cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Probably about a month's worth.

Just finished:

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests. Things did indeed go wrong - it turned into Lesbian Noir, with a side of court drama and class issues, but although it was still very well written it lost me quite a bit in the process - it's a tenuous thing, maintaining sympathy for characters in these circumstnces. Part of the problem is that the viewpoint character isn't at the very centre of the story - this does make for some interesting tensions but it shuts down options for action. I also had the same problem with this as I did with Waters'Affinity; moving into the novel's endgame, two options for resolution are presented, one of which opens up the story and the other shuts it down. As the pages tick by it becomes apparent that there is only space left for the latter option. Waters does pull a grace note out at the end that makes me like this better than Affinity, but it's still mostly shutting down. I haven't read The Little Friend yet but possibly the reason I've enjoyed The Night Watch most is because its structure means the ending isn't actually there at the end to bother me.

Mercedes Lackey, Wizard of London. Lackey seems a bit unclear whose story she's telling here. We start off with Sarah, the psychically gifted orphan with an African Gray parrot companion, being sent from her parents' incredibly tolerant mission in Africa to London for training, and then it's all about Nan, the Cockney girl she befriends who is also a psychic warrior and gets one of the Queen's Raven's from the Tower for her companion, and then it jumps between Nan and Isabelle, the teacher who runs the school the two girls are at, and juggles a psychic threat to the school with an Elemental magician Isabelle used to be in love. Most of the Elementals series have a fairy-tale basis, as well, but this didn't really - bits of A Little Princess and The Snow Queen, perhaps, but nothing more. Oh, and Puck has a significant guest role. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't particularly good. However. I have just picked up A Study in Sable, which has the same characters plus Sherlock Holmes, and I'm fascinated to see what she does with it - her not-quite Peter Wimsey is endearing.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton, and My Friend My Father. Arrgh. I finished the latter in the work lunchroom and then had to avoid eye contact with everyone as I was crying. Cairnton is lighter - it goes back to her time in Cairnton, and then forward to St Jago, and basically ends up with one of those nightmarish dinner parties to which an impeccably decorous married couple, the longstanding mistress of the husband and the drunk platonic companion of the wife have all been accidentally invited. My Father goes back more, into early childhood, and has some great sections on the process of realisation children go through, that click in the mind as they work out how to count, or to tell the time, and then this carries on into other realisations. There's a particularly neat piece about realising for the first time that everyone else exists at the centre of their own universe (something quite a few adults have yet to realise), there's the relationship between Janet and her father changing and deepening over the years, there's the war again - and then the end. I think I need a small strategic pause, not least because I have half a shelf of pending reads, but she's such a great writer that I just want to keep going.

Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park. The romance in this worked much better than that in either of the other two of hers I've read, possibly because I am a total sucker for a couple bonding over sharing issues of Alan Moore's Watchmen. I'm just a little bit younger than these characters (I read Watchmen in the collected trade) and the references really worked for me. As did the story. It's a very delicate book, neatly constructed, and I liked it a lot.

Stephen King, End of Watch. More sobbing at the end. It's good; not as good as Finders' Keepers, and I felt King ducked out a bit on really pushing the villain here, but it still ticks along and I still cared a lot. Nice use of social media and ereaders. I do wish King would do more historicals, because his research is always so solid.

Not entirely:

Leslie Parry, Church of Marvels. Turn of the century (20th) New York, an odd assortment of characters interact in the darker parts of the city. A nice hook where a night soil guy finds a baby and takes it home with him, which is why I picked it up, but then it becomes yet another book about People with Secrets, about which they will allude frequently without elaborating until the inevitable revelation at the end. I skimmed most of the middle. Nice writing, some good images, but I didn't really connect with it.

In progress:

Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning. Arrgh again, but for different reasons. I want to love this book - it is doing so many interesting things! The prose style, which is 18th century with universal personal trackers generating the (apparently) omniscient point of view, the unreliable narrator, the post-Scarcity future semi-utopia setting, the toying with gender (the narrator assigns gendered pronouns according to what they think will make things easier for their imagined Reader, who is, um, definitely not us), the use of languages, the fact that I love the author's blog and want her to do well. Etc etc etc. And yet I'm 307 pages in and it's still a bit of a slog.

It's a weirdly static book. Reading it makes me feel as though I'm contemplating a series of paintings while a very educated guide with their own peculiar agenda describes them to me (everyone in this book apparently picks out every piece of clothing and accessory to convey a particular message, which is not "this was the nearest thing on my floor and it's comfortable"). It's an enjoyable experience, but not what I want from a novel. There's very little actual witnessed action and when it does happen, it's not convincing - Cherryh's Cyteen is equally full of people who sit around talking incessantly, but when she does action, I'm there. Arrgh. It is also two days overdue from the library and on hold, so I have to finish it tonight.

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Woman has affair with the wrong man. Framing sequence has everyone in court, for what I am not yet sure. Not really my thing, but I am finding it compelling enough to keep going.

