cyphomandra: (balcony)
Just finished:

The Martian, Andy Weir. I saw the movie first because reading a sample on-line made me unsure whether I could handle the narrator at book-length, but in many ways the book narrator ended up being less annoying than the film. This is probably mostly because I’m not all that fond of Matt Damon, and even when he’s doing survival puzzles in space I still have to look at him, whereas the book narrator tends to be much more tolerable when the author is caught up in the technical details and not trying to give him a personality. Watney is supposedly the catalyst that makes the astronaut crew function; he is also that annoying guy at the party who will not shut up about his pet topic and his personal brilliance, and who keeps trying (and failing) to come up with funny one-liners. There’s almost no suspense about whether the rest of the crew will be happy spending another year and a half in space to rescue Watney, so they must inexplicably find him more appealing, but then it’s not a book for interpersonal conflict, or even for anything much outside of Watney and his fight for survival. The bits not from Watney’s point of view are barely 2-dimensional - I kept envisaging stick figures in empty rooms holding up bits of cardboard with their names on them.

In terms of book versus movie I preferred the book - the dust storm sequence is particularly effective, and I also liked that Mark loses contact via Pathfinder. The final grab - hmm. The movie does oversell this, but the book undersells it because it takes the action away from Mark, and there’s not enough for it to work as a team redemption (it could, possibly, have worked if the key manoeuvre was made by Lewis). The book doesn’t return to Earth: I didn’t like Matt Damon lecturing at the end of the movie, but I did like that you saw he’d got back. In both cases, I wanted something between.

Neither book nor movie explain why Mark is going through every other crew member’s stuff looking for personal items and has nothing of his own. I am still bugged by this.

My Friends the Miss Boyds, Jane Duncan. First in the series. I will come back to these. By contrast to The Martian this is positively bursting with a sense of place, period and character. It’s a sad book without feeling grim or even downbeat, which is an interesting achievement, but it is limited by the narrator being a child, and I’m looking forward to the next ones.

In progress:

My Friend Muriel, Jane Duncan. Second etc. I like that we move very briskly through the second world war with only a few paragraphs referencing her time in Air Force Intelligence, most of which are about the batty arguments she gets into with her highly strung co-workers. She is quite casually brutally in assessing her own personality as well as others - not as much so as Doris Lessing in her memoirs, but it reminded me a bit of the approach.

Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. How your own experiences (especially but not only those of your childhood/being parented) influence your own approach to parenting; recognition, understanding and allowing the potential for change. I like Siegel’s other books and this is useful but a bit more wordy and less specific than his later works, or so far anyway.

Coming up:

Expect a swathe of My Friends. Also, I suspect that the Ancillary books are going to lose out to a re-read of the Captive Prince series, because book 3 is OUT IN FIVE DAYS, OMG.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Just finished:

A Banquet of Consequences, Elizabeth George. 19th in the series. Starts with a suicide and then, three years later, with the death in suspicious circumstances of a feminist academic, who is employing the mother of the suicide as a PA and general dogsbody. I liked this more than the last two for being more contained and also for having more Havers and less Lynley, and a Havers who is at least trying not to trample over all the lines. I am also relieved that it left the Italian detective off-stage for almost the entire book, even though I want to see him again. Does a pretty good job of living up to the title.

Spoilers for ending )

The Traitor, Seth Dickinson. Has an additional "Baru Cormorant" in the US edition, which I think I prefer. I liked this more than I thought I was going to, but it still didn't really connect with me - one of those books that sounds much better on paper (queer brown female savant takes on the empire that has colonised her homeland, by joining it and working from the inside) and what I said in my last post about twists definitely applies here. Part of the problem is definitely that this whole story plays out on a third stage - neither Baru's homeland nor that of the Empire - and it makes the stakes feel a little too much like a game without that personal connection.

In progress: Yuletide-relevant material. Lemon Drop & Martha's Distant Journey, Unknown Lands epic Sentinel fanfic, which is atmospheric and creepy and good for summer.

Up next: I do have Kameron Hurley's Empire Ascendant, but I think it and the next Ancillary book are going to have to wait until later, possibly until I have their respective third volumes.

