cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is probably the last month or so.

Finished reading:

Tana French, Broken Harbour. A family living on a post-boom half-finished housing estate start to fall apart when the father becomes obsessed with animal noises in the attic; the view point in this, “Scorcher” Kennedy, has bitter family ties to the location (called Broken Harbour in his childhood, it now rejoices in the name of Brianstown). The bit where the lead detective has a family connection that they don’t disclose is growing thin here with repetition here,, as is the moment where the detective tells the reader that this is the moment when they could have stopped everything from falling apart but didn't. Kennedy is less likeable than Rob but more principled in the end, and the relationship with his rookie partner Richie slightly less dysfunctional than Rob and Cassie, and it’s all very readable and has a great sense of place, but I do want something a bit different. I am third out of ten holds for The Likeness and somewhere in the 30s for The Trespasser, and looking forward to both.

Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom. A black hustler, Charles Thomas Tester, takes a job playing music for a white man who turns out to be summoning the Elder Gods; this is inspired by and criticising Lovecraft, specifically his Horror at Red Hook story and LaValle dedicates the book to him with all his complicated feelings. The scene setting and Tom and his father are all great, and I would have happily read more of it, but the book switches to Malone's (he's the investigating detective who is the protagonist of Lovecraft's piece) pov and although I can see why LaValle did it it lost me as a reader. There are a number of revisionist Lovecraft pieces out or coming out at the moment, and I would particularly recommend Ruthanna Emry's The Litany of Earth.

Jilly Cooper, Jump! I started reading Mount!, which is just out, and realised less than a chapter in that I never finished Jump, which I think ran into earthquakes or something similar, as I stalled less than a hundred pages before the end. It’s still not up there with Appassionata and Polo, but I do admire Cooper having her romantic lead be a grandmother in her late 60s, with a secondary character being a Pakistani stable lad who is suspected of terrorism. I remember the flood as being more significant than it was on this re-read but I think mostly that was because that was where I stalled last time so it felt as if it went on for ever. I do find the way spoiling animals is totally approved of and done by all the best characters while spoiling children is terribly wrong a bit irritating. Some of this is due to having read Jilly Cooper’s The Common Years, a sort of personal diary of nature via dog-walking, in which not one but two of her dogs have to be put down (I think for both killing cats or else a child's small dog is the final offence) despite her doing everything possible to control their terrible behaviour except a) training them or b) having them neutered. I did cry at the end, because there's a bit that reminds me of my favourite moment in Riders and even though I have massive, massive issues with all the human characters involved I still love the horse.

Barbara Hambly, Fever Season. I started reading this and then everyone else in the household got sick (although not with yellow fever or cholera) so it ended up on hold for a bit. I think having not one but two mysteries running during an epidemic is a great idea, but the relentless death scenes as backdrop did make this a rather depressing read. I was also spoiled by history for a fairly key event. The characters are great, though, and even when bleak it’s still fascinating. The next two are available on Overdrive *if* I can actually work out how to use my library's digital subscription (my last attempt got me files readable on a laptop but I couldn't get them onto the ereader).

Matthew Reilly, The Great Zoo of China. A selected group of interested parties are invited to tour a not-yet-open top-secret zoo that turns out to be inhabited by DRAGONS! Much to everyone’s surprise things go horribly wrong. The usual Reilly fast pace and cinematic scenes, with a change to a female protagonist (CJ Cameron, an alligator expert), and there are some nice moments in here but it’s very, very obvious who is going to survive and how. The Four Legendary Kingdoms, the next one in his Indiana Jones-style world-ending conspiracy series, is out next month, and I think he’s probably better in series. I did pick up an ex-library copy of his The Tournament, which is historical and features a young QEI - must give that a go and see what on earth he's done with it.

Jan Mark, Trouble Half-way. Amy is a cautious child who is not wild about her new stepfather; when her mother has to take Amy's toddler sister and look after her suddenly unwell father, Amy ends up having to go on her stepdad's lorry delivery round. You are probably envisioning all sorts of Problem Novel occurrences, but this is Jan Mark and the mid 80s, and so it is a well-drawn believable story in which Amy learns that she can be a little more independent and people are not always threatening just because you don't know them. Mark as an author will always mean The Ennead to me, a stunningly brilliant YA one-volume fantasy that I am enthralled by and argued (in my head) with in equal measure since I first read it as a teenager.

