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

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


Books read, January. )
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Circling the Sun,, Paula McLain. Fictional biography of Beryl Markham, about whom I wrote my Yuletide story last year. I put off reading this then because I didn't want it to get in the way, and ended up reading it on a recent plane trip instead (obviously I started reading the opening shortly after take-off and then remembered how many plane crashes were likely to be canonically involved in the text...).

It starts very near the same place I did - 1936, although it starts with Beryl's transatlantic flight, which I think was September, and I put my story in July (ish). Then, however, it goes back to Beryl's childhood, and works forward to end with the flight arriving in the US. Nothing after is included. I can see why McLain's done this, but it did leave me feeling a little shortchanged. If I hadn't known some of the rest of Beryl's life? Probably yes, although I would have lacked the detail. I'd have no idea Markham wrote herself, for example, because picking that section of her life cuts out the appearance of her highly acclaimed memoir, West with the Night (and means McClain doesn't have to deal with any of the controversy over whether or not she did actually write it. It also means that the shape of the narrative becomes Out of Africa with occasional horses and planes, being much more about the tangle of relationships, licit and otherwise, among the white landed settlers in Kenya, than about Beryl herself.

It's not a bad book but it lacks any sort of edge or uncomfortableness to it, qualities which I feel the real Markham had no shortage of.

JL Merrow, Relief Valve and Heat Trap, volumes 2&3 in the Plumber's Mate series. Psychic plumber solves crime and works on his relationship with a PI who bullied him as a child. I find these soothing, entertaining and very British. I also read the first of her Shamwell Tales series, Caught! and liked it but something is putting me off about the blurb for the next one.

KJ Charles, Rag and Bone. Magpie Lord universe but different leads, and I've just realised on checking the author's webpage that the interesting decision to start *after* they've begun their relationship is because I missed the short story prequel. Oops. Taking place at the same time as Jackdaw, which I have in progress, and I will probably comment on both more when I finish. Excellent. Also has a black British lead, which is vanishingly rare in historical romance.

In progress:

KJ Charles, Jackdaw, as above.

Up next:

The read, renew or return unread decision. I have an Anne Perry (one of the Monk books, yes I know, but I get them from the library), Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army and Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests on the books from the library shelf, all due back in the next 5 days. Hmm.

Weekly picture book concern:

The bit in Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler (more well known as the Gruffalo artist) where Posy makes cupcakes, putting them into the hot oven very carefully with lots of textual warnings. Then Pip comes over and they go outside to play in the garden until tea time. They then eat the cakes which are a) not burnt to crisps and b) iced. No one else appears to live in the house. I keep wanting to add a bit where the oven's on a timer or where an obliging but invisible relation handles things.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I have updated my Chocolate Box signup, here - fandoms are Final Fantasy VII (Zack Fair/Cloud Strife), Ghost Trick (Missile & Sissel) and Dragonlance (Caramon Majere & Raistlin Majere), latter two fandoms are friendship requests just in case anyone is contemplating these with bemusement.

My goal for the week is to acquire some new icons. Hmm. Actually, my goal for the week is to work out how many icons I can have.

Just finished:

Jane Cameron's My Friend Cousin Emmie. Off the back of <[personal profile] oursin mentioning them, but I also tried to read a couple of these when I was a teenager and didn't get them. I now have the first four on library request, so obviously this one (mid-series) worked for me. Very well-observed character studies, and an extremely impressive almost unnoticeable shaping of events into narrative.

KJ Charles' Think of England. M/M historical romance, Boer War veteran attends country house party in the hope of finding the person behind the sabotage that killed his friends and left him crippled. Encounters effete foreign poet-type who turns out to be more than he was expecting. Great characters, interesting time period, bit too many convenient bodies in the denouement. I would definitely read more with these two but she seems to be extending other serieses first.

In progress:

Margery Allingham's Dancers in Mourning. This, like the Jane Cameron, was a grab from the assorted newish books (both obviously newish reprints) stand at the library. I've read at least one Campion and liked it. This has a very good first line but I'm only about a chapter in and can't say much else. Set and written mid-30s, song-and-dance setting.

I have started Kaje Harper's Nor Iron Bars a Cage (fantasy m/m) on my iPhone and am just posting this here to remind me. Hasn't grabbed me but am still in the angsty backstory.

Up next:

In a fit of optimism I grabbed another one of Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters books (Blood Red) as well as the Allingham. Also, the Jane Camerons, once they finish being in transit.

Abandoned:

The chess book I picked up when I was thinking about writing Chess/Hav fic for Yuletide, Gary Fine's Players and Pawns. I have tried to read bits of it anyway and it's just not at all compelling. I also got put-off by the beginning, which describes a chess tournament and says "The diversity is impressive", outlines various ethnicities, ages, classes, races and occupations, and then says, "A few are women.".

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