically that: you’re shut into a room, and you have to work out how to get out within a set time. All the escape rooms I’ve done also have some sort of story arc to them, whether that’s finding something or escaping from someone, and the puzzles tend to be themed around that. Puzzles include finding/solving codes & riddles, opening locks (combination or key), collecting objects, putting things in sequence, triggering doors etc; most of the rooms have had more than one room. Some use digital media or audio messages, or other tricks like UV light or magnets. They are designed for groups, usually around four people - Escape Mate had a minimum of two, the lowest, and we had seven people at Break and Escape. All have some option for clues (usually limited to 3) and communication with the supervising staff. I haven’t (yet!) done any with actors.

Escapade, The Tavern. Locked in a mystical tavern from times long past, you’re on a quest to save the city. )

Escape Mate, The Lab (stop a deadly bio-weapon being developed and save the world!) and The Temple (the Death Gods are awakening and plan to bring about the end of days unless they can be stopped! )

Rotofobia, One Hell of A Kitchen. Fancy restaurant…kitchen… dinner… great food …what could possibly go wrong?! When you regain your consciousness last thing you remember was taking a bite of a sausage from your main course… then all black…you look around and it doesn’t look promising…and it`s freezing…you have 60 minutes to change your fate! )

Break and Escape, Evil Hospital. Ailey’s father was a doctor in a psychiatric hospital. One day the hospital was shut down by the government and her father has been missing ever since. Her father’s disappearance has always weighed on Ailey’s mind. She knew that she had to unmask the truth! )

Escape Masters – Zombie Apocalypse. The world has been invaded by zombies and you and your team are amongst the few survivors, but not for long. You’ve heard rumors of a mad scientist that may have found an antidote to protect humans against the zombies. Desperate to save your lives, you decide to break into his house in the hopes of finding the antidote. )

So. What do I like? An immersive setting and a story arc, as well as interesting and challenging puzzles; not all codes/keys, but I don’t mind if some of them are, and I do like some puzzles to be physical, as well as having hidden spaces/other rooms revealed. Hints are handy but I want them limited and, actually, what I’d really like in some cases would be an idea of how far I was through the puzzle so I can decide if I need a hint or if I have enough time to keep going. I like the puzzles to have some thematic element, and I do like puzzles where you go back to them later, or where the answer isn’t necessarily in the same space. And I do quite like horror in this setting, although it's not compulsory.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This year I wrote casefic for Robin Stevens' Murder Most Unladylike series. These are a fabulous series set in the 1930s with two teenage girls, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, who are detectives - there are eight books out so far (one is short stories and additional material), covering various traditional crime settings such as a country house, the Orient Express, the theatre, a boarding school, and Cambridge. They are very much Golden Age crime in style and detective format, but with a modern sensibility about some of the pitfalls works of that era fell into; there are numerous sympathetic queer characters (Death in the Spotlight spoiler removed, as I can't get spoiler text to work) and Hazel is Hong Kong Chinese (one of the recent books is set in Hong Kong, and it's fascinating seeing Daisy deal with an environment where she is out of place and ignored.

Anyway. I wanted to write casefic, but I did have to dampen down my original Between Silk and Cyanide-related urge to write WWII spy fic (which is so obviously where the series is heading - we're currently in 1936 and Hazel is starting to work on codes) because I could tell this would spiral rapidly out of control. So I cast round for shorter ideas, and one of the things that stuck was the fact that these books were set in a death-penalty era UK. Dorothy Sayers' books do grapple with this (obviously Strong Poison, but I think it's the end of Busman's Honeymoon where Peter is really wrestling with his role in the execution of the guilty party). Stevens has alluded to this but not put a lot on stage (entirely reasonably for books aimed at 10-12 year olds!). I also re-read my collection of Poirot's Early Cases to try and keep things short and ended up pinching the cigarette clue.

As usual I ended up finishing right on deadline (apologies again to my betas!) and there are still a few loose ends I would have liked to tweak, but it's mostly there. Detective stories were one of my earliest reading interests (after fantasy but before SF, comics, fandom etc) and it was great fun to write one.