I also skimmed through the Narnia series – the beginning of Prince Caspian, beginning and end of The Dawn Treader, most of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle for writing And All Points North. I am still never going to like The Last Battle, and I can still remember how betrayed and irritated I felt at reading the opening Shift & Puzzle section for the first time as a child. Reread a bit of Mike and Psmith and (mostly) resisted getting sucked into Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes, all conveniently on Project Gutenberg.

In progress:

Jilly Cooper, Mount! Jump! was at least trying to extend the bounds of romantic protagonists. This has Gala, who is employed as a carer for Rupert's increasingly demented father and is a widow from a violence-riven country in Africa whose husband was murdered by possibly state-sanctioned agents of organised crime, and I would like her much more if she were a Sudanese refugee and not a white Zimbabewan who was putting off having children due to a court case over her farm and whose husband ("a true Rhodi") died in a hail of bullets while hugging a baby rhino to save it from poachers. I would also like her more if the description of the revenge attacks on her husband and her farm spent less time going on about how all the dogs were killed and clarified whether the farm workers were also all killed. So far this was mentioned only briefly in the second of three (so far) retellings, and I am unsure if this is the author's or Gala's oversight. It is also heavily about Rupert Campbell-Black, of whom I am not fond, and I am reading it rather grumpily.

Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile. The Peter Ustinov movie of this was one of the first films I remember seeing, but it’s been a long time since I read it. I can remember vividly how the murder was done, which means I know who, but it’s still fun watching it all fall into place.

Tim Powers, Medusa’s Web. I bought this on my last-but-one trip to Kinokuniya in Sydney and found it still in the suitcase on the most recent trip. I am about 60 pages in but was getting wistful fondness for what I consider to be Powers’ best books, so:

Tim Powers, Last Call. I actually borrowed this from the library despite owning it, because my copy is, like most of my other books with authors starting with “N” and after, in one of a large number of inaccurately labelled boxes either in an attic or jammed into a wardrobe somewhere. I can never decide which one of a handful of Powers I like best, but this is up there – it’s so believable and completely bizarre at the same time. I am possibly being unfair to Medusa's Web as I'm not that far in, but it does feel thin by comparison.

Rose Lerner, Sweet Disorder. Widow Phoebe Sparks can, by marrying again, generate a vote in the hotly contested district election and so, despite her lack of keenness, both the Whigs and Tories attempt to provide her with suitable candidates. Nick Dymond, crippled war veteran and brother of the Whig candidate, gets involved a little bit more than he should with Phoebe’s decision. This is holding my attention more than the last Lerner I tried, which I gave up on; it’s enjoyable and there’s enough history there to work for me, even while a fair bit of contemporary creeps in. It hasn’t really got me as involved as I would like, though, and it may be that I’m just not all that into contemporary het romances at the moment, unless they're also re-enacting National Velvet in the background.

Abandoned:

Louise Doughty, Black Water. I liked the idea of a book dealing with the Indonesian genocide, but this wasn’t working for me; as with Apple Tree Yard, there’s an early immediate sexual connection that didn’t feel believable, and flipping through to see if things picked up got me then not one but two past child deaths told in that particular literary styling where you know they’re going to die and it’s just being dragged out in nicely turned prose, so I bailed.

Mark Haddon, The Red House. I could probably have handled all the dialogue being in italics without quote marks if I could have been bothered remembering who any of the characters were.

Up next:

Finishing all this lot and then probably alternating Benjamin January with the My Friends series.
cyphomandra: Painting of a bare tree, by Rita Angus (tree)
I have been trying to reduce my in-progress pile to more manageable proportions.

Finished:

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson.
How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood, Jim Grimsley.

Both memoirs, the Winterson focussing on her childhood/adolescence and then skipping a whole lot to her investigation of her birth parents as an adult with a (slightly) better handle on things, the Grimsley also focussing on his adolescence, when the high schools in his small town became (racially) integrated. Both very good at specifics, as well as examining broader social structures; Winterson is more nostalgic about what has been lost (and bitter about Thatcher), while Grimsley, understandably, is more ironic than nostalgic, and not keen to return to the past. Both are also good at identifying the tendency towards shaping narrative from memoir, and resisting it when necessary. Winterson's has more vivid characters, Grimsley's is more muted, but I enjoyed them both.