Up next:

The next Mercedes Lackey, plus a bunch of thrillers I have picked up, and Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit to which I am looking forward.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Tim Pratt, Heirs of Grace. Arts student grad Bekah, adopted at birth, inherits a house from her biological father, who turns out to have been a near immortal and powerful magician. The house is full of magical gadgets and traps, and Bekah also has an older half-sister who thinks the inheritance should have been hers.

I like Bekah herself, and there are some fun bits to the book. I am less convinced by the romance with the handsome lawyer Who Knows More than He's Telling, and there's a tendency to set up each danger/conflict and resolve or defuse it very quickly. I was also deeply irked by the "Little did I know that everything was going to go wrong" comments that are far too frequent, largely because I have no idea where they were coming from - Bekah at the end of the book, knowing the ending? Bekah from the next day? On the other hand, the time-travelling spoon and the cost for its use was great, and the opening where Bekah writes down three questions for the lawyer, who then presents her with the answers written by her father years earlier worked really well.

Tiny spoiler. )

Jane Duncan, My Friends the Mrs Millers. Absolutely brilliant. The first few books set on St Jago set me on edge a bit at times with Janet's reaction to the black inhabitants there, and her apparent reliance on the opinions of the established white locals. What becomes perfectly clear in this book is that the author has been aware of these weaknesses all along, and this is where she exposes them. It is also a book which deals with something I knew was coming and didn't want to have happen, and does so with impressive and unflinching specificity. I am very glad the library seems to have all of this series available but I think I am going to want to track down my own copies as well.

Rainbow Rowell, Carry On. Hmm. I liked it more than I feared, less than I hoped, and I am still not a Harry/Draco fan. This book has to do a lot - set up an imaginary fandom, riff on it and on the original inspiration, resolve everything - and it does this via multiple points of view, some of which worked for me better than others (Lucy and the Mage did not work at all; on the other hand, Simon worked better for me in Baz's viewpoint than in his own). I enjoyed it but it didn't really have much of an impact (apart from Ebb. I liked Ebb a lot). Also, I have yet to read anything by Lev Grossman that doesn't irk me, and he continues this by providing a blurb here that says, "you have never, ever, seen a wizard school like this". This is not even slightly true. The only unexpected thing about Watford for me was that they used to have a creche for the children of the staff, which although a good idea is hardly world-shaking.

In progress:

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests. Post-WWI genteel poor mother and daughter take in married lodgers, daughter falls for the wife. I'm about halfway through and am pretty sure I'm at the bit where everything is about to go horribly wrong but as I have avoided reading the blurb I'm not entirely sure how this is going to happen.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton. Just started.

Mercedes Lackey, The Wizard of London. I am sure I've read this before - it's the fifth Elemental Masters book - but can't remember details. I am not sure if it's going to turn into a specific fairy tale or carry on being vaguely like A Little Princess with all the typical Lackey bits where people explain the best way to do things to each other. Soothing.

Up next:

All the books listed in this update are library ones - I'm trying to clear my account out. Finishing all of these will leave me with one random acquisition that I think is about a magic circus, another Rainbow Rowell, two more My Friends and a book about the emotional life of the toddler. This will justify my picking up Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning, which I just got the reserve notification for today and am very excited about.
cyphomandra: (balcony)
Three weeks' or so:


Jane Duncan, My Friend Madame Zora and My Friend Rose. Back to Scotland and England, predominantly, and I do prefer these. Madame Zora is a fortune teller and a fiercely independent and unpleasant woman with too many cats and no desire to spend any of her money, and the plot has paintings and amnesiacs and wins on the football pools, but it's a pleasure just watching all the pieces slot carefully into place and still manage to reveal things that weren't expected. Rose goes back a bit in time - Rose is the second wife of an employer Janet had before WWII, and the stepmother of Dee, an unhappy child Janet ends up looking after; this is more of a character study and less of a revelation, but again it's all very well managed. Next up is Cousin Emmie, which I actually started with but which will probably feel quite different with all of these behind me. However, I have a bunch of work deadlines and so haven't put any more requests in yet.

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald. Finished this a while back. Excellent writing and the hawk bits and her grief are so well intertwined. I am less sure about the TH White bits, less because they're included than because she spends a lot of time giving the true narrative of what was happening (his goshawk's behaviour etc) and I am less convinced there is one true explanation behind them. It did not make me want to have my own hawk.

Shooting the Moon, Frances O'Roark Dowell. Vietnam war, US experience; the teenage son of an Army Colonel heads off to Vietnam instead of medical school. His 12 year old sister Jamie (the narrator) is thrilled and doesn't understand why their father tried to talk him out of it. Then, rolls of undeveloped film start arriving. Jamie learns how to develop them and things change.