The Case of the Suspicious Suicide (6307 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Murder Most Unladylike Series - Robin Stevens
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Daisy Wells, Hazel Wong, Inspector Priestly, Lavinia Temple
Additional Tags: Case Fic, Boarding School, Detectives, Misses Clause Challenge, Female Friendship

'Half a term!' said Daisy to me. 'What could possibly happen in half a term? It's just exams and Speech Day!'

Death in the Spotlight, Robin Stevens (2018).


Jan. 1st, 2019 09:39 pm
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
This year I was lucky enough to get a game as a present - Merry Christmas Detective, for the Dark Parables video game fandom. For those who don't know them, these are hidden object/puzzle games with fairy tale retellings and a fondness for massively over-elaborate bedazzlements (if you need an axe it will be a) covered in jewels b) broken into 17 pieces in order to conceal it in a flower garden c) completely functional despite this once you assemble all the pieces). I find them very soothing. You play as the Fairytale Detective, a mysterious personage - you see their gloves, holding a casebook or a tape recorder, but nothing more. I was intrigued; and what I got was a backstory, and a catch-up on previous characters, all in the context of a game very much in keeping with canon. Fantastic.

Merry Christmas Detective (1016 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Dark Parables (Video Games)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: The Fairytale Detective
Additional Tags: Twine game, Interactive Fiction, Riddles

On a cold winter's night, the Fairytale Detective gets a box.

Also in the interactive fiction tag is this fascinating take on the opera Turandot; I am still playing it, but it is stunning, full of evocative writing and unexpected events. Possibly never having seen the opera may be handicapping me somewhat.

As you move towards the door, something like a shadow or a wisp of mist appears in your path; barely visible at first, then it takes shape, and you recognize the prince of the Kyrgyz. His peaked hat and high-collared robe are as snowy white as they were the day you sent him to the executioner, but now their embroidery, too, is pale and translucent. He stretches out a hand towards you. You start back in alarm, and the shade remains for a moment, looking at you, before it dissipates.

Even in death, they think you belong to them.

The Fourth Riddle (54 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Turandot - Puccini
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Liù (Turandot)/Princess Turandot (Turandot)
Characters: Princess Turandot (Turandot), Liù (Turandot)
Additional Tags: Interactive Fiction

It's what comes after the riddles that's harder.

Back to fiction - I've read a lot, and I still have a lot of tabs open (especially longer ones). I really enjoyed this take on Nadine, trying - and failing - to find Randall Flagg in an AU of The Stand:

deep red bells (2397 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Stand - Stephen King
Rating: Mature
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Nadine Cross/Randall Flagg
Characters: Nadine Cross, Randall Flagg
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, Hitchhiking, Additional Warnings Apply, Yuletide Treat

Nadine learns what she can about the great love of her life.

and this devastating character assessment of Guy in Rosemary's Baby, justifying everything:

Always Be Somewhat Suspect (3478 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Rape/Non-Con
Relationships: Guy Woodhouse/Rosemary Woodhouse
Characters: Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary Woodhouse, Minnie Castevet, Roman Castevet
Additional Tags: Unreliable Narrator, Sexism, Banal Evil, Yuletide Treat, Implied/Referenced Rape/Non-con

Nine months of Guy Woodhouse self-justifications, in reverse.

And, in contrast, from Madness - a perfect fandom fusion of From Eroica with Love and Pern. Funny, believable and oddly touching.

The Hatchling Job (1498 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Eroica Yori Ai o Komete | From Eroica with Love
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Klaus von dem Eberbach/Dorian Red Gloria
Characters: Klaus von dem Eberbach, Dorian Red Gloria
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Dragons, Alternate Universe - Pern Fusion, Heist, Developing Relationship, Yuletide Treat

K'Laus stares at the empty sand and tells himself he's wrong. Dorian couldn't. He wouldn't. There was no way that even Dorian would be audacious enough, stupid enough, to steal a queen egg directly off the hatching grounds.

Back to reading!

FF Friday

Dec. 8th, 2018 02:59 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Britta Lundin, Ship It.

Claire Strupke is 16 and obsessed with Demon Heart, a not-at-all similar to Supernaturalshow in which demon hunter Smokey teams up with Heart, a demon with a, uh, heart, to save the world. Obviously she ships SmokeHeart (the main slash pairing - all the women, apparently, get killed off) and writes enough fic to be well-known in the fandom and, when the actors come to a con near her, she asks them about it (this was the first time I had to backbutton out of the ebook and look at something else until my second-hand embarrassment subsided, although not the last), and is devastated when Forest, who plays Smokey, shoots her down in flames. To salvage the show's PR, the production team invite Claire along on the convention tour. Claire seizes the opportunity to try and convince them to make SmokeHeart canon - but, she's also met Tess, a fanartist, following the tour, who is openly queer and very attractive, even if she's hiding her own fannishness from her popular friends. Claire has always been open about her love for fandom, but her own feelings are much more complicated…

More discussion, vague spoilers. )


Dec. 7th, 2018 10:40 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am also attempting to post more often. These are things I could post about, ranked in descending order of how much I've already written - let me know if any appeal.

Mr Burns: A Post-Electric play
The NT Live (film) version of Angels in America: Perestroika
All the other theatre I saw last year
All the other theatre I've seen this year (warning: contains complaining)
Books read this year and not yet written up (see below)
Escape rooms I have done (5, so far)
All the books I consider myself to still be in the process of reading even if it's been years since I last looked at them

Books read and not yet written on. )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
I am attempting to catch up on these by the end of the year...

A whole lot more graphic novels, as I bought some for my niece's birthday but (naturally) had to read them first.

Sharon Hale & Dean Hale (illustrator Nathan Hale), Rapunzel's Revenge. Rapunzel escapes Mother Gothel's tower and finds a steampunky-Western outside world that is failing due to Gothel's actions. She teams up with Jack (the Giant-Killer) in order to fight evil and restore balance. This didn't really grab me but I am a very hard sell on Western settings that are not actually Westerns. I also wasn't wild on the Rapunzel-Jack romance.

Victoria Jamieson, Roller Girl. Astrid and her best friend Nicole do everything together - until Astrid signs up for a roller derby summer camp (with minimal experience) and Nicole goes to ballet camp with Astrid's enemy. Excellent, good on friendship issues and acquiring practical skills, and great people.

Vera Brosgol, Be Prepared. Not the Jeremy Irons song from the Lion King that my daughter is currently fascinated by. Graphic novel memoir in which Vera goes to a summer camp for Russian speakers, which is not quite what she expected. Entertaining and well-observed, and I like the monochrome art.

Molly Ostertag, The Witch Boy. Girls in Aster's family grow up to be witches; men grow up to be shapeshifters. But Aster hasn't shifted yet, and he's fascinated by witch magic. This was fine and the characters are sweet, but it was lacking something as an actual story.

Eleanor Davis, The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. Super-smart Julian Calendar discovers two secret science nerds, Ben and Greta, at his new school; they team up and fight crime. I liked this and it's fun, but I would have preferred one of the other two as a viewpoint character.

Mary Treadgold, The Weather Boy. Dutch boy goes to stay with his cousins in England; there's an obnoxious neighbourhood busybody accompanying him, his father is out at sea, and the main character (possibly Jan?) makes friends with a personification of the weather.

C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad, Fence (v1-4). Nicholas is the illegitimate son of a fencing coach and struggles to train without resources; at his first tournament he is easily beaten by the prodigious Seiji Katayama and vows to beat him. This means he somehow ends up on scholarship to an exclusive fencing school (with a surprisingly tiny fencing team) and, of course, rooming with Seiji. I like the idea of this and I like CS Pacat's writing, but there were one too many lurches in plot logic for me and also, remarkably little actually happening. Still. It's appealing, and I will read the next volume.

Alan Sisman, John Le Carré: the biography. Fascinating counterpoint to Le Carré's own memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, which I read earlier this year; fills in the gaps, looks at the facts behind the stories, and attempts to grapple with Le Carré's impressively monstrous father, who casts a long shadow over everything. Lengthy but a smooth read, and Le Carré is one of those people whose career does not seem to ossify as they age (I'm thinking of Doris Lessing's memoirs, which were similar in nature).

Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel, Five Worlds book 1: The Sand Warrior. Easily my favourite of all the graphic novels this month. A sand dance who struggles to control her powers teams up with a professional athlete and a slum kid (who have their own secrets) to save a gorgeously detailed world. Fascinating and rich, and I really like the colouring. Book 2 is out and book 3 is out next May; I'm presuming there are five in total but am not sure.

Stephen King, Misery. This was [personal profile] rachelmanija's fault, as she re-read it and then I picked up my copy just to check something (a process I know is always doomed) and re-read the whole thing. Fabulous. I always forget just how compelling the Misery book within the story is - it's the thing that I think the film glossed over.

Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground. Vanessa is having tea with a friend of her mother's who mentions seeing Vanessa's husband Lewis in newsreel footage of a circus fire in Austria; but Lewis told Vanessa he was on business in Stockholm. Vanessa seizes the opportunity to escort the woman's teenage son to Austria (where he was going) and investigate. It's fun, it's fast, the tense bits are genuinely tense (racing a rickety funicular railway train up to where someone is caught on the tracks) and there are amazing and heart-warming horse bits with Lipizzaners.

André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name. Read after I'd seen the film. Wonderful writing and very good, as the film is, on the emotions and distinction between late teenage and early adulthood; however, the book frames it as Elio looking back, and also goes on into the future, and that weakened it for me somewhat. Some of the supporting characters are also more well-developed, but then it doesn't leave me with the Psychedelic Furs soundtrack of the movie.

E.M. Channon, Expelled from St Madern's and Her Second Chance. EM Channon wrote schoolgirl books (The Honour of the House is one of my favourites, dealing with loyalty to family versus loyalty to school, and characters who have hidden depths beneath unappealing exteriors). In the first, a schoolgirl is (eventually) expelled for her understandable but regrettable attempts to ruin the school. The second, the sequel, has the expelled schoolgirl, now an adult, returning as a teacher and solving a mystery. Enjoyable. These are contemporary reprints and I need to track down some of her detective stories.


Oct. 21st, 2018 05:14 am
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Dear Yuletider,

Thanks so much for writing for me! I really enjoy Yuletide - it's my longest-standing seasonal tradition that doesn't involve food : D I look forward to seeing what you write and, although I've put some suggestions, all I really want is more from these fandoms, be that a fresh look or a revisiting of old favourites. Go with what intrigues you.

If you match on one of the others and get stuck - Some Velvet Morning is under four minutes long, listenable to here, and the lyrics are here.

General comments

I like humour that cares about the characters. I like characters who are outsiders in some way, and I love seeing them become part of something larger - a cause, a community. I like food as a way of showing character or worldbuilding. I like bittersweet endings. I like pretty much any style of writing - epistolary, experimental, Dickensian - and although I've previously been unkeen on second person narrators this would be fine as an option for Dark Parables, or indeed either of the others if it works for the story.

DNWs - animal or child death. Significant earthquakes.

Some Velvet Morning - Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra (Song). )

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen R. Donaldson. )

Dark Parables (video games). )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
I have a story out! Dragon Rising, under the pen name Harriet Bell, in this charity anthology put together by [personal profile] rachelmanija to raise money for OutRight Action International, who work to protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across the world. It's an excellent cause and her fourth anthology, and - as the name suggests - this one is MMF with one dragon shifter and two humans.

This is the first piece I've finished in ages that wasn't for a challenge, and it was a lot of fun to write (massive thanks to dashi for beta and to [personal profile] china_shop for heroically attempting beta on something that really wasn't her thing). I am currently reading everyone else's story and really enjoying them.

Available on Amazon

FF Friday

Sep. 22nd, 2018 01:16 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Karis Walsh, Mounting Danger and Mounting Evidence

These are books 1&2 in the Mounted Police/Tacoma Mounted Patrol series, about (surprisingly) a mounted police unit in Tacoma; my library has yet to buy the third. I must admit that I was wistfully hoping for Dick Francis with lesbian leads. Not quite, and the first is closer (and a better book) than the second.

In the first, Rachel is ostracised by her fellow officers after turning a fellow cop in for domestic abuse; she is then put in charge of the mounted police unit after their captain is murdered in mysterious circumstances. In order to get everyone to work together as a team, she asks Cal, a professional polo player from an elite family, to help. This hits a lot of my favourite things - getting a struggling team to pull together, outcasts who need to overcome (unfair) prejudice, horse neepery - I like both leads and the relationship between them really sparks.

In the second, the upright hardass lieutenant Abby Hargrove from the first book is obsessed with atoning for her family's three generations of dirty cops, when she falls for a wetlands microbiologist, Kira, whose daughter is competing at a country fair that the mounted unit are patrolling. Abby has secretly given her old horse to Kira's daughter to make up for her brother's neglect of Kira's domestic abuse case (as in, Kira doesn't know it was from Abby, the horse being rather difficult to conceal). The crime plot in this is both obvious and jerky, the relationship less convincing (Rachel and Cal show up and have a sex scene before the two leads manage it, which doesn't help) , Abby herself far less confident than expected from her earlier appearance (or her job), and there is not nearly enough horse stuff. I stalled on this quite a bit and it's why I have yet to pick up the third myself, although I will check out the other Walsh books that the library does have (including Set the Stage).
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Recs definitely welcome. There are plenty of other fanvids I love and that mean a lot to me, and I'm always keen on seeing more. This was prompted by seeing Gwyn's Dream, the first on the list, and watching it half a dozen times or so before deciding to track down some of my other favourites again.


Dream (Angela McCluskey), by Gwyn. I don't think I can do better than Gwyn's own summary - "It's basically my love letter to the con, to vidding, and to fandom" - and it's a great mix of fandoms, old and new, unfamiliar and well-loved. It reminded me how much I loved Pacific Rim, something the sequel had muddied somewhat; it's about the miracle of that moment when the dream becomes real. Creator's post.

Starships! by bironic. (Nicki Minaj) I feel everyone should know this already, but if not, starships and the beings that love them, audience included. Bironic's post. Monochromatic remix by Jetpack Monkey.

Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk, (Mark Ronson, feat. Bruno Mars) by Nerd Fest UK. Exactly what it says, using 80-odd pre-1953 movies (and one later). Fabulous. I have no idea how the creator did this.

Fandom specific:

Miracle and Wonder (Paul Simon) by jm torres. Star Wars.The original trilogy. Just lovely. I can only assume Paul Simon had this in mind all along with his lyrics. Downloadable.

Haunted, (Poe) by Seah and Margie. Odyssey 5. I have never seen canon and this makes me want to and not want to at the same time; there's so much story here, so much to find out, and yet it's all there in this vid. Downloadable from here (scroll down. Way down.)

(and, if you want more great Poe vids to fandoms I haven't watched, Merryish's Hello for Stargate Atlantis is great. I totally would have watched more than bits of half a dozen episodes if it had been more like this, instead of just reading a ridiculous amount of fic. And buying Poe albums).

Invincible (Pat Benetar). Gundam Wing. I am not sure who did this. Possibly this does not make me all that happy given that it does a good job of reflecting the bleakness of canon, but I do like seeing all the Gundam boys again and the song choice is perfect ("And with the power of conviction/There is no sacrifice." Yeah, Heero, you just keep telling yourself that).


Aug. 23rd, 2018 08:52 am
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Dear Femslashex exchange partner,

Thank you so much for creating something for me! I'm really looking forward to seeing what you do. If you have an idea already, go with it; I mainly just want an excuse to revisit these characters and their worlds.

