cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-10-20 02:32 pm

Books read, July

We have a new government!!! (more importantly, one I am very happy with; Labour/NZ First in coalition with the Greens, Jacinda Adern as Prime Minister; I would have preferred Labour/Greens but they didn't get the votes. I am unable to sum up my thoughts on Winston Peters, leader of NZ First and the person who under our MMP system ultimately decided the next government, but basically I respect him as a politician and would never vote for him)

Agatha Christie, After the Funeral
Agatha Christie, Elephants can Remember
Anne Gracie, Marry in Haste
Anne Gracie, Gallant Waif
KJ Charles, An Unnatural Vice
KJ Charles, A Fashionable Indulgence
KJ Charles, A Seditious Affair
KJ Charles, A Gentleman's Position
KJ Charles, The Ruination of Gabriel Ashleigh
Anne Gracie, His Stolen Princess
Anne Ursu, The Real Boy
Pierre Lemaitre, The Great Swindle

My Miss Marple re-read has taken a detour because I know there are only two left and I don't want them to be over. After the Funeral is Poirot, investigating the case of a batty but often insightful woman who is murdered with a hatchet the day after she states that the relative they are just burying was obviously murdered himself; I spotted the clues and put some of them together but really got this on the rather depressing approach of that if anyone is remotely coded lesbian they will come to a bad end. Elephants can Remember is another Poirot, and it's one where I have a very clear memory of reading it as a child (probably 9 or so) in a library copy, and not really liking it, and possibly I didn't finish it. It's late - published 1972 - and a bit obvious (features identical twins) and it's sad in a slightly nasty way. Despite that it does manage to handle a plot where all the major reveals are in the past and in people's memories without annoying me by having the sequence of reveals be too obviously stage-managed, so there's that.

Every so often I try m/f romances, and after finding Sherry Thomas I checked a couple of rec sites out, focussing on historicals, and picked up a book by Anne Gracie. Her books are competent regencies that neither overdo the slang nor stick contemporary characters in costumes, the characters themselves usually behave like sensible adults, and she has a sense of humour, and in addition to all that a lot of her books are available through the library's Overdrive system, so I have been binging. Plotting could be stronger and the endings sometimes feel rushed, I don't always feel that much sympathy for her characters, plus she can't really pull off some of the melodramatic conventions (secret royalty etc), but they're mostly fun reads. Marry in Haste is arranged marriage; male lead returns to England post-Napoleonic wars trying to track an assassin but finds he has to take over estate responsibilities and look after his half-sisters, so marries their governess to supervise them. The hero discovers the heroine is not a virgin on their wedding night and after he storms off initially they have a conversation where she points out that a)there'd been no opportunity to tell him earlier and b) if it was that important to him he should have mentioned it in the proposal, and he listens to her, agrees, and they move on (she had a sweet but short-lived fling with a farm worker, if I remember correctly). The assassin plot-line creaks a bit but is okay. Gallant Waif has a great older female character, grandmother to the hero and godmother to the heroine's mother, who essentially kidnaps the heroine (who was in a miserable state) to get her to sort out the hero, who is crippled and sulking post-war. I am not wild about people flinging coffee pots at each other to indicate feistiness, and I felt the tone of the relationship in this one was a bit off from their angst-ridden pasts, plus the final scene felt rather unlikely - at a ball the heroine gets initially shunned by everyone and then there's a bit where everyone she's ever helped - war veterans and their families, mostly - come over and accept her. His Stolen Princess has a mother and son who are Secretly Princess and Crown Prince from another non-existent European country escaping an Evil Relative with Designs on the Throne, and was my least favourite of these three as the characters didn't really work and the plotting was equally unlikely. The supporting characters were good, though.

KJ Charles, The Society of Gentlemen series. I read these all in about two days. I've had A Fashionable Indulgence for ages but couldn't get into it. Harry fled to France as a child when his parents were wanted for sedition, and has been living in poverty; now he's the heir to fortune and nobility, and his cousin Richard sets him up with his friend Julius (dandy, closed-off emotionally post-war) to show him how to be a gentleman. The Pygmalion plotline is not my favourite, and neither of the characters are really there for me; I liked it while I was reading it, but it doesn't crackle. But the second, A Seditious Affair is a different beast; Silas, an anarchist, atheist and printer of seditious literature (also looked after Harry after his parents' death) has weekly assignations with a nameless noble who likes Silas to beat him up and insult him beforehand. Nameless noble is, of course, Dominic, one of the Society of Gentlemen, and also a government employee tasked with hunting down rebels. This really sparks as a novel. The characters are believable, as is their setting, which is very specific time period - the Peterloo Massacre takes place during the book - and it is explicitly addressing one of the things that bugs me about m/m historicals set in England in the 1700-1900s, namely class. It's a dynamic, unstable relationship, and I like seeing that, even when the characters' kinks don't necessarily work for me. A Gentleman's Position, about Richard and his valet, who's been secretly in love with him for ages, is also about class, but it's a tamer book - I liked it more than the first, though, because I am fond of pining. The Ruination of Gabriel Ashleigh is a novella that takes place first chronologically, and it's perfectly unobjectionable, but it doesn't really have the room to convince me of a) the characters b) their backstory and c) its rapid resolution in favour of explicit sex.

KJ Charles, An Unnatural Vice. Second in the Sins of the City series, and I liked it more; crusading journalist is determined to expose the Seer of London as a fraud, they end up hooking up, the melodrama plot with lost heirs and fraudulent claimants ticks along in the background. I think this series is very much one overall plot for the three stories, which does weaken the individual parts a little. Lots of nice spiritualism details.

Anne Ursu, The Real Boy. I bought another book by Ursu years ago and never finished reading it, which gives me twinges of guilt when I see her name (it's in a box somewhere, along with practically everything else in my collection by an author with a surname from N onwards). This is children's fantasy in which Oscar, the shop boy for a magician, has to deal with the absence of his master (and the surprisingly gory death of an older apprentice) and magical problems that indicate something seriously wrong with his society. Oscar is autistic; it's never spelled out, and the book is in his point of view, but we see how others interact with him and how he feels about things. It's nicely done, although there is a rather disturbing bit where Oscar decides he can't possibly be a proper human (see title); this is not the case. However, the world-building in this felt a little wobbly, and the lack of almost any remotely sensible adult a little forced.

Pierre Lemaitre, The Great Swindle (trans. Frank Wynne). This won the Prix Goncourt in 2013 and it's a cynical but oddly caring book; the ending didn't quite work for me, but a lot of the rest did. The set-up is fabulous - in the final days of WWI, the grasping Lieutenant Henri d'Aulnay Pradelle, desperate for promotion, sends out two of his men to scout the enemy lines and shoots them in the back, using their supposed murders at the hands of the enemy to spur his own troops into a suicidal attack. Albert Maillard, one of his soldiers, discovers the bodies during the charge, realises what has happened and then sees Pradelle watching him; Pradelle shoves him into a bomb crater where he is buried alive, only to be dug up by Edouard Péricourt, a dissolute aristocrat possessed by artistic genius, who then has half his own face blown off by shrapnel. It's a set-up that would be the reveal of a lesser book.

Albert, stricken by guilt, looks after Péricourt once both men are discharged, and is drawn into Péricourt's elaborate revenge scheme (possibly the swindle of the title; there are a lot of swindles) but Pradelle is also manoeuvring through post-war society, and he knows Albert is out there. It's an indictment of the treatment of war veterans, and the way in which sympathy can be manipulated and channeled into socially acceptable methods of expression; it's also about the odd friendship/carer relationship between Albert and Péricourt, and about Péricourt's sister Madeleine, who believes her brother dead, and it's about the eminently unlikeable Joseph Merlin, a chicken-obsessed bureaucrat, who is the ultimate architect of justice. I said the ending didn't quite work for me and it doesn't - I wanted more resolution for Péricourt - but I did like the other characters' fates.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
2017-10-07 10:16 pm
Entry tags:

Yuletide 2017

Dear Yulebeing,

What I like hasn't changed much from previous years (including this sentence, trudging back around again for another year). I like plot, humour, and justified angst, singly, serially or simultaneously. I like all the characters I have requested and enjoy seeing more of them, and I also love the worlds that they belong to. I have no problem with sexual content as long as it fits with the characters, although pages of explicit anatomical detail are unlikely to be my thing. I like stories that make me remember why I love the original inspiration as well as stories that make me think about it differently (and both! both is great). And I do like the canons themselves. I like these characters being part of their worlds, even when they struggle against them.

In terms of writing, I am open to traditional or experimental forms; I prefer past to present tense but if it works for the story I'll enjoy it. If you match on Donaldson do not feel obliged to emulate his style, although feel free to stick in the occasional "telic" or "mien".

DNWs: earthquakes, child or animal harm as a major plot point (I prefer no fatal earthquakes at all as due to personal experience it kicks me completely out of the story, but off-stage references to the second two are okay).

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen Donaldson; Linden Avery (character)
Linden Avery was hugely important to me in my teens, when there weren't a lot of adult females in sf/fantasy I could see myself in, and I still love her as well as what the Second Chronicles do with portal fantasy, which was fascinating and heart-breaking all in one. I re-read the second chronicles a lot and still think of them fondly; the first trilogy not so much, and I have read only the first two of the third and am not entirely convinced by them yet.

I would like; more Linden! On Earth or visiting the Land, and I'm happy to ignore the third series or go AU from the second if you have a better idea. I do like the third chronicles' idea of time-travelling within the Land's history, if you wanted to do that, and would love exploring more of the Land anyway. Outside the Land, I wonder how Linden reconciles her experiences with her everyday life on returning to our world, especially her healthsense given her job, and I'd like to see her finding some peace or happiness there, having healed from her past. I am curious about how Covenant and Linden were summoned to the Land, and how porous the borders can become - what happens if characters from the Land show up in Linden's world?

I do actually like Covenant as well, but I understand he isn't everyone's cup of tea, and I haven't nominated him. I don't have strong feelings about him showing up or not; he is important to Linden, but not essential.

Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden: Liza Winthrop, Annie Kenyon, Isabelle Stevenson, Katherine Widmer. Another book that was hugely important to me as a teenager. I'd never thought of fanfic for this, but I leapt on it when I saw it in the tagset. I really want something written *after* the novel's timeline, but apart from that anything is fair game; immediately after, when they meet up again? As adults? Annie and Liza have made a commitment to be together - how does it work out? I don't mind if they have to work for it, but I do want them to end up together. And I loved the older teachers and would be very happy to see them as well, or even be the focus, but I would like to see Annie and Liza again at least once.

Agricola (board game); no nominated characters. I've been playing this a lot this year, and it's soothing and challenging and different every time. Bringing crops in from the fields, building pens for the animals, renovating the house to clay or stone and putting in an oven.. it's all very calming, apart from when you realise it's harvest again and you have too many people to feed. I'm not looking for descriptions of people playing the game, but apart from that go wild - what do the characters think? Was being a medieval farmer really like that? Time slips, experimental formats, horror, sit coms, whatever. I haven't played the Farmers of the Moor expansion; I have the Goodies expansion, but have only used the alien deck from that.

Apart from that - I hope you enjoy writing your story, and I look forward to reading it. Yuletide is a yearly tradition that means a lot to me.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-08-26 11:09 am
Entry tags:

WIP Big Bang

I signed up to the wipbigbang challenge last year in the optimistic hope of finally doing the sequel to the Diane Duane Young Wizards fic that I wrote >10 years ago (An Unwilling Heart - this was about a third of my original outline), but although I managed a few bits I couldn't get it to cohere, and dropped out. This year I signed up again, this time for Star Wars: Rogue One, because when I'd got the [community profile] chocolateboxcomm assignment at the beginning of the year I'd had another idea, but had to stop because it was too long for the time available (a not uncommon theme in all my writing, see above).

I'd thought of it as a story that starts with a reveal, then goes into extended flashback, so by the time you get to that reveal (two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the story) you know how they got there and what it means, and then take the characters on from that; it's a format I like a lot (The Secret History does this amazingly well, and Strawberries for Dessert is a good romance example). Conversely I hate stories if it you just end up back at the reveal with no or minimal aftermath. Anyway. I wrote the reveal, went back, and then, as time progressed, realised a) it wasn't working and b) getting to the reveal was going to take considerably more words that I had time for. I was also having a lot of trouble with Chirrut's point of view. I ended up reworking the outline into three parts, of which this story is the first, and then rewriting Chirrut until he was neither passive nor totally evil, and inflicting each new version on my long-suffering betas (thanks very much!).