I picked this up because I do get irked by the number of historical war books (for children/YA) that assume everyone thinks war is a bad thing. This problematises it a little but not as much as I wanted (the Colonel thinks this particular war is a bad one, not all wars) and the gimmick of the film never really worked for me. What did work was Jamie playing crib in a summer-long tournament with one of the GIs on the base, a man whose brother has been killed in Vietnam and who is waiting to hear of his own orders.

A Game for All the Family, Sophie Hannah. Picked this up because the name looked familiar - I actually vaguely thought Guardian columnist - but apparently it's because I read her authorised Poirot (Agatha Christie) sequel, although I don't think it's on here. I wasn't wild about it - initial set-up interesting, development unconvincing, and unfortunately that's what happens here as well, along with a totally unbelievable ending.

Justine leaves her glittering TV career in London under a suitably vague cloud and Does Nothing on a large country mansion. However, her daughter starts writing a macabre story about murders, anonymous phone calls accuse Justine of being someone she isn't, and every attempt to investigate things uncovers more problems. For a while this worked and then Hannah has to reveal what's actually going on, and the more of this there was the more unbelievable it was, both as the overall plot and as individual events (Ellen, Justine's daughter, has to write down a story she has apparently been told once over the course of some weeks and gets every detail right; however, it is impossible for her to summarise it or answer any questions about the details).

To spoil it all - Justine's departure from London is due to a twitter spat over cis privilege by an actor she wanted to cast in a drama (the spat I believe in. The ending of her career over it I don't). The woman calling her is a compulsive liar who is annoyed about having her pet dog taken away from her as a child after her sister became allergic to it. It ends with Justine bashing her stalker's brains out at the house of a dog-breeder who has somehow been pulled into all of this and there being no repercussions for the murder. I ended up feeling somewhat insulted as a reader.

[ETA: Huh. Googling has just revealed Sophie Hannah did this rather good column about the "rediscovery" of women writing crime fiction, which I read a while back. I do recommend this column and a number of the books she mentions there.]

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosch. Have read many of these in blog form but still great.


I had Angela Thirkell's Pomefret Towers out and ended up returning it a couple of chapters in; it was perfectly fine but I didn't have the time and wasn't quite in the mood. I've only read her Wild Strawberries but will probably pick some more up again at some stage.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am working my way through Janet Duncan's My Friends series, mentioned briefly before; nineteen books of semi-autobiography that demonstrate just how well a skilled writer can put shape and structure into what seems to be a simple retelling of events. I picked up one of these years ago in the school library and couldn't get into it - I was expecting a school or children's story from the title (and the location!) - but, although late, this is actually a good time to read them because there are reprints currently in print from Bello, an arm of Pan McMillan. I am ordering these through the library and most have been the Bello imprints, but two have shown up as elderly hardbacks from the Stack, complete with date stamps in the front ("a fine of One Cent per Day will be charged for the first week...") and given me nostalgic feelings (as a teenager I did shelving at the central library, which afforded me staff access to the stacks and I read all sorts of things there).

Anyway. My Friend Sandy takes Janet and her husband out to the British West Indies and into the accumulated feuds among the white population there, as well as having a theatrical production to execute, My Friend Martha's Aunt deals more directly with the consequences of slavery and the colour bars that do or don't exist, and I am halfway through My Friend Flora, which has gone back to Scotland (and back to Janet age 5 starting school, but it's now moving forwards again and I'm in 1930). I prefer the Scottish setting - the St Jago ones do set out quite clearly the immediate and longterm consequences of slavery on both white and black populations, but although there are lot of generalisations about both which may not have any authorial backing, Duncan really only goes into specific individuals on the white side (or those considered part of the white community), and it does unbalance things.

My only other comment at the moment is that they all drink like fish. Everyone is constantly having another wee dram, and at one point there's a bit about not giving pregnant women whiskey, to which the pregnant woman in question replies that she's only had three small ones...
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is more a couple of weeks' worth.

Just finished:

CS Pacat's Captive Prince series - re-read the first two and then read the new (and final) one, Kings Rising. I am very fond of this series and will try to discuss them properly later. Spoilers for emotional reaction to <i>Kings Rising</i> )

Jane Duncan's My Friend series - I finished My Friends the Miss Boyds (Janet's childhood) and read My Friend Muriel (bits of WWII, Janet meets Twice), My Friend Monica (early days of Janet & Twice's relationship), and My Friend Annie, (back mostly to Janet's school days and then university, and then on to her and Twice going out to the West Indies). More enthusiasm. )

Mercedes Lackey, Blood Red. Elemental Masters series, does the fairy tale in the prologue. Competent, especially compared to the terrible Tin Soldier one.

Reading now:

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. I've been meaning to read this for a while and found it at the library. Still too early to say.

Up next:

I also snaffled Kate Elliott's Court of Fives from the returns section, and am looking forward to Hugner Games/Little Women crossover action. I also really do want to get to the latest Bujold and must find a way to get it on my phone.
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.


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