In general terms, I like humour, action, angst, and worldbuilding (not necessarily all together!). I like quiet moments between characters as well, though, and given the pairings I've chosen, fish-out-of-water moments where the ones who are used to action get something quiet and vice versa are always good. Bittersweet endings are fine, as are happy ones, but not totally bleak. As long as the characters are recognisable I like AUs (although my favourite, In Space, is really only going to work for my third request...) and I like stories that take canon and then go somewhere different. Any level of relationship explicitness is fine as long as it works for the characters.

For art, I am less inclined to photorealism and more towards something with a distinct style. Any level of explicitness fine; what I want to see is the connection between the characters.

Specific requests: Babylon 5, Doctor Who, Lord Peter Wimsey - Dorothy Sayers. )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Mary Stewart, Ludo and the Star Horse
Barbara Willard, Spell me a Witch
Molly Bang, Picture This: How Pictures Work
Betty MacDonald, Anybody Can Do Anything
Morris Gleitzman, Too Small to Fail
Geraldine McCaughrean, Stop the Train
Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief
Nancy M Hayes, The Fourth Form Invaders
Sarah Laing, Mansfield and Me: a graphic memoir
Victoria Jamieson, All's Faire in Middle School

Ludo and the Star Horse was my favourite for this month, although if I'm picking new-to-me I liked Picture This for making me think and All's Faire in Middle School for entertainment.

April, assorted. )
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
... is from Between Silk and Cyanide: A Code Maker's War 1941-45, by Leo Marks, recommended by [personal profile] sovay - thanks so much! It's wonderful: compelling, ferociously intelligent, and drily humourous.

A few years after the war ended (I shan't give away who won it - for those who may not know) the BBC [...] broadcast a tribute to the FANYs...

Marks is discussing a talk he gave to the new coding recruits from FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry; all female), which was a) notorious (he left them for over an hour in a freezing basement with one chair, recorded their conversation, and then played it back for them to shock them into realise how easily casual conversation could be used against them, and how crucial their secrecy would be in keeping agents safe) and b) recorded in full, his talk included.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Roxane Gay, Hunger: a memoir of (my) body
Ruth Arthur, A Candle In Her Room
Lois Lowry, Anastasia on Her Own
Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage
Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal
Courtney Milan, Talk Sweetly to Me
Courtney Milan, The Heiress Effect
Courtney Milan, The Governess Affair
Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy
Lee Child, The Midnight Line

Roxane Gay, Hunger: a memoir of (my) body. Roxane Gay's book is a painful and compelling read; it's about being fat, or more particularly being a fat woman who became so in response to others taking her body away from her. It is exactingly particular on the shame she suffers for doing so, and the desires - the hungers - that also make up her life. It's not right to say I enjoyed reading it, but I'm glad I did; what I'd like to read next are her Black Panther comics, and I've just ordered World of Wakanda from the library.

Ruth Arthur, A Candle in Her Room. Three girls move to an old house in Pembrokeshire and find a strange wooden doll, Dido, in a trunk; the doll exerts a malign influence on one of them that will echo down through three generations. )

Lois Lowry, Anastasia on Her Own (re-read). Anastasia's mother, a children's book illustrator, flies out to California to consult on a film project; Anastasia and her father figure that taking care of the household will be simple, especially once Anastasia makes a list. Naturally, her younger brother Sam gets chickenpox and Anastasia has to stay home to look after him, and the domestic disasters mount up to a final dinner party with Anastasia's putative boyfriend (she has a cordon bleu romantic dinner planned) and an annoying ex of her father's. Although I like the personalities of the family and their interactions I think the time in which I would have found the overall plot funny is now well past.

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage. The title is the name of a boat belonging to Malcolm, a pot-boy in his parents' inn up-river from Oxford; unhelpful schoolmates repeatedly change the v to an s. This is the story of Lyra as a very young baby, left at the local priory; Malcolm meets her and is entranced by her, and this entangles him and Alice, a slightly older girl who works with him and is initially antagonistic, in all manner of dangerous events. I liked this more than I expected to. Malcolm is great, as is Dr Hannah Relf, a scholar studying alethiometers. There is an impressive set-piece flood that has a slightly jarring fairy encounter halfway through, and the main bad guy is a creepy sexual predator with an abusive relationship with his daemon, an hyena, and I could have done with quite a bit less sexual predation in favour of more of the concrete fantastic (the bears, the witches) that we got in The Golden Compass/Northern Lights rather than watery allusions. I did feel it fell apart a bit towards the end and I'm still not sure how I feel about Alice as a character/plotline.