This is the end result. It is the first part, there will be more (as hope springs eternal I am hoping to have the next part out before Yuletide. This year), and if anyone out there is familiar with the Clone Wars period of Star Wars and wants to help me structure the next bit in accordance with the not all that helpful canonical timeline I'd be thrilled.

Empty Spaces (15072 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 5/5
Fandom: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Chirrut Îmwe/Baze Malbus
Characters: Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus
Additional Tags: Slow Build, cliffhanger ending, Science Fiction, Original Characters - Freeform, Get Together
Series: Part 1 of The Long Haul

"Only the best and most dedicated can serve as Guardians." Chirrut and Baze took very different paths to the Temple.

cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-08-17 09:05 pm

Reading Thursday: books read, June.

Technically I am now only one month behind! My ereader died at the end of May, which put a bit of a dent in things, and I may also have forgotten a few titles. I am going to skip the re-reads but will just mention that I am currently eating a lemon bar made from a David Lebovitz recipe, and it is delicious.

Books read, June:

Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Man
Agatha Christie, At Bertram's Hotel
Jiro Taniguchi, Guardians of the Louvre
Phillip Rock, The Passing Bells

Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Siblings without Rivalry (re-read)
David Lebovitz, My Paris kitchen: recipes and stories (re-read

Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez. This was my book of the month; it's an excellent nonfiction piece that is a memoir of Velázquez, the elusive Spanish painter, John Snare, a 19th century bookseller who discovered a painting that he was convinced was by him, and Cumming herself, dealing with the loss of her artist father. It is vivid and excellent written and made me do a lot of Google image searching to see the art. Just fantastic.

Agatha Christie, At Bertram's Hotel. One of the Christies in which this modern world is rather poor stuff, but redeemed somewhat by having nostalgia for the past be a plot point rather than just an authorial view. The plot is a little too unlikely even allowing for that. Miss Marple is definitely slowing down, though, and it slowed me down as well because I don't want to get to the end of her books and, by extension, her.

Jiro Taniguchi, Guardians of the Louvre. This is part of the Louvre Collection, commissioned graphic novels/manga/bandes dessinées by various artists. I haven't read any of the others, although I've heard quite a bit about Nicolas De Crécy's Glacial Period. This has a Japanese artist alone in Paris who develops a fever, visits the Louvre and has hallucinogenic (or are they?) interactions with its art. I like Taniguchi's work but this is a thin plot, and although it has a lot of nice moments it doesn't have the depth of the world from, say The Walking Man or A Distant Neighbourhood.

And fuck. I just checked Wikipedia for title names and he died in February. Dammit.

Phillip Rock, The Passing Bells. World War I family saga novel that takes its title from a WWI poem that is not Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth, although I got that stuck in my head every time I looked at the cover. Covers roughly 1914 to 1920, about an upper class English family and those who interact with them. I liked but didn't love it. It is good at showing the scope of the war - the different fronts, the levels of responsibility (and the failures of command) - but the characters don't always work for me, especially the women (there's a seduction scene, supposedly from the woman's point of view, where we are suddenly very much inside the male character's surprised excitement at finding she's topless under her jacket). It is the first in a trilogy but it hasn't made me want to race out and track down the next two (it was published in 1978, so they're all out).
cyphomandra: (balcony)
2017-08-11 10:30 pm

Reading Friday (ish)

Books read, May.

Sherry Thomas, A Study in Scarlet Women
Agatha Christie, They do it with mirrors
Heidi Cullinan, Dance with me
KJ Charles, An Unseen Attraction
Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library
Agatha Christie, A Pocketful of Rye
Agatha Christie, 4.50 from Paddington
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
Ada Palmer, Seven Surrenders
Kameron Hurley, The Stars are Legion
Agatha Christie, A Caribbean Mystery
Cat Sebastian, The Lawrence Brown Affair

Romances first. )

Science fiction. )

Agatha Christies. )
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-06-29 10:07 pm

Reading Wednesday, two months later


Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs. This does have a terribly slow beginning (as commented on by any number of other reviews) and it was not helped at all by the fact that I read it waiting for a Bruce Springsteen concert to start and was slightly distracted. The rest of it is much better, and I do love the central idea (and I am always fond of cities in fiction) but somehow it didn't quite hit the spot for me. I do not love Sigrud as much (or, really, at all) as I'm supposed to. I do like Shara. I will read the next one, but I don't feel the need to race out.

Frances Murray, Ponies on the Heather. Girl moves to small Scottish town, goes riding. Not very exciting and all characters rather colourless.

Kate Braestrup, Marriage and Other Acts of Charity. Feels like a transition book - casting round for trying to find something to address after the success of her first, and also (it deals with the author's first and second marriages) not quite clear on how much of her family to include and exclude. There is a very funny bit about the second partner's name that I do not have the time to type up right now (she said unhelpfully). The first one is much better.

Kate Braestrup, Anchors and Flares. Much better - about raising children and letting them go, and more sure of itself. I am a bit ambivalent about the ending. It's perfect for the story, it happened - and yet using it as the punchline, rather than (as with her first book) the set-up makes it feel a little too convenient.

Catherine Harris, If Wishes Were Horses. Better horse book. Insecure girl with disabled single father acquires traumatised pony from spoilt acquaintance, trains it with help of English peer fallen on hard times who has taken rooms with them (and who does not marry the father! She hooks up with the vet, which was refreshing).

Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage
Agatha Christie, The Moving Finger
Agatha Christie, A Murder is Announced

When I was small and obsessed with Agatha Christie (age 7-10ish), Hercule Poirot was my favourite. I did not see the point of Miss Marple. She was fluffy and she twittered, and she was not exciting at all.

It took me some time to get over this, and perhaps the only good thing about it is that it means that I've failed to read quite a few of of her books. Some years back I tried to read them all chronologically, but bogged down in all the 30s international conspiracy with terrible stereotypes ones. There are only 12 Marple novels (and some shorts) and I am now wallowing happily in them, and I like her a lot more. It's also fascinating to read them in series - there are bit parts who show up over and over (the vicar's wife, Griselda, and her son, who goes from toddler to working adult, for example), and there's also the passing of time itself. I will say more about these in next month (when I also read The Body in the Library, which is technically second). Briefly; Murder at the Vicarage does a nice double-bluff that threw me completely, The Moving Finger has a injured war veteran hero narrator and has a poison-pen letter writer and a rather unnerving romantic denouement, and I worked most of the mystery out; A Murder is Announced has a great set-up, clues all over the place, and the bodies stacking up whenever you try and suspect someone, and I had put a couple of tiny pieces together but completely failed to grasp what was really going on.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-05-12 09:25 pm

Books books redux

March. I don't have an overall favourite for this month but Here If You Need Me is probably the one I am most likely to recommend to people.

Gwen Hayes, Romancing the Beat. Basics of story structure for romances with lots of gratuitous 80s music references. Cheerfully useful.

Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me. Memoir. I got this as a rec somewhere on Dreamwidth and it is not the sort of book I would have otherwise picked up; the author is a chaplain for the Maine search and rescue service, a combination of job and calling that the author only came to after the sudden death of her state trooper husband. It's a book about grief, family, and God, as well as What Not To Do in the Outdoors, and I really enjoyed it - despite being an atheist I quite like reading about religious faith, although so often anything written post 1920 or so isn't worth it (I flatted with a fundamentalist Christian for a while. Most of her books were appalling, either of the straight out "demons cause schizophrenia and allergies" or the more deceptive "hey, let's ask all these big questions about the universe and coincidentally come up with a very specific set of answers that just happen to fit within a very specific narrow worldview" of her Alpha course text. I did quite like Philip Yancy's What's So Amazing About Grace.)

Martine Bailey, An Appetite for Violets. Historical; Biddy, an undercook at a stately home who has picked out her husband and her future, is caught up in the schemes of nobility, which nvolve lots of travelling and food. This has a really annoying beginning and I only picked it up again the day before it was due back. Biddy's point of view is what carries this; the plot is obvious and the end in particular too melodramatic, but the recipes and the expansion of Biddy's world are very good.

Jeffrey Deaver, The Skin Collector. In the same series as The Bone Collector. Not terribly good. There's a thing I read somewhere that says that a standard plot twist deceives the reader, but a great one deceives the characters, and unfortunately much of Deaver's work has now tipped far too far over into deceiving the readers (The Bone Collector, in contrast, has at least two fabulous twists for the characters that I still think of fondly).

