Aug. 11th, 2016

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

Just finished:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In progress:

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

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

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

Up next:

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

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cyphomandra

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