House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard. I am just not the right audience for fallen angels, magical drug addictions, and Houses in a decaying Paris that indulge in glittering political rivalries. I was also a bit irked by the revelation of the evil (actually, both revelations). I think I should go back and try her earlier Aztec murder mysteries, which sound more my thing.

A Silent Voice, v1, Yoshitoki Ōima. This did not end as badly as I feared, and in fact it did that narrative trope about bullying where the bully becomes the bullied, that I have disliked since we had Judy Blume's Blubber read to us as a class book when I was eleven. It offended me terribly then and I'm still not wild about it, because it seems to suggest that bullying is some sort of natural force, and only the target changes. What I did like about this was the pacing and tension in the first two-thirds or so, which were great, and I'm interested to see what happens next.

A Free Man of Color, Barbara Hambly. Benjamin January is the title character, a French-trained surgeon and musician who returns to his childhood home of New Orleans, 1833, and becomes entangled in a murder. Solving it is more difficult when he can be locked up on any flimsy pretence or, worse, sold as a slave if the authorities chose to ignore his papers. This has great characters, a solid (and solveable) mystery, and a lot of fascinating and even horrifying world-building, and I liked it a lot.

In the Woods, Tana French. Rob Ryan is a murder detective who, at the age of 12, was the only one of a group of 3 friends to emerge from the local woods; the other two were never found. Years later, he takes the case of a young girl murdered in the same area -without telling his superiors his background. So, two mysteries, but the main story is really Rob's disintegration, which is both as inevitable and as due to his choices as all the best Greek tragedies. I liked this a lot, even though it is impossible to get through the book without wanting to slap Rob at least once. I am about 4 holds away from getting the next one, which is from his partner's point of view, and I've just gone ahead and put holds on the other two while I was there.

Arabella of Mars, David D. Levine. I liked the bits where Arabella is learning to navigate and the moment when I realised Levine had got around the whole interplanetary travel by sailing boat thing by putting atmosphere throughout the universe, which means that when the ship runs low on coal they can put in at a passing asteroid and chop down the trees for charcoal. Unfortunately I didn't like much else. Arabella is one of those exceptional girls who is not like other women and has no time for girlish things, which amongst other things means that she is able to cross-dress successfully on a sailing ship for weeks without ever having a period or wearing a bra - the latter becomes apparent when she is forced to remove her shirt and the sight of her naked chest is enough to suppress a mutiny. The plot also creaks audibly - it is unclear why Arabella is sent to her relatives except in order to set their evil plot in motion, the egg-stealing plot is equally thin - and there's an awful lot of unexamined Empire going on. I am supporting Chaz Benchley's Chalet Girls on Mars Patreon, which I am mostly saving up to read once completed, and would recommend that and the associated short stories instead to anyone in the mood for Martians.

In progress:

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle - this is a very skinny book and I lost it on the bookcase for a couple of weeks. Found it again yesterday.

Fever Season, by Barbara Hambly.

Novel for critique.

Up next:

Hopefully more Tana French. Also, I should get back to Jane Duncan at some stage. And I still seem to have four other books on my library shelf, although I'm pretty sure I'm going to abandon The Red House .
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
Star Trek was the first show I read fanfic for, although given that it was all published it's never felt quite the same. Anyway, I actually started with the James Blish episode summaries, which were handy given that I only saw a handful of episodes, and I was a bit baffled about where all the books were supposed to fit in for quite some time. Then again, I did also try and work out how old the Famous Five should actually be, given all the holidays they managed to have. I have yet to entirely let go of my desire for a tenuously believably backstory :)

So. Two of these were re-reads - I didn't count The Wounded Sky, because skim-reading it in a secondhand bookstore over fifteen years ago did not leave me with anything other than a vague impression of aliens. I'll start with the entirely new (to me) one first. Those with fond memories should just skip to the last review, because the first three are a touch grumpy.

John M Ford, How much for just the planet. )

Diane Duane, The Wounded Sky. )

Janet Kagan, Uhura's song. )

Barbara Hambly, Ishmael. )

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