Sherry Thomas, My Beloved Enemy The romance part of The Hidden Blade. Lots of great scenery. I wish the main characters in this had a bit more to do together rather than go through the romance bits, because I like them a lot but sadly the romance bits are the second-least convincing part of this book, right after death/immobilisation via accupressure points. I suspect this is more me than the book. I did like this but not as much as the first.

Jilly Cooper, The Common Years, and Appassionata. Both re-reads. I lent the former to a colleague who is having issues with her rescue dog's behaviour, on the grounds that she could not possibly do worse than Jilly, who is forced to put down not one but two of her dogs after she has done everything possible to stop them killing other people's pets except a) train them b) neuter them c) keep them on the lead. And then I re-read Appassionata, because it's probably my favourite of her novels, and it even makes me think wistfully about listening to classical music.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
2017-05-04 08:37 pm

books books books

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.


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: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
2017-02-22 09:14 am


Six years since the Christchurch earthquake. I didn't do the one minute's silence today, but every time I look at a clock and see '12.51' there's that shock of recognition, a gap opening up beneath things. Thinking of all those others affected.

Photo taken the day of the earthquake. This was a few hours after the main quake; I'd walked home to see what I could do there and then gone out to get my dog from his daycare, which I'd been unable to contact. In another hour or so the entire central city was shut down by the army and I had to leave.

(I can't get alt text to work; three wooden villas, twisted and distorted by the earthquake, but still standing. A figure on a bicycle watching in the foreground)
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-02-18 01:46 pm

Books read, January

Rather than keep getting further behind I will post all this behind a cut: this is all of January except for four books by Robin Stevens that I loved and which will get their own entry. Someday.

Sarah Dressen, Dreamland
Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit
Yoon Ha Lee, Raven Stratagem
Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun (x2)
Sherry Thomas, Not Quite a Husband
Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
Stephen King, Riding the Bullet
KJ Charles, Wanted, a Gentleman
Jenny Lawson, Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Naomi Alderman, The Power
Megan Abbot, You Will Know Me
Elin Gregory, The Eleventh Hour
Emma Newman, Between Two Thorns (the Split Worlds, book 1)

Books read, January. )
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
2017-01-07 11:02 pm

Chocolate Box 2017

Dear Chocolatier,

Thanks so much for creating for me! This is going up late, sorry, so if you've started something already, run with it - really, I just would like to spend more time in these worlds with these characters.

General likes:

Worldbuilding, action, humour (witty dialogue or slapstick), friendship, teamwork, food & mealtimes, moments that change people for the better. Happy or bittersweet endings.

Do not wants:

Child/animal harm or death. Earthquakes. Non canonical character death. Non con. Mundane AUs (except FFVII), ABO, mpreg.


Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.

Zack Fair/Cloud Strife
Zack Fair and Cloud Strife

I played this for the first time in the aftermath of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, and not only is it a fabulous game in its own right but it was the best possible distraction. I love Cloud, and I'd love to see him happy (despite all his own attempts to ensure the opposite!), and, well, obviously it would help if Zack were around. Friendship or relationship fine, although if you go with relationship, please don't erase Aerith. Ideas - well, pre-game bonding, either in the military or out socialising in Midgar? En route to Nibelheim, especially if you can work in a chocobo or two? (or any of the game stuff, phoenix downs and materia and all) Given events of canon I am more than happy with canon AU or other AUs, and I'd be thrilled if you could give them a happy(ish) ending.

Gundam Wing

Chang Wufei/Duo Maxwell
Chang Wufei/Heero Yuy (Gundam Wing)
Chang Wufei & Duo Maxwell
Sally Po & Chang WufeiFanart Fanfiction

Basically I love this series and its completely incomprehensible approach to space warfare, and I am especially fond of Wufei for his grumpiness and actual competence (I am less keen on his misogyny and would prefer to see this not being a major feature). As per tags, I am not particularly attached to any one pairing, or indeed a pairing at all. I would prefer to keep to canon but canon AUs are fine; I love space battles, space colonies, people repairing their Gundams, and am also fond of the total fanfic cliche of hiding out in a safehouse.

