cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
91 books, 2 of which I read twice (My Friend Cousin Emmie and Ninefox Gambit). Captive Prince, Prince's Gambit, The Wizard of London, Last Call, Death on the Nile and Firestarter are also all re-reads, although not within the year. On demographics I really do need to make an effort to read more nonwhite authors (and, uh, possibly more men). I have not really been reading manga this year apart from a few volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday that I haven't logged. I also need to tackle some of the (many!) books I've owned for years and haven't read yet.

Favourite new book:

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I haven't written this up, sadly, but I loved it - amazing worldbuilding, fascinating characters, intriguing plot, impressive prose, and very cool magic/tech system. I think it's brilliant. I have read the sequel in draft and really enjoyed it too, but the first one just blew me away.

A Notable Woman: the Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, by Jean Lucey Pratt (ed Simon Garfield) is a close second.

Favourite old book, or possibly favourite new series:

The My Friend(s) series, by Jane Duncan. These I have written up as I've gone through them. They are a stunning masterclass in writing and do so many things so well - character and setting particularly, but the way she explores and exposes motive and personality is outstanding. So far, My Friends the Mrs Millers, in which all the casual assumptions about race that her characters have been making (at this time they are living on a fictional Caribbean island) are suddenly overturned, My Friend My Father, which left me in tears, and My Friend Cousin Emmie, in which the titular character is shown to be both an incredibly difficult character and a truely tragic heroine, are my favourites.

Book I most wanted to love but didn't:

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I love her blog and I think a lot of what this book is doing is fascinating, but as a narrative it never quite cohered for me and it's such a static book. Despite all the authorial work I am unconvinced by the 7-10 lists as worldshakingly important, I dislike urbane serial killers, I like Bridger but am troubled by the reliability of the narrator and the sabotage thread is interesting but only got going in the last chapter. I will however read the sequel and hopefully having lowered expectations will help.

Series I most wanted to love but didn't:

Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, reviewed here. I did love The Secret Place; the detectives, the mystery and the characters all worked together really well, and hit a lot of my personal buttons. The others haven't been as good - either the narrator (Faithful Place, Broken Harbour or the plot The Likeness) haven't been as compelling, and too many of French's quirks dull with repetition. I do like them and would recommend them, and I'll certainly read the next one, but I have no real urge to own them and will stick to library copies.

Longest time to finish:

Jilly Cooper's Jump!, which I started about seven years ago. Now I'm stalled out on Mount! so, you know, expect an update around 2023.

Still in progress but I will finish soon, no really:

KJ Charles' Jackdaw, which I am enjoying and keep putting down and forgetting about. ZA Maxfield's The Pharaoh's Concubine, which is terrible and despite its name is contemporary m/m (escaped toyboy of Russian criminal mastermind hooks up with former gangbanger), but I'm only a couple of chapters from the end and feel committed, just not compelled. Shirley Barrett's Rush Oh!, historical whaling book, v good but I had heaps of other things to do and lost it in the car until it was overdue from the library and had to take it back.

Picture books:

I have not logged these because the numbers would be ridiculous; we usually have 40-65 out from the library at any one time, plus purchases, second hand sales, gifts etc. My favourites for the year are Tohby Riddle's Nobody Owns the Moon and John Birmingham's Aldo.

Everything (in roughly chronological order): )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Over a month's worth.

Finished:

Tana French, The Trespasser. I liked this, although still not as much as The Secret Place. It follows Antoinette Conway from that book, investigating what appears to be an open and shut case of murder of a young woman and dealing with the fact that the rest of the squad apparently dislike her to the point of sabotage. It does not have a moment when Antoinette says, "This was the moment when I had the chance to do something different, but instead I stuffed everything up," (or similar) and it has a happyish ending, and there are lots of bits I liked about it (the resolution of the storyline with her father), but the case itself didn't grab me on this one.

Dick Francis, Comeback. Solidly middle-tier Francis in which a diplomat between posts finds himself investigating sabotage at a veterinary practice. The main character spent time in the town as a child and has his own memories of people/places, but because his name is different and he is now an adult there is an element of working undercover, which I liked, and there’s a vivid and startling image when the sabotage turns to murder, but the rest of this is fairly forgettable (the love interest is appealing as a character but the romance works even less well than usual).

