cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
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: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
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)
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)
April.

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

February:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am no longer cross-posting to livejournal.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

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

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

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

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

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

Abandoned:

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

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

In progress:

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

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

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

Up next:

Yuletide-relevant works are showing up, plus trying to get through some of my ebook backlog.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
Possibly I shouldn't do that with language. Anyway. Much lighter than the last.

A.L.O.E., The Crown of Success. )

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

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

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

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