Babylon 5

Delenn/John Sheridan
Susan Ivanova/Talia Winters
Vir Cotto & Londo Mollari
Susan Ivanova & John Sheridan

This is really my "I love everyone in this bar!" fandom (well. Except Byron, but fortunately he wasn't nominated). I still think it's one of the best TV series when considered as a whole. I would love to see anything with any of the nominated characters and would find it impossible to pick a favourite out of them. I am actually really fond of the low-key moments in canon as well as the universe-changing, and I love the moments when cultures collide. How about a banquet (or state meal, or picnic, or hideaway obscure alien restaurant)? A visit? A diplomatic incident?

Artwise, I like cool stuff and quiet moments, interesting styles and pieces that make me appreciate characters all over again.

But anyway - I hope you enjoy your assignment!!
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-01-04 07:01 pm
Entry tags:

Books read, 2016

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: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2017-01-03 02:29 pm
Entry tags:

Yuletide Reveal Post

For Yuletide this year I received Backpack about Will and his friends on their journey towards the White Mountains; although the mood of the piece is bleak, there are moments of kindness and connection that are very true to canon. I know my request went out to pinch-hit and am very grateful it was picked up!

Backpack (2708 words) by spiderfire
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Tripods - John Christopher
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Will Parker (The Tripods), Beanpole (The Tripods), Henry (The Tripods), Original Characters
Additional Tags: Canon-Typical Violence, Missing Scene, Vagrants, Original Character Death(s), Canon Compliant

Some encounters Will, Henry and Beanpole had on their way to the White Mountains.

I wrote End in Fire, a crossover between two of my recipient's requested fandoms, Stephen King's Firestarter and Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine. I matched on the former and had not actually read the latter; I had, however, read the prequel-written-later, Harrison Squared, which is YA horror and had some great characters and a nicely dry sense of humour, while completely failing at any sort of satisfying conclusion, which is just the sort of thing that nags at me and meant that when I reserved Firestarter through the local library I also reserved We Are All Completely Fine, just to check.

I re-read Firestarter and found some interesting hanging threads (other survivors of Lot 6, the hints that Charlie's power will somehow lead her to do something with/to the sun), and started a few ideas which went nowhere (also, inexplicably, research on climate change does not indicate whether it is possible to fix it by accelerating the life cycle of the sun, although it looks as though Charlie would have to cause core hydrogen exhaustion to get anywhere, which has other disadvantages!). While thinking about this I read We Are All Completely Fine - cool set-up, interesting characters, ending not as cliff-hangery as Harrison Squared but still not as good as the set-up - and discovered it had Greta, a girl raised in an all-female cult to be the bride/vessel of an unearthly destructive spirit of fire. I wavered for a bit (another Yuletide where I write a crossover between two tiny fandoms? at least there were a tiny handful of fics out there for Firestarter) but the idea was too compelling to let go, and at rather a late stage I emailed the mods to ask if my recipient would be okay with a crossover.

The story itself was easier after that - I wanted to get Greta out of being a containment device, and I wanted to show a possible future for Charlie, and I wanted a happy(ish) ending for both of them.

End in Fire (4990 words) by Cyphomandra
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: KING Stephen - Works, Firestarter - All Media Types, We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Charlie McGee, Harrison Harrison
Additional Tags: Crossover, Psychic Abilities, secret government agencies, Unlikely meetings, Cthulhu Mythos

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

I did mean to post a recs post, but I did a lot of reading instead (and still have a dozen or so windows open on long stories). The Wimsey and Wodehouse (Psmith and Jeeves & Wooster) fics were all good this year, and I also liked Mission Impeccable (GBBO spoof), The Fragile Skiff Attains the Shore (Master and Commander, Jack and Stephen endanger and rescue each other), and Many Havens, a Mercedes Lackey Vanyel fix-it fic.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
2016-12-14 09:23 pm

Reading Wednesday

Over a month's worth.


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)
2016-11-29 08:27 pm
Entry tags:

Silo Theatre 2017

I am currently filled with the milk of human kindness (and rather a lot of ice-cream) - I went to the launch for Silo Theatre's 2017 season; the 2016 has been a mixed bag, and I've skipped the surrealist elk play after the reviews suggested it was much more interesting to act in than watch. But for 2017 all the plays look great; two directed by Shane Bosher (the previous artistic director, who has done so many plays I've loved), at least one of which looks having a high chance of male nudity (it's called Cock) and the other is a contemporary take on Streetcar Named Desire, not my favourite Williams play but I think it will at least be interesting, a feminist one called Revolt. She said. Revolt Again, a return of Hudson & Halls: Live!, a black comedy Shakespeare in prisons NZ (TOA Productions) piece with Rob Mokaraka involved, reminding me I need to write up his excellent Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet, and last but certainly not least a production of Peter and the Wolf with puppets, film and rotating narrators, which will be screening when my two are 3 and 3/4 and hopefully able to enjoy it. They did have the video with faceless individuals doing allusive dramatic things (last year in balaclavas, this year in rainbow sheets) but otherwise all much more promising.

Anyway. We had vast amounts of ticker tape dumped on us in celebration, and a live band with a remarkably unintelligible singer and then nibbles in the foyer, and then as the nibbles were rather small we wandered off to Giapo, which has very nice ice cream under a ridiculous layer of ornamentation and presentation experience (I declined the offer of a Yorkshire pudding with my ice-cream), and I ate an ice-cream that probably doubled my calorie intake for the day, discussed theatre, and finally separated from my companion and went back to the car. At which point I discovered I'd lost my parking ticket. I went back to Giapo with no luck, then the theatre with even less optimism, given all the people and ticker tape, but when I got into the stage area and asked a guy with a leaf blower looked up and said "Oh yes. I handed it into the bar." I should have left him a drink, actually, for saving me the $70 lost ticket fee, but these sorts of things only occur to me now.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
2016-11-14 09:57 pm

Kaikoura Quake

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit North Canterbury (in the South Island) just after midnight this morning, and aftershocks are ongoing. It was felt up here by some (not me) and there's a lot of damage to land and property around Kaikoura, and to a lesser extent in Wellington, but there have only been two deaths, which after Christchurch is a massive relief even though it still feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Friends and family are okay but tired due to middle of the night evacuations and aftershocks, and unfortunately the weather forecast for tonight in the affected areas includes gale warnings, just what you need when you're trying to work out if it's wind or an aftershock rattling the house. I agree with [personal profile] china_shop that the pathetic fallacy re the effects of the US Elections is getting out of hand. All the best to all those affected.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2016-11-04 01:49 pm

Reading Friday

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.


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: (balcony)
2016-11-02 09:47 pm
Entry tags:

Shylock (Gareth Armstrong), Under Milkwood (Dylan Thomas) – both performed by Guy Masterson

Performed on alternating nights, both one-man plays; definitely a triumph of stamina (for the actor – they were both about 100 minutes long). I liked them both but for me Shylock had the edge.

Shylock is, obviously, about the character in the Merchant of Venice, but the character Masterson plays is Tubal (or the actor playing Tubal), a wealthy merchant friend of Shylock’s and the only other Jewish character in Shakespeare’s plays, with a whole 8 lines. The piece – set against a backdrop of fraying banners with the word “Jew” written on them in various languages – is a history and a performance of The Merchant of Venice; we skip through the play from one scene with Shylock (and Tubal) to another, and digress frequently. It covers Jews in fiction and history from Pontius Pilate to the 1190 Jewish Massacre in York, to the Venetian ghettos and the shadow it casts forward into the Holocaust. In addition, we touch on Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, the Italian source for the Merchant, the various actors who played Shylock and how they evolved the part, and up to tday. There are a lot of great moments and when we end up at the court scene with Shylock’s greatest speech and his total defeat it’s magnificent, and very disturbing. I would definitely see this again.

Under Milk Wood – I saw this years back at the Basement staged as a 1950s radio play, the actors stepping up to the mikes in turn, a Foley artist off to the side; an excellent production. This one-man version is enthusiastic, polished (I think he’s done over 2000 performances) and still affecting, but I am not sure making it a one-man performance improves it as a piece, even while it does showcase Masterson’s impressive acting abilities. He also lost me a bit with some of the female characters, especially the younger girls (all coy falsetto), but he does Polly Garter, looked down on by the town for her multiple children by multiple men, very well – she and Captain Cat (signified by him putting on a pair of sunglasses) get the best bits, really.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
2016-11-01 08:00 pm

Current reading

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.