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited Simon Garfield. Mentioned elsewhere. This was great. I put heaps of little bookmarks in when reading, but had no time to go back through it; basically, though, an excellent example of illustrating the general through the particularly, but also an excellent example of a particular experience - that of a single woman - that is all too often overlooked. You do get a sense of her crystallising in her 40s; the journals are shorter, her attitudes less flexible, and I do think about this as I'm in the same decade. I think it's common but not inevitable; Doris Lessing's memoirs don't do this for one, although I'm not keen to emulate her in many other respects.

Matthew Reilly, The Four Legendary Kingdoms. Latest in the series that started with Seven Ancient Wonders and is counting down, this one has Jack West Jr kidnapped to participate in the deadly games of a secret underworld kingdom that will serve the dual purposes of signalling to extraterrestrial intelligences that Earth's existence should continue and also granting power to one of the secret kingdoms that rule the world. Also, Scarecrow (from Reilly's other series) shows up as a rival competitor. I am not remotely in these for anything other than the ride, and on that level they work fine. I particularly like all the little diagrams of the ridiculously over-engineered challenges. If you are going to read any of Reilly's books I would pick this series or Hovercar Racer, although I really should read his first two as well.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call, or The Distinguished Thing. 1930s set murder mystery with East End (London) theatre backdrop; I really liked the worldbuilding and the characters, who are vivid and complex and interact with each other in interesting and unexpected ways, but then it fell apart at the end. This, I think, is largely because the murderer themselves is not so well characterised, and so the denouement falters.

[redacted for Yuletide] 2 books.

And then I discovered how to load ebooks from the library's extensive digital catalogue onto my Kobo *and* had to spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room with it.

JL Merrow, Played! – actor hiding out in Shamwell before taking up the finance job his father favours entangles himself with local dyslexic repairman, who he gets to coach as Bottom in the local theatre group’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s hard to go wrong with this set up.

JL Merrow, Out! Closeted workaholic quits his job and offers to take in teenage daughter when ex-wife is having trouble coping, and gets entangled with a charity worker who is not going to pretend not to be gay for anyone. This is a lot slighter and after I finished it I kept wondering if I’d forgotten to read the end.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Tina Chen is a poor student who, after an argument, swaps lives with Blake Reynolds, the handsome billionaire who just happens to be in one of her classes. I read this for Tina, really, because she's a great character who actually has a family and friends and a context, but I didn't have much time for Blake and the denouement with his dad and the product launch felt horribly cringe-inducing.

Stephen King, Blockade Billy. Novella length piece about baseball, pretty much all voice and imagery, but it stuck with me.

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller: writing lessons and more from 27 years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. Part history/memoir, part teaching guide. Bits of this were more helpful than others (there's some repetition as well), and it's also very much an original Clarion book (I went to Clarion West) in talking about the Clarion experience itself. Worthwhile.

KA Mitchell, Ready or Knot books 1 (Put a Ring on It) and 2 (Risk Everything on It). Marriage-themed collection about 4 gay friends. Book 1 has the up-and-coming Broadway director Theo and his introverted Korean IT boyfriend dealing with the fallout after Theo’s massively public all-singing, all-dancing, Times Square proposal goes viral, book 2 is closeted former child star Jax starts a relationship with recently separated Oz, who parents two foster children with intermittent involvement from his scatty (male) ex, and does not want any more drama or lack of commitment. I do like that KA Mitchell has a lot of non-white protagonists (Oz is black and his ex Latino), and I do actually like the characters, but these are pretty slight. Everyone is super successful and rich, and there’s a lot of skimming over things – in book 1 both characters go off and have relationship epiphanies off-stage (at different times), then come back and narrate them to their partner, which successfully dulls the impact. Book 3 will deal with the last two friends, who have an on-again, off-again thing going, which is not my favourite trope but if the library has it I suspect I'll read it anyway.

In progress:

[Redacted for Yuletide]

Elin Gregory, Eleventh Hour. Historical m/m. I got about one chapter in and got distracted by something, will go back.

Lyn Gala, Mountain Prey. Contemporary small town m/m with a lead who is out on forest patrol when a handsome stranger seeking revenge on a criminal bad guy captures him and ties him up a lot, which is great because Stunt (the lead) really likes being tied up. I think this is just not working for me but I'm not sure why, given some of the stuff I've happily put up with previously.

