cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Over a month's worth.

Finished:

Tana French, The Trespasser. I liked this, although still not as much as The Secret Place. It follows Antoinette Conway from that book, investigating what appears to be an open and shut case of murder of a young woman and dealing with the fact that the rest of the squad apparently dislike her to the point of sabotage. It does not have a moment when Antoinette says, "This was the moment when I had the chance to do something different, but instead I stuffed everything up," (or similar) and it has a happyish ending, and there are lots of bits I liked about it (the resolution of the storyline with her father), but the case itself didn't grab me on this one.

Dick Francis, Comeback. Solidly middle-tier Francis in which a diplomat between posts finds himself investigating sabotage at a veterinary practice. The main character spent time in the town as a child and has his own memories of people/places, but because his name is different and he is now an adult there is an element of working undercover, which I liked, and there’s a vivid and startling image when the sabotage turns to murder, but the rest of this is fairly forgettable (the love interest is appealing as a character but the romance works even less well than usual).

A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited Simon Garfield. Mentioned elsewhere. This was great. I put heaps of little bookmarks in when reading, but had no time to go back through it; basically, though, an excellent example of illustrating the general through the particularly, but also an excellent example of a particular experience - that of a single woman - that is all too often overlooked. You do get a sense of her crystallising in her 40s; the journals are shorter, her attitudes less flexible, and I do think about this as I'm in the same decade. I think it's common but not inevitable; Doris Lessing's memoirs don't do this for one, although I'm not keen to emulate her in many other respects.

Matthew Reilly, The Four Legendary Kingdoms. Latest in the series that started with Seven Ancient Wonders and is counting down, this one has Jack West Jr kidnapped to participate in the deadly games of a secret underworld kingdom that will serve the dual purposes of signalling to extraterrestrial intelligences that Earth's existence should continue and also granting power to one of the secret kingdoms that rule the world. Also, Scarecrow (from Reilly's other series) shows up as a rival competitor. I am not remotely in these for anything other than the ride, and on that level they work fine. I particularly like all the little diagrams of the ridiculously over-engineered challenges. If you are going to read any of Reilly's books I would pick this series or Hovercar Racer, although I really should read his first two as well.

Anthony Quinn, Curtain Call, or The Distinguished Thing. 1930s set murder mystery with East End (London) theatre backdrop; I really liked the worldbuilding and the characters, who are vivid and complex and interact with each other in interesting and unexpected ways, but then it fell apart at the end. This, I think, is largely because the murderer themselves is not so well characterised, and so the denouement falters.

[redacted for Yuletide] 2 books.

And then I discovered how to load ebooks from the library's extensive digital catalogue onto my Kobo *and* had to spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room with it.

JL Merrow, Played! – actor hiding out in Shamwell before taking up the finance job his father favours entangles himself with local dyslexic repairman, who he gets to coach as Bottom in the local theatre group’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s hard to go wrong with this set up.

JL Merrow, Out! Closeted workaholic quits his job and offers to take in teenage daughter when ex-wife is having trouble coping, and gets entangled with a charity worker who is not going to pretend not to be gay for anyone. This is a lot slighter and after I finished it I kept wondering if I’d forgotten to read the end.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Tina Chen is a poor student who, after an argument, swaps lives with Blake Reynolds, the handsome billionaire who just happens to be in one of her classes. I read this for Tina, really, because she's a great character who actually has a family and friends and a context, but I didn't have much time for Blake and the denouement with his dad and the product launch felt horribly cringe-inducing.

Stephen King, Blockade Billy. