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)
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.

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