Kate Sherwood, Dark Horse. M/M contemporary romance with the most glacial slow build ever - I think I was about 300 pages in before anyone had sex (and not within what I presume is the end-game relationship) *but* this is mostly because the lead, Dan, is grieving the loss of his long-term partner and also because he does have a job - training horses to compete in eventing - and there's a lot of horse in here, too. I do think it could have done with an edit, but it's doing quite a bit that I don't usually see in m/m (other details redacted for spoilers) and it's worth reading.

Up next:

I have been eyeing up my unread manga pile wistfully, but realistically All Yuletide All the Time.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Tana French, The Likeness. Cassie Maddox, Rob’s police partner from In the Woods, goes undercover as a murder victim when the body turns out to a) look exactly like her and b) be using the fake student identity Cassie herself used some years earlier when working undercover. She returns to the house her doppelganger shared with four fellow PhD students in a rural part of Ireland to investigate her own murder.

This is such a great concept and I wanted to love the book, but in the end I didn’t – I liked it, it’s readable, but once again French has her police characters start doing something unprofessional very early on in the piece despite acknowledging to themselves how stupid this is, it takes ages to get going (we know from the set-up that Cassie will go in; there’s no tension there) and for a murder mystery there’s a lack of actual catharsis at the revelation of the killer - something she has done much better in most of the others of hers that I’ve read, although Faithful Place also didn’t work for me. There’s a bit more in the revelation of the body’s identity, but again no explanation for the uncanny resemblance. Also, I’ve read these out of order but the close-knit group of friends who are somehow other worked much better in The Secret Place, and I had a much clearer sense of them as individuals. For all the length of this, the student cast feel underdeveloped.

I found myself thinking wistfully of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, my first encounter with and still the best at this trope – the characters are also distinctly more vivid despite the shorter length, and there’s much more of a pay-off at the end ("Retribution, [redacted]. Don't you recognise me?"). My copy of this is one lent to me by one of my high school English teachers, and I still feel a little bit guilty for not giving it back (it was part of a class set, so possibly not as bad – or maybe worse! – than a personal copy) but not enough to ever part with it.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. I actually quite like the characters and the world while not finding the story particularly convincing and not being remotely invested in the romance. I’d probably try another one by her but would be hoping for a strong non-romantic plot to keep me diverted; I kept putting this one down due to a lack of caring.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile, and Tim Powers, Last Call - both re-reads. I'd forgotten how many other people get killed in the Christie, but watching the plot tick along like a Swiss watch is always enjoyable. Last Call still works for me as a novel even while I am increasingly aware of some of Powers' conservatism (small c) creeping in - I think in previous reads I was focussed on the Fisher King and his wound, whereas now I am more struck by all the mystical marriage and heterosexual pairing; there's quite a bit of playing with gender in Last Call, and for the most part that's effective, but then I run into the assassin with such an overblown case of gay panic that I think we are supposed to read him as potentially gay, and it makes me twitchy.

Abandoned:

Levi Black, Red Right Hand. YA horror with lots of short chapters, and the first page of every chapter is white text on a black background. I made it through the first 4-5 chapters (teenage heroine with baggage has mysterious figure arrive at her house at the same time as unearthly beasts show up to attack her, figure saves her life and offers her a deal) but it all felt like it was trying way too hard and I bailed.

Edward Wilson, A Very British Ending. Spies and plots in post WWII Britain, focussed around the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson; I might have liked this if I’d gotten more into it, but after 60 pages my only emotion about the main characters was dislike. This was fairly heavily coloured by the lead tracking down the former Nazi officer involved in an atrocious war crime only to reveal that the motive for the crime was because French partisans had killed off the male lover of the officer who then ordered the atrocity, and the whole thing came across as “Not just Nazis but Moral Degenerates”, which given the numbers of homosexuals forced into concentration camps by the Third Reich was not working well for me at all (the atrocity in question is historical fact, but the motive as far as I can tell is the author’s own). I keep meaning to read more Le Carre and should obviously stop trying alternatives.

In progress:

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield. See previous. Excellent.

Anna Butler, Gyrfalcon (Taking Shield: book 1). M/M sf romance. I read this before the serial numbers were removed, which is probably just as well because the two leads don’t actually interact at all until about a third of the way through the book and I would have been wondering if I’d downloaded the right thing. I like the worldbuilding in this.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call. 1930s England; a West End actress having a liaison with a married man at a hotel interrupts an attempted murder, and the man involved is a suspected serial killer. There’s also an ageing theatre critic and an up-and-coming artist, and I’m quite enjoying this without getting much urgency.