Lee Child, The Midnight Line. Reacher sees a West Point class ring in a small-town pawn shop window, deduces a few things about the woman it must have belonged to and sets out to track her down. The Reacher books have some of the worst titles ever in terms of my ability to link the title with what happens in the book and in addition it's been a long time since I really enjoyed one. This is not great. It's not as bad as Make Me and there are a few nice moments, but I'd be much better off trying to work out which Dick Francis books I haven't read yet.

Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal, Talk Sweetly to Me, The Governess Affair, The Countess Conspiracy. Most of the Brothers Sinister series )

FF Friday

Jun. 9th, 2018 01:41 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
The Second Mango, by Shira Glassman

Secondary world fantasy, in a tropical world in which everyone is Jewish; Shulamit, the new queen of Perach, is grieving her father (who died in an elephant-related incident), desperate for a girlfriend and suffering from food intolerances that her servants believe she is fabricating. She sneaks out of the palace and into a brothel in search of a potential girlfriend and is kidnapped. Fortunately she is almost immediately rescued by Riv, a sturdy northern warrior/mercenary, who is in fact Rivka, who has a tragic backstory (and is, even more tragically for Shulamit, straight) and a horse that can transform into a dragon. Complications ensue.

What this story has going for it is cheerful enthusiasm and originality, which to be honest takes it pretty far, and I enjoyed reading it. I wish it had had one more edit to smooth out all the graunching plot jumps and holes (how come Shulamit thinks that the best thing after being rescued is to head off again with Rivka - this time, looking for horny lesbians who have joined religious conclaves to escape heterosexuality - without apparently telling anyone where she is going or asking anyone to rule on her behalf? Why have a bad guy who exists entirely off-stage? Would the queen's servants really all - except one very caring one with impressive breasts - refuse to cook food according to her wishes?) and at a plot level it is very simplistic. But I like the characters and I like the food, and there are at least four queer sequels which my library does not, annoyingly, currently have.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am trying to catch up. 13 books, one a re-read; authors Dorothy Garlock, Sherry Thomas, Mary Treadgold, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Ruth M Arthur, Catherine Storr, Sarah Caudwell, Leigh Bardugo, Joanna Lloyd, David Galler, Stephen Donaldson, Karen Lord, John Le Carré.

Books read, February. )

FF Friday

Jun. 2nd, 2018 09:22 pm
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Somehow recently I ended up reading almost all of Telanu's Devil Wears Prada femslash over about three days. I have never actually seen the film so all I have to go on is fannish osmosis plus dim recollections of the trailer, but lack of knowledge of canon has never stopped me before and I do at least know what Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep look like (although I was unable to picture the Nigel in this as anything other than the Nigel who used to be on America's Next Top Model).

So. Truth and Measure goes AU (Andy apparently doesn't leave Miranda in Paris, which would no doubt mean more to me if I'd seen the film) and then takes a definite non-canon twist by Miranda discovering that she is pregnant, and Andy, her assistant, is the first other person to realise this. It is over 270K of character interactions that manage to be detailed and focussed without being claustrophobic, and there's still a world outside the characters and some of the other people get to have their own agendas as well, especially Miranda's other children. It's tense and well-paced and I liked it. Having said that, the first third to a half - before Andy and Miranda get together (this should not come as a spoiler) did put me on edge with just how much Andy sacrifices herself for Miranda - her time, her space, her attention, her friends and family; she becomes an extension of Miranda rather than a person in her own right, which is what Miranda wants - the perfect assistant - and also what she needs, a loyal and devoted friend who cares for her as a person. The balance swings after they get together, both inside and outside their relationship, and the employer/employee thing stops being an issue, and some of it is being so closely in Andy's point of view, but it did bother me because it makes self-abnegation seem like the right thing to do. But it does tip. I found it interesting to subsequently read a short in both Andy and Miranda's pov where the skew is much faster and significantly more in Andy's favour, and it did make me more charitable toward Miranda in hindsight.