Also, I picked up H.M. Hoover's This Time of Darkness from a booksale, in a paperback version of the hardcover one I read repeatedly as a child, and I
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Just finished:

The Stranger on the Train, Abbie Taylor. I think I had this mixed up with The Girl on the Train, which has had a bit of recent buzz. A single mum struggling to cope with her 13 month old has an encounter with an apparently helpful woman which then goes horribly wrong. I did quite like the main character but this is all fairly obvious and never reaches those unnerving levels of disarticulation from reality that another book along similar lines whose author and title I have just gone totally blank on does. My brain gave me Douglas Kennedy's The Pursuit of Happiness, which it definitely isn't. Arrgh. Similar loopy font on the cover, though. Anyway. The gimmick in this of having someone fake a DNA cheek swab with a bloody tissue also would not work, just for anyone planning similar.

A Wizard of Mars, Diane Duane. I think the singular might be a Burroughs homage, because the wizards seem very plural. Latest (next one due out next year) in the Young Wizards series, and I liked it more than the last I read (at War) for having lesser stakes. The Mars bits are good and there's a lot of nice character moments. However, I spent much of my teenage years reading books in which various reincarnations of people worked out things (usually their relationships) in their subsequent iterations and think I exhausted my sympathy for them then.

Raising Henry: a memoir of motherhood, disability and discovery, Rachel Adams. Henry, Rachel's second child, is diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after birth. The book goes through the next three years, the backbone of which is the family, but the other main theme is Adams' academic work; she's a professor of English & American studies whose interest now is disability studies, but who started off studying sideshow freaks (the topic of her first book). I did enjoy reading it but I don't think I've taken away a lot from it.

In progress:

The Traitor,, Seth Dickinson. This has a "Baru Cormorant" on the title in the US edition. Titular heroine is smart and happy until her country is taken over by the might of the Masked Empire, at which point her intelligence is needed to get her as far up the ranks of power as possible in order to gain her revenge. I am about 100 pages in and need to stop mentally comparing this to Dorothy Dunnett, which isn't helping, but it hasn't really grabbed me yet.

Up next:

Yuletide-relevant material. The next two Imperial Radish books. The latest Elizabeth George, in which I really hope someone tells Havers that what she got away with last book was unacceptable, to say the least. Given the title - A Banquet of Consequences - I have at least a tiny hope.

Books etc

Oct. 30th, 2015 02:04 pm
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am in the middle of a patch of books I've picked up because of numerous positive recommendations, all by female authors.

Hild, Nicola Griffith. Dark Ages Britain, Hild of Whitby, and an amazingly indepth world and people. Loved this. My only caveat for recommending it would be that it's the first of a proposed three book series and there is no word as to when the next is due out (also, I would warn for infant death).

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel. Most of the world's population is wiped out by flu, an epidemic which started the same night an actor playing the lead in a Canadian production of King Lear died. Twenty years after, a travelling orchestra and Shakespeare theatre group make their circuit through the remaining clumps of civilisation. I liked this a lot. I liked the structure (back and forward through timelines and connections) and there are bits in this that really got to me. I do feel it's written from a literary rather than a genre sensibility and this may account for some of the bits that didn't work as well for me - the graphic novel that one of the character is obsessed with is far more important as a symbol than as an actual story, the actions of the Prophet, the lack of change in tone throughout the story - but I did like it and I would read more of her books. I also want to reread the short story Stephen King did as a prelude to The Stand (Mandel does name-check some genre works in interviews etc, but oddly not what I think of as the quintessential end-the-world-with-flu book).

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. Regency England with fantasy and nonwhite protagonists. I have loved a number of Zen Cho's short stories and was more than a little disappointed that I really didn't enjoy this. It's weak on plot, and while strong on character it a) feels as though the characters are all from slightly different stories and b) I really disliked Prunella, and it's hard to enjoy a book when you're deeply annoyed with one of the leads. I liked Zacharias more but I am never a big fan of a protagonist keeping something secret from the readers for no particularly good reason.

Also, I am now 50 pages from the end of the first of what a friend refers to as the Imperial Radish series, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, and enjoying it a lot. I think this is a series which would be great to re-read.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Just finished:

One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson. I stalled on this for quite some time when I was halfway through the second month with Babe Ruth (first month, Charles Lindbergh) and realised from the portraits on the back that I had Calvin Coolidge & Al Capone to go, which induced in me a sudden intolerance of yet more of the Straight Cis White Male model of history. I did end up finishing it, skimming; it is entertaining and there are more complicated stories at the edges, with the Mississippi floods causing significant black migration, and bits about the Ku Klux Klan, various anti-Semites (mainly Henry Ford) and anarchist bombings. I would describe it however as exceedingly weak on women. There is, for example, a mention of Margaret Sanger, in the eugenics bit, but nothing really about her work on birth control, which was ongoing during the period of this book.