Up next:

Yuletide-relevant works are showing up, plus trying to get through some of my ebook backlog.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am currently reading A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield, and enjoying them hugely. They start in 1926 when Jean is 15; I am at present in 1942, and probably about a third of the way through the book. I am avoiding reading the blurb, the introduction and any reviews, because I don't want to know what happens until I get there! (I found out about the book from a rec on-line, which I stopped reading as soon as it sounded interesting enough to pursue. This is my standard method but does lead to problems as I picked up another book recently which I thought was a version of Pride and Prejudice in which the Bennet sisters are drafted into the Napoleonic Wars; alas, this turns out to be a literary flourish on the part of the reviewer and the book is set in a rather shaky fictional fantasy world with a similar level of technology plus magic, and the protagonist is not Austenish in the least)

Ahem. Jean is educated, privileged, literary; prone to analysis and emotional flourishes, mad about cats, brilliant at details; I feel for her even when her actions infuriate. Where I am she is 32 and still single, but has finally lost her virginity with the latest of a series of fairly hopeless men she entangles herself with (but then again, how do they look from someone else's perspective?). It is refreshing to be vividly reminded how much people haven't changed, and how much some things have.

Jean aged 24: "I've got to get to know Colin. I've got to cut this nonsense out of me. Since those drinks with him this evening I've been in a flat stupor. Perhaps I shouldn't have had gin on top of poached egg and tea."

The war details are fascinating; she kept a separate diary for a while for the Mass Observation project, and Garfield uses bits of both, but she is not someone who separates things. The rumour that Hess has come secretly to Britain to arrange for peace is in the same day as a description of how she is learning some of the practicalities of love-making, douches and pessaries etc (from a married female friend and the new boyfriend, who tends to get himself so worked up quoting DH Lawrence that he can't actually consummate the relationship. In 1939, before war is declared, she writes of her char telling her about a Jewish friend sent to a concentration camp; in 1940 her First Aid unit are put into a gas-filled cell as a drill to check the effectiveness of their gas masks: "a harmless experience". Friends are killed, the bombing draws closer(she is living in a rural cottage near the coast), the rationing gets increasingly limited. She is concerned about her cats when the milk ration drops from 1/2 pint a day to 2 pints a week, but particularly concerned about access to cigarettes and the depth of her need for them. ("F. [boyfriend] tells me it indicates a craving for sex. I would really (at the moment) rather have the cigarettes.")

It is 700 pages long and I keep putting in tiny bookmarks. Recommended.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is probably the last month or so.

Finished reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In progress:

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

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

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

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

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

Abandoned:

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

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

Up next:

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

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

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

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

She doesn't really examine any of the politics of food and its preparation, and when she touches on it you can see a lot of unexamined assumptions - "If we all just walked a little more we wouldn't have so many problems with obesity in this country", for example, but if you run Aga cooking courses your clientele is going to have a definite bias. And her recipes sound good. I wish we were getting more of her and Bake-Off.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I just got back from Train to Busan, which was great (thanks [personal profile] china_shop for the rec!) but very very tense and emotionally exhausting, so rather than sit and twitch I am going to review two picture books that I also really liked that did not induce nail-biting states of tension.

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

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

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

The friend of mine who read it was offended - "Why doesn't the fox let Humphrey stay at his place? This doesn't change anything!" - but I loved it. It's perfect because it's transient, and because the city can be welcoming and callous at the same time. The art, layered drawings on photos, has the same tension between real and unreal.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
I wrote a pinch hit for a fic exchange this week, so I haven't finished any of the in-progress stuff from last week. Instead, I read bits of two books needed for the fic and an m/m romance on Kindle that had absolutely nothing to do with what I was writing.

Just finished:

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

In progress:

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

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

Up next:

Finishing stuff.

Picture book section:

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

Just finished:

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests. Things did indeed go wrong - it turned into Lesbian Noir, with a side of court drama and class issues, but although it was still very well written it lost me quite a bit in the process - it's a tenuous thing, maintaining sympathy for characters in these circumstnces. Part of the problem is that the viewpoint character isn't at the very centre of the story - this does make for some interesting tensions but it shuts down options for action. I also had the same problem with this as I did with Waters'Affinity; moving into the novel's endgame, two options for resolution are presented, one of which opens up the story and the other shuts it down. As the pages tick by it becomes apparent that there is only space left for the latter option. Waters does pull a grace note out at the end that makes me like this better than Affinity, but it's still mostly shutting down. I haven't read The Little Friend yet but possibly the reason I've enjoyed The Night Watch most is because its structure means the ending isn't actually there at the end to bother me.

