cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
I am so far behind for various reasons. Some of these definitely deserve more, but this is all I have time for now. The Hidden Blade and Daughter of Mysteries were my favourites for this month.

February:

Courtney Milan, Hold Me. Sequel to Trade Me. Maria, transgender Latina best friend of previous book's lead, has a apocalyptic-themed blog under another name that Jay, neurotic Chinese/Thai physicist, loves; he corresponds with the pen name and starts flirting, but when he meets Maria in person writes her off as superficial and uninteresting. This is not my favourite set-up for a romance, I never really bought the blog as a concept (everyone loves it! top level scientists offer Maria jobs (or possibly papers, it's been a while) based on it), and the vast levels of wealth and wish-fulfillment going on with Cyclone are also not my thing at all.

Sherry Thomas, The Hidden Blade, Delicious, His at Night, Private Arrangments. The Hidden Blade is the backstory/prequel to My Beautiful Enemy, and it's great. Ying-Ying is the daughter of a concubine to a senior official who is not her father; her precarious existence is strengthened by her discovery that her servant/nurse is a secret martial arts expert, who takes on the job of training Ying-Ying. Leighton is the apparently privileged child of English nobility whose family is wrenched apart. Together, they will exchange one heated glance all book before getting together (and apart, and together) in the sequel. It is melodramatic and whole-hearted and I really liked it a lot. It reminded me of the early bits of MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions, actually, a book of which I am very fond.

The other Thomases are historical romance, English settings, and they're all fine but none of them really hit the spot, and some of her character interactions don't really work as romances for me.

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent. 1890s England; Cora, a new widow for whom her husband's death came as a deliverance, leaves London for the wilds of Essex, intrigued by paleontology and the rumours of the serpent of the title. Too many of the cast felt like contemporary characters in costume for me, and the denouement irked. There's also a letter that Cora sends which is in fact a perfectly reasonable statement of personal boundaries and yes, it does arrive at the worst possible time, but that's not her fault and it felt like too much authorial thumb on the scale.

Agatha Christie, The Clocks. Late Christie, Poirot. I was contemplating a Christie re-read at this stage and this was what they had at the library. Very neat, not outstanding.

The Crime Club, Mystery and Mayhem: Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries. Picked up largely for the Robin Stevens, which was good but a bit obvious as a Christie homage. Harriet Whitehorn and Katherine Woodfine had the other two stories that I liked. I note that this is an all-female collection and that he only time I've seen "best male writer" as a qualification was in a description of Reginald Hill (when alive) as "Britain's best living male crime writer" (at the time, both PD James and Ruth Rendell were also still alive).

Heather Rose Jones, Daughter of Mysteries. I read a review of this and forgot the details, but conveniently it was the first hit for "ruritania lesbians" on Google. And yes, that does describe it, but it's also a lovely detailed piece of historical world-building, with an interconnection between religion and magic that reminds me a bit of Kurtz's early Deryni books. Barbara, the personal bodyguard of a somewhat eccentric baron, is bequeathed on his death to Margerit, an impoverished orphan - along with the Baron's fortune. The two of them have to negotiate vengful relatives, politics, rebellions, duels - and their own developing relationship. This is the first of a trilogy and I really enjoyed it.

I am no longer cross-posting to livejournal.
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: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
Possibly I shouldn't do that with language. Anyway. Much lighter than the last.

A.L.O.E., The Crown of Success. )

Agatha Christie, The Secret Adversary. )
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
I spent the weekend in a Victorian guesthouse, which meant Saturday night consisted of sitting in the parlour in a comfortable wingback chair (strangely, no antimacassar) with an RP-voiced announcer and classical music on the elderly radio. So naturally I read half a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle (I'm not counting this, as I didn't finish it - I was mainly interested in his childhood and how much of the Murder Rooms series was invented. The two-faced fellow GP he initially practised with is there, and the alcoholic/mad father, but his mother seems to have played a more important part than the books allow for, and the bio skipped so quickly through the medical school years ("met Joseph Bell. Headed off on Arctic freighter to raise money. Graduated") that I couldn't confirm the fellow classmate serial killer thing) and then an Agatha Christie, later in period but still appropriate in feel. 4.50 from Paddington - one of the ones I'm sure I've read, but it's been so long that I don't remember the details.

Actually, maybe I didn't read this one. )

I also read the painfully bad Beaches, by Iris Rainer Dart. A re-read; I read it after seeing the movie, because I was curious about how the balance of power/viewer interest played out in it, and I'd retained no memory of it, probably because it is very bad. One of those books where you can see the shadow of a much better book, with real people, trapped somewhere behind the page.

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