The first two of Jacqueline Carey's Agent of Hel urban fantasy books - Dark Currents and Autumn Bones (each book is a season). I have had erratic experiences with Carey's stuff but these are endearing and although they tick a lot of the expected urban fantasy boxes (heroine has magic powers which are also source of angst; heroine describes her own clothing in unnecessary detail; heroine is torn between at least two amazingly attractive nonhuman males with accompanying angst) they also diverge enough or do so with enough charm that I have been won over. This is also the first book I've read in ages where the pop culture references all really work for me.

Also, Janet Lansbury's No Bad Kids: toddler discipline without shame, which I am thinking about.


I am just under a 100 pages from the end of Hild, by Nicola Griffith, which is excellent. Historical, in Dark Ages Britain, and a story about an exceptional woman who is also, equally, a product of her specific community and times, and not a present day transplant to an unenlightened past. An excellent antidote to the Bryson and to any number of assorted war- and grit- and erasure/objectification of women historical/fantasy books out there.

I am also a hundred pages into Diane Duane's A Wizard of Mars, which I started before I got absorbed by Hild. And about 200 pages into Poison Fruit, the third Agent of Hel book, because it arrived at the library and I got distracted.

Coming up:

All the bits of unfinished book. I also have Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, the last Terry Pratchett, and Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven hanging around.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
I am going to type for twenty minutes and try to clear some of my backlog.

Gwenhwyfar: the White Spirit, Mercedes Lackey. Arthuriana, gives Arthur three queens all called Gwenhwyfar (one dies with her children, one runs away/abducted, the third is the protagonist), and goes for a bit of druids vs Christians (although given Lackey, both sides contain reasonable people who totally agree on things) and a bit of Celtic battle stuff. There's some interesting bits in here with Gwen's younger, evil, sister (Little Gwen) and the battle training is good, but the set up Lackey's chosen means that a lot of the Arthur story is taking place elsewhere while this is sidelined, and then everything happens with a sudden rush and it's all sailing off to Avalon.

The blurb says this is Lackey's tribute to her friend Marion Zimmer Bradley; Lackey's notes at the end, however, say nothing of the sort. Readable, anyway.

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory. Harrrison Harrison (the fourth, I think) lost his leg and his father to a mysterious sea creature in childhood. As a teenager, he travels with his marine biologist mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quaint seaside town where the school vocab quiz words are "squamous" and "rugose", the school swimming lessons are in an apparently bottomless dark pool in an underground cave, and the locals participate in weird cults. It's fun, it has a dry sense of humour, and some very neat characters, and there are lots of quotes from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to break things up. I have bookmarked the definition of a cultural anthropologist as "someone who bores you to death at a dinner party", the glum fellow student Bart who prefers not to answer questions, and the bit where Harrison's eccentric aunt refuses to eat at food courts because all the food has been found guilty. The librarian is particularly good as a character.

Against it - hmm. It breaks first person point of view for a couple of chapters, and I always find that a jolting thing as a reader. It has a cliffhanger ending and no clues (there or author's website) about whether a sequel is planned. Most unfortunately for it, I read it after reading Ruthanna Emrys' The Litany of Earth, which is also Lovecraftian but which has a depth and pathos that means this feels a little thin by comparison. I enjoyed it, though.

Five Came Back: a story of Hollywood and the Second World War, Mark Harris. I read this because of skygiant's review, it's good, and I have nothing of note to add to it regarding the book itself; however, the back cover bio informed me that the author is Tony Kushner's husband, and so I have a whole host of Angels in America warm fuzzies to add to the book itself. (one day. One day I will see Perestroika. At least the last time it played anywhere near me I managed to actually get tickets.)

(twenty-five minutes!)
cyphomandra: Painting of a bare tree, by Rita Angus (tree)
Stranger (The Change, #1), Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith.
The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1), Kameron Hurley.

Both first volumes of trilogies, both featuring bloodthirsty vegetation, and both on reserve, so they're now back at the library and I am writing this from memory. I intend to read the second books in both series, and then that's probably the last thing they have in common.

Stranger is YA, post-apocalyptic California (Los Angeles specifically from the blurb, but I was unclear exactly where the story was taking place), multiple povs, nifty worldbuilding and diverse cast. Ross Juarez, a loner and prospector who's found a book that the villain wants very much, seeks temporary refuge in Las Anclas, and ends up – somewhat reluctantly - becoming part of the community. Other events and relationships play out among the locals, triggered by his presence, and tensions within and without the community build to a climax.