Mercedes Lackey, Wizard of London. Lackey seems a bit unclear whose story she's telling here. We start off with Sarah, the psychically gifted orphan with an African Gray parrot companion, being sent from her parents' incredibly tolerant mission in Africa to London for training, and then it's all about Nan, the Cockney girl she befriends who is also a psychic warrior and gets one of the Queen's Raven's from the Tower for her companion, and then it jumps between Nan and Isabelle, the teacher who runs the school the two girls are at, and juggles a psychic threat to the school with an Elemental magician Isabelle used to be in love. Most of the Elementals series have a fairy-tale basis, as well, but this didn't really - bits of A Little Princess and The Snow Queen, perhaps, but nothing more. Oh, and Puck has a significant guest role. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't particularly good. However. I have just picked up A Study in Sable, which has the same characters plus Sherlock Holmes, and I'm fascinated to see what she does with it - her not-quite Peter Wimsey is endearing.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton, and My Friend My Father. Arrgh. I finished the latter in the work lunchroom and then had to avoid eye contact with everyone as I was crying. Cairnton is lighter - it goes back to her time in Cairnton, and then forward to St Jago, and basically ends up with one of those nightmarish dinner parties to which an impeccably decorous married couple, the longstanding mistress of the husband and the drunk platonic companion of the wife have all been accidentally invited. My Father goes back more, into early childhood, and has some great sections on the process of realisation children go through, that click in the mind as they work out how to count, or to tell the time, and then this carries on into other realisations. There's a particularly neat piece about realising for the first time that everyone else exists at the centre of their own universe (something quite a few adults have yet to realise), there's the relationship between Janet and her father changing and deepening over the years, there's the war again - and then the end. I think I need a small strategic pause, not least because I have half a shelf of pending reads, but she's such a great writer that I just want to keep going.

Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park. The romance in this worked much better than that in either of the other two of hers I've read, possibly because I am a total sucker for a couple bonding over sharing issues of Alan Moore's Watchmen. I'm just a little bit younger than these characters (I read Watchmen in the collected trade) and the references really worked for me. As did the story. It's a very delicate book, neatly constructed, and I liked it a lot.

Stephen King, End of Watch. More sobbing at the end. It's good; not as good as Finders' Keepers, and I felt King ducked out a bit on really pushing the villain here, but it still ticks along and I still cared a lot. Nice use of social media and ereaders. I do wish King would do more historicals, because his research is always so solid.

Not entirely:

Leslie Parry, Church of Marvels. Turn of the century (20th) New York, an odd assortment of characters interact in the darker parts of the city. A nice hook where a night soil guy finds a baby and takes it home with him, which is why I picked it up, but then it becomes yet another book about People with Secrets, about which they will allude frequently without elaborating until the inevitable revelation at the end. I skimmed most of the middle. Nice writing, some good images, but I didn't really connect with it.

In progress:

Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning. Arrgh again, but for different reasons. I want to love this book - it is doing so many interesting things! The prose style, which is 18th century with universal personal trackers generating the (apparently) omniscient point of view, the unreliable narrator, the post-Scarcity future semi-utopia setting, the toying with gender (the narrator assigns gendered pronouns according to what they think will make things easier for their imagined Reader, who is, um, definitely not us), the use of languages, the fact that I love the author's blog and want her to do well. Etc etc etc. And yet I'm 307 pages in and it's still a bit of a slog.

It's a weirdly static book. Reading it makes me feel as though I'm contemplating a series of paintings while a very educated guide with their own peculiar agenda describes them to me (everyone in this book apparently picks out every piece of clothing and accessory to convey a particular message, which is not "this was the nearest thing on my floor and it's comfortable"). It's an enjoyable experience, but not what I want from a novel. There's very little actual witnessed action and when it does happen, it's not convincing - Cherryh's Cyteen is equally full of people who sit around talking incessantly, but when she does action, I'm there. Arrgh. It is also two days overdue from the library and on hold, so I have to finish it tonight.

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Woman has affair with the wrong man. Framing sequence has everyone in court, for what I am not yet sure. Not really my thing, but I am finding it compelling enough to keep going.