After the main story there are another nearly 20K of postscripts that cover the rest of the characters' lives (and beyond).

If you want more or if you prefer something less based on canon then there is The Lily and the Crown, an AU in which Andy is a shy botanist on her father's space station and Miranda is her new companion who is Totally Not the queen of the local space pirates, whom no-one has ever seen and lived to tell the tale etc. There is a published version of this using different names that is twice as long and that I haven't read - I like the story, but pirates are not really my thing even if they have spaceships. The botany is nice, though.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I still have the rest of 2017 to write up, but onwards.

Courtney Milan, Unveiled, Unlocked, Unclaimed, Unraveled (the Turner Brothers series)
Joanna Cannan, Gaze at the Moon
Catherine Storr, Vicky
Anne Saunders, St Brenda's Headache

Courtney Milan, Unveiled, Unlocked, Unclaimed, Unraveled. )

Joanna Cannan, Gaze at the Moon. I am slowly ambling through Jane Badger's Heroines on Horseback; the Pony Book on Children's Fiction and read this after reading the bit on Cannan. This is Cannan's last children's book and the setting is different from earlier; Dinah lives in a council house with a family who do not understand her twin desires to own a horse and to be an artist. It's competent and quiet, and Dinah earns her horse (and art; I particularly like that she spends a lot of time working on drawing in a way that feels right). My copy has an enthusiastic comment on it from Noel Streatfeild complaining that the only problem with it is that it's too short, which is about right. It's very vivid and exact in its detail.

Catherine Storr, Vicky. This is the sequel to The Chinese Egg, which I last read when I was about 14 or so, although I remember a surprising amount with a clarity that escapes me for, say, something I did last week. But the book I remember was more supernatural, which this isn't; it's something Storr's done before, with the mundane Marianne and Mark as a sequel to the brilliantly terrifying Marianne Dreams, and I feel that maybe she's saying something about growing up that I'm not entirely happy with. The other problem with this - which is a perfectly competent story about Vicky, who is adopted, trying to track down her birth parents after her adoptive mother dies - is that there is a really odd and rather unpleasant plot line in this where the police officer in his 40s who was helped by Vicky and Stephen in the kidnapping case that underpins The Chinese Egg is quite clearly sexually interested in Vicky, who's about 15. Nothing overtly physical eventuates, but it's there. In addition the book does not resolve the puzzle of the egg, which is still left hanging. I have not poked around enough in Storr's bibliography to see if there definitely isn't a third book, though.

Anne Saunders, St Brenda's Headache. Re-read. My mother had/still has a copy of this, and it was my favourite of her old school stories; I finally managed to track down a copy of my own, as she's holding on to hers firmly as it was her favourite as well. Anne Saunders wrote a lot of other stories about St Brenda's that all appeared in magazines that I've never tracked down, although I caught a few in annuals. Perhaps because of that the characters have a depth and a history to them that makes them more than just stereotypes, which otherwise they are - the sporty girl, the American (as always, daughter of a millionaire), the form captain, the fat girl (arrgh), the sneak, the understanding headmistress. The plot is also a favourite of mine - the unjustly accused is redeemed by a perceptive other, who has to contend with their peers to do so - and I'm not sure now how much of my fondness is in fact entirely driven by this book. Charmain LeRoy arrives at St Brenda's, a new girl distinguished by her poise and talents - and her murky past, which turns out to involve being sent to a reform school for theft. Judy, the form captain, embarks on a mission to find the truth of this story which Charmain initially tries to block; another less noble student uses this knowledge to frame Charmain for various petty crimes that escalate. It's deftly drawn and it's well-paced and I don't think I can judge it clearly, but for me it still works, and the emotions ring true. I wish I had her other stories to read.


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