No real spoilers. )

The Mirror Empire is bloody epic fantasy, with a very appealing hook; magic workers have powers dependent on which satellite is ascendant in the sky, normally predictable enough; but, rarely, the dark satellite Oma rises and those who have an affinity for it can open gates between worlds. Obviously this story is not set during one of the quiet predictable periods. The multiple worlds is another thing uncommon in epic fantasy, and Hurley does some neat things with the doppelgangers it produces.

No major spoilers. )


Aug. 26th, 2015 09:26 pm
cyphomandra: (balcony)
I keep picking books at (nearly) random off shelves, with not particularly outstanding results. The books I've reserved have all been much better but have had to be returned before I've had a chance to write them up, so will be appearing later.

Rustication, by Charles Palliser. Enthusiastic comparisons to Wilkie Collins on blurb. Victorian historical gothic in which Richard Shenstone is sent down from Cambridge after various dodgy dealings involving opium and suicide (not, alas, his own) to a ramshackle house on the coast where his mother and sister (Euphemia) are now living after the death of his father. Noone tells anyone anything straight out but hints etc are dropped frequently, Richard writes extensively in his diary (lapsing into Greek for his sexual fantasies about the servants), the neighbourhood reveals itself to be a hotbed of gossip and scandal, and someone is writing sexually explicit anonymous letters and mutilating farm animals. Richard staggers from assumption to assumption, flirts with unreliable narrative, and then disappears off through the marshes without a trace (there is an annoying frame narrative), which is possibly his only good decision. Everyone in this book is deeply unpleasant, although somehow the female characters seem worse; I think because they are given less justification for their unpleasantness (although the male characters' motives are tissue-thin, they're still there). It has not inspired in me a desire to read any of Palliser's other works.

Whistling in the Dark, by Shirley Hughes. Yes, the British illustrator. This has the tagline "In the hardship of war, everything is rationed - except true friendship", which is rather nice but reflects a more shaped narrative than this one. The elements are there - a Polish refugee whose uncle has deserted and is trying to find her and black marketeers are the main threads - but it's more of a slice of life story and most of the important plot points are given to other characters or off-stage. It was a perfectly pleasant read that hasn't stayed with me; mostly what I have is the desire to re-read Helen Forrester's memoirs, which overlap somewhat in time and place.

The Darkest Evening of the Year, by Dean Koontz. Dean Koontz's 70s and early 80s books under his own and pennames had a kind of wild enthusiasm that carried me through some fairly ridiculous plots (I am still fond of the Nazi time travellers book), but then it all became about Meaning and Feelings, and The Inherent Goodness of Some Things (especially golden retrievers) and I stopped bothering. This has not changed my mind. Amy Redwing runs a golden retriever rescue organisation. She has a Dark Past due to an Evil Husband, who, coincidentally, has now hooked up with the Evil Former Girlfriend of Amy's current boyfriend (an architect who draws dogs). Evil Exes do Evil things and have Amy's boyfriend's daughter, a ten year old girl with Down Syndrome, captive. I did start to write out the plot but basically a) dogs are good b) children with Down Syndrome or other divergences from the typical are in touch with forces beyond our comprehension c) these forces plus the dogs can heal fatal injuries, regrow teeth, etc etc, but for some reason not stop all the original Evil in the first place. Hmm. Bizarrely, this has made me want to re-read his Watchers or possibly even something even more cheerfully over the top like The House of Thunder to see they still work 20 or so years down the track.

Anyway. The next two books are better (I am saving the Peter Wimsey til I feel strong enough).
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Just finished: Risk, by Dick Francis. Roland Britten is an accountant and an amateur jockey; after he wins a race he is kidnapped and held on a yacht until he manages to escape. And then, four days later he is kidnapped again. The set-up here is great, and the characters are good; the ending felt a little abrupt and I'm not convinced Roland's decision is entirely earned by the text. A fun read, though, and although I guessed part of the solution I missed a fairly big chunk.

Reading now: Genocide of One, Kazuaki Takano (trans Philip Gabriel). Thriller. A new life form that could wipe out humanity has emerged in the Congo; an American-run team of elite operatives are sent to eradicate it first. One of the team has a terminally ill child, and in Japan a pharmaceutical researcher receives orders from his dead father about synthesising a drug that may cure this disease. I'm 100 pages in, so things are still all drawing together. Author majored in film studies and works as a scriptwriter; the military plotline is a bit filmic, but the Japanese researcher has a bit more depth to it.