Up next:

The next Mercedes Lackey, plus a bunch of thrillers I have picked up, and Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit to which I am looking forward.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Arrgh. So much for keeping this updated.

Most significant literary discovery:

I have owned Mo Willem's Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity for at least six years, and read it a reasonable number of times. Last week my daughter turned over what I have always thought was the last page and revealed an unseen epilogue. I am now eyeing up many of my other books cautiously.

Just finished:

Jane Duncan, My Friend Cousin Emmie. The first one of these I've re-read, and there are many apparently casual phrases in it that become positive fishhooks when you read it knowing what else the book contains. And this time around it has the depth of the previous ones behind it as well. I look forward to eventually re-reading the others, but first I have to get through the unread ones.

Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl. Hmm. This is readable and enjoyable and has many great moments of fan experience while also having lots of bits that I didn't buy into at all (e.g. the idea that Cath is actually doing any other classes at university besides the plot-necessary and equally unlikely creative writing class). I have Carry On on my shelf and will try and come back to them both once I've read that one, assuming I can get through it (I am not, usually, a Harry/Draco fan).

Abandoned;

The Anne Perry, which was not grabbing me at all.

Somewhere on my Kobo:

KJ Charles' Jackdaw, which is poised just under half the way through, at a delicate point that means I could a) press on to the end or b) re-read all the rest of the Magpie series in order to refresh my memory of important details and then tackle it again. Hmm.

Up next:

I optimistically ordered a bunch more My Friends from the library at the same time as having a lot of commitments that didn't fit with reading (I haven't had my usual bus trips for the last three weeks), plus a bunch of other things I grabbed from the library shelves (yet another Mercedes Lackey etc) plus various electronic commitments. Will see what happens.

Picture book section:

In addition to the revealed epilogue, I will state that "The Highway Rat leapt off his horse. Into the cave he strode. The duck took hold of the horse's reins, and galloped down the road," from The Highway Rat, by Julia Donaldson, is a couplet that always brings me great satisfaction to recite.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Circling the Sun,, Paula McLain. Fictional biography of Beryl Markham, about whom I wrote my Yuletide story last year. I put off reading this then because I didn't want it to get in the way, and ended up reading it on a recent plane trip instead (obviously I started reading the opening shortly after take-off and then remembered how many plane crashes were likely to be canonically involved in the text...).

It starts very near the same place I did - 1936, although it starts with Beryl's transatlantic flight, which I think was September, and I put my story in July (ish). Then, however, it goes back to Beryl's childhood, and works forward to end with the flight arriving in the US. Nothing after is included. I can see why McLain's done this, but it did leave me feeling a little shortchanged. If I hadn't known some of the rest of Beryl's life? Probably yes, although I would have lacked the detail. I'd have no idea Markham wrote herself, for example, because picking that section of her life cuts out the appearance of her highly acclaimed memoir, West with the Night (and means McClain doesn't have to deal with any of the controversy over whether or not she did actually write it. It also means that the shape of the narrative becomes Out of Africa with occasional horses and planes, being much more about the tangle of relationships, licit and otherwise, among the white landed settlers in Kenya, than about Beryl herself.

It's not a bad book but it lacks any sort of edge or uncomfortableness to it, qualities which I feel the real Markham had no shortage of.

JL Merrow, Relief Valve and Heat Trap, volumes 2&3 in the Plumber's Mate series. Psychic plumber solves crime and works on his relationship with a PI who bullied him as a child. I find these soothing, entertaining and very British. I also read the first of her Shamwell Tales series, Caught! and liked it but something is putting me off about the blurb for the next one.

KJ Charles, Rag and Bone. Magpie Lord universe but different leads, and I've just realised on checking the author's webpage that the interesting decision to start *after* they've begun their relationship is because I missed the short story prequel. Oops. Taking place at the same time as Jackdaw, which I have in progress, and I will probably comment on both more when I finish. Excellent. Also has a black British lead, which is vanishingly rare in historical romance.

In progress:

KJ Charles, Jackdaw, as above.

Up next:

The read, renew or return unread decision. I have an Anne Perry (one of the Monk books, yes I know, but I get them from the library), Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army and Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests on the books from the library shelf, all due back in the next 5 days. Hmm.

Weekly picture book concern:

The bit in Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler (more well known as the Gruffalo artist) where Posy makes cupcakes, putting them into the hot oven very carefully with lots of textual warnings. Then Pip comes over and they go outside to play in the garden until tea time. They then eat the cakes which are a) not burnt to crisps and b) iced. No one else appears to live in the house. I keep wanting to add a bit where the oven's on a timer or where an obliging but invisible relation handles things.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Three weeks' or so:



Finished:

Jane Duncan, My Friend Madame Zora and My Friend Rose. Back to Scotland and England, predominantly, and I do prefer these. Madame Zora is a fortune teller and a fiercely independent and unpleasant woman with too many cats and no desire to spend any of her money, and the plot has paintings and amnesiacs and wins on the football pools, but it's a pleasure just watching all the pieces slot carefully into place and still manage to reveal things that weren't expected. Rose goes back a bit in time - Rose is the second wife of an employer Janet had before WWII, and the stepmother of Dee, an unhappy child Janet ends up looking after; this is more of a character study and less of a revelation, but again it's all very well managed. Next up is Cousin Emmie, which I actually started with but which will probably feel quite different with all of these behind me. However, I have a bunch of work deadlines and so haven't put any more requests in yet.

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald. Finished this a while back. Excellent writing and the hawk bits and her grief are so well intertwined. I am less sure about the TH White bits, less because they're included than because she spends a lot of time giving the true narrative of what was happening (his goshawk's behaviour etc) and I am less convinced there is one true explanation behind them. It did not make me want to have my own hawk.

Shooting the Moon, Frances O'Roark Dowell. Vietnam war, US experience; the teenage son of an Army Colonel heads off to Vietnam instead of medical school. His 12 year old sister Jamie (the narrator) is thrilled and doesn't understand why their father tried to talk him out of it. Then, rolls of undeveloped film start arriving. Jamie learns how to develop them and things change.

I picked this up because I do get irked by the number of historical war books (for children/YA) that assume everyone thinks war is a bad thing. This problematises it a little but not as much as I wanted (the Colonel thinks this particular war is a bad one, not all wars) and the gimmick of the film never really worked for me. What did work was Jamie playing crib in a summer-long tournament with one of the GIs on the base, a man whose brother has been killed in Vietnam and who is waiting to hear of his own orders.

A Game for All the Family, Sophie Hannah. Picked this up because the name looked familiar - I actually vaguely thought Guardian columnist - but apparently it's because I read her authorised Poirot (Agatha Christie) sequel, although I don't think it's on here. I wasn't wild about it - initial set-up interesting, development unconvincing, and unfortunately that's what happens here as well, along with a totally unbelievable ending.

Justine leaves her glittering TV career in London under a suitably vague cloud and Does Nothing on a large country mansion. However, her daughter starts writing a macabre story about murders, anonymous phone calls accuse Justine of being someone she isn't, and every attempt to investigate things uncovers more problems. For a while this worked and then Hannah has to reveal what's actually going on, and the more of this there was the more unbelievable it was, both as the overall plot and as individual events (Ellen, Justine's daughter, has to write down a story she has apparently been told once over the course of some weeks and gets every detail right; however, it is impossible for her to summarise it or answer any questions about the details).

To spoil it all - Justine's departure from London is due to a twitter spat over cis privilege by an actor she wanted to cast in a drama (the spat I believe in. The ending of her career over it I don't). The woman calling her is a compulsive liar who is annoyed about having her pet dog taken away from her as a child after her sister became allergic to it. It ends with Justine bashing her stalker's brains out at the house of a dog-breeder who has somehow been pulled into all of this and there being no repercussions for the murder. I ended up feeling somewhat insulted as a reader.

[ETA: Huh. Googling has just revealed Sophie Hannah did this rather good column about the "rediscovery" of women writing crime fiction, which I read a while back. I do recommend this column and a number of the books she mentions there.]

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosch. Have read many of these in blog form but still great.

Abandoned:

I had Angela Thirkell's Pomefret Towers out and ended up returning it a couple of chapters in; it was perfectly fine but I didn't have the time and wasn't quite in the mood. I've only read her Wild Strawberries but will probably pick some more up again at some stage.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am working my way through Janet Duncan's My Friends series, mentioned briefly before; nineteen books of semi-autobiography that demonstrate just how well a skilled writer can put shape and structure into what seems to be a simple retelling of events. I picked up one of these years ago in the school library and couldn't get into it - I was expecting a school or children's story from the title (and the location!) - but, although late, this is actually a good time to read them because there are reprints currently in print from Bello, an arm of Pan McMillan. I am ordering these through the library and most have been the Bello imprints, but two have shown up as elderly hardbacks from the Stack, complete with date stamps in the front ("a fine of One Cent per Day will be charged for the first week...") and given me nostalgic feelings (as a teenager I did shelving at the central library, which afforded me staff access to the stacks and I read all sorts of things there).

Anyway. My Friend Sandy takes Janet and her husband out to the British West Indies and into the accumulated feuds among the white population there, as well as having a theatrical production to execute, My Friend Martha's Aunt deals more directly with the consequences of slavery and the colour bars that do or don't exist, and I am halfway through My Friend Flora, which has gone back to Scotland (and back to Janet age 5 starting school, but it's now moving forwards again and I'm in 1930). I prefer the Scottish setting - the St Jago ones do set out quite clearly the immediate and longterm consequences of slavery on both white and black populations, but although there are lot of generalisations about both which may not have any authorial backing, Duncan really only goes into specific individuals on the white side (or those considered part of the white community), and it does unbalance things.

My only other comment at the moment is that they all drink like fish. Everyone is constantly having another wee dram, and at one point there's a bit about not giving pregnant women whiskey, to which the pregnant woman in question replies that she's only had three small ones...
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is more a couple of weeks' worth.

Just finished:

CS Pacat's Captive Prince series - re-read the first two and then read the new (and final) one, Kings Rising. I am very fond of this series and will try to discuss them properly later. Spoilers for emotional reaction to <i>Kings Rising</i> )

Jane Duncan's My Friend series - I finished My Friends the Miss Boyds (Janet's childhood) and read My Friend Muriel (bits of WWII, Janet meets Twice), My Friend Monica (early days of Janet & Twice's relationship), and My Friend Annie, (back mostly to Janet's school days and then university, and then on to her and Twice going out to the West Indies). More enthusiasm. )

Mercedes Lackey, Blood Red. Elemental Masters series, does the fairy tale in the prologue. Competent, especially compared to the terrible Tin Soldier one.

Reading now:

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. I've been meaning to read this for a while and found it at the library. Still too early to say.

Up next:

I also snaffled Kate Elliott's Court of Fives from the returns section, and am looking forward to Hugner Games/Little Women crossover action. I also really do want to get to the latest Bujold and must find a way to get it on my phone.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I have updated my Chocolate Box signup, here - fandoms are Final Fantasy VII (Zack Fair/Cloud Strife), Ghost Trick (Missile & Sissel) and Dragonlance (Caramon Majere & Raistlin Majere), latter two fandoms are friendship requests just in case anyone is contemplating these with bemusement.

My goal for the week is to acquire some new icons. Hmm. Actually, my goal for the week is to work out how many icons I can have.

Just finished:

Jane Cameron's My Friend Cousin Emmie. Off the back of <[personal profile] oursin mentioning them, but I also tried to read a couple of these when I was a teenager and didn't get them. I now have the first four on library request, so obviously this one (mid-series) worked for me. Very well-observed character studies, and an extremely impressive almost unnoticeable shaping of events into narrative.

KJ Charles' Think of England. M/M historical romance, Boer War veteran attends country house party in the hope of finding the person behind the sabotage that killed his friends and left him crippled. Encounters effete foreign poet-type who turns out to be more than he was expecting. Great characters, interesting time period, bit too many convenient bodies in the denouement. I would definitely read more with these two but she seems to be extending other serieses first.

In progress:

Margery Allingham's Dancers in Mourning. This, like the Jane Cameron, was a grab from the assorted newish books (both obviously newish reprints) stand at the library. I've read at least one Campion and liked it. This has a very good first line but I'm only about a chapter in and can't say much else. Set and written mid-30s, song-and-dance setting.

I have started Kaje Harper's Nor Iron Bars a Cage (fantasy m/m) on my iPhone and am just posting this here to remind me. Hasn't grabbed me but am still in the angsty backstory.

Up next:

In a fit of optimism I grabbed another one of Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters books (Blood Red) as well as the Allingham. Also, the Jane Camerons, once they finish being in transit.

Abandoned:

The chess book I picked up when I was thinking about writing Chess/Hav fic for Yuletide, Gary Fine's Players and Pawns. I have tried to read bits of it anyway and it's just not at all compelling. I also got put-off by the beginning, which describes a chess tournament and says "The diversity is impressive", outlines various ethnicities, ages, classes, races and occupations, and then says, "A few are women.".

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cyphomandra

August 2017

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