Up next: Probably the Star Wars book. Possibly the next Sarah Caudwell, if I work out where I put it, and Moominsummer Madness is still lurking nearby.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Captain Rafe Lancaster is a charming daredevil aeronaut in the Britannic Imperium's aerial Corps who gets invalided out of the forces after crashing his fighter and damaging his eyesight. Not particularly respected by his family, who are part of a House system that rules all of society below the Queen, he ends up in a boarding hostel on limited funds and with apparently limited options. Fortunately for him, events conspire to have him buy a coffeeshop near the Imperium Museum that will put him back into good fortune and hook him up with the heir to the most powerful House in the Imperium.

The charm of this book is Rafe himself – it's told in first person – and he is charming. What lets him, and the book, down, is with one main exception the lack of any real conflict in the story, and it's a shame, because the author has obviously thought a lot about her steampunk setting, its technologies and politics, and has in addition planted enough interesting threads throughout the novel that I really wanted them to come to something and not be left dangling.
Vague spoilers. )

I would like to see another book set in this world, even with the same lead; I'd like, however, to see a bit more growth and challenge for Rafe, and I'm not sure that's doable in another m/m romance with the same love interest.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Currently reading: Still halfway through the Dick Francis. And I have started re-reading All She Wrote, the second Holmes and Moriarity Josh Lanyon book (does it say anywhere why Lanyon went for Moriarity rather than Moriarty? Other than to give me spelling-related doubts everytime I mention this?)

Just finished reading: The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan. First one of hers I've read, and entertaining while not really working for me. I think I should try one of her contemporaries, as I had too much trouble believing in the characters here as actually being of their time, and it got in the way a bit of the plot. Robert, 9th Duke of Clermont, deals with his father (and mother) issues and guilt over his privilege by distributing handbills urging the workers to rebel and visiting former factory employees to give them pensions. He meets Wilhelmina Pursling, a self-effacing member of various local hygiene committees who has a Mysterious Past. My favourite bit was when Robert did actually tell Minnie (Wilhelmina) his clever plan via note rather than leaving all to be revealed at a dramatic moment, and the characters are fun, but arrgh. I really wanted more setting, more politics, and more grounding for everybody. Also, this is not Milan's fault but Minnie's secret past just made me sigh wistfully in the vague direction whichever box my copies (I have 2) of The Queen's Gambit are currently in (due to storage issues everything after M as an author is in a mostly unlabelled box in the wardrobe in the spare room).

Just about to read: I am staring thoughtfully at Tove Jansson's Moominsummer Madness, actually, which would be a re-read after who knows how long - I still remember being baffled by the Midsummer Night's Dream references the first half dozen times or so I read it as a child. And I have the second in the Timothy Zahn Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy (what a great conglomeration of nouns) waiting for me.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Because why not? I have yet to write up books read January but ended up doing so in brief while writing this, as follows: Sarah Caudwell's The Shortest Way to Hades (great fun, largely for the voice), Mercedes Lackey's Steadfast (bad, bad, hanging plot threads and a complete failure to deal with the tone of the source fairy tale, which like most Hans Christian Andersen is deeply depressing) and Unnatural Issue (much better by comparison, objectively okay but wobbles with balancing fairy-tale plot vs WWI plot, and she's also lucky that I found her Peter Wimsey homage entertaining rather than irksome), the Pullein-Thompson sisters' joint memoir Fair Girls and Grey Horses, which was interesting but had less horse than I expected, and I found myself more interested in their mother's books (have read at least two of her horse books but didn't realise she'd done so many adult ones), and Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, which is good and the characters are great but it did suffer a bit by my having read so much favourable press beforehand. I do like the moment when Maia meets the revolutionary who has, in fact, put him on the throne, and how he feels about this.

Just finished: Star Wars: Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn. Before that I re-read a Biggles book and I also have half a Dick Francis on the go, so I guess I am looking for action in some respects and predictable competence in others. Choices of One has to fit in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and it has to show off Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn (I believe both are Zahn's creations) without undoing any of his chronologically later but written earlier works, plus not finding this enough challenge Zahn also brings in a group of idealistic Imperial Stormtroopers, and really has a lot of fun dealing with ostensibly bad and good guys working together against common evils etc. More often I don't like prequel work because it doesn't change anything, but this is appealing largely because of how it deals with that challenge - and there are enough little nudges to the characters that you can see an evolution.

Next up: the rest of the Dick Francis, probably, which I have actually abandoned in the middle of a sex scene (it's Dick Francis. A school teacher in her 40s asks the jockey/accountant she has just rescued from inexplicable kidnappers to have sex with her to rid her of her virginity, basically, so all calculation and very little passion so far). Possibly the Courtney Milan I have on my Kindle, or the Josh Lanyon I need to put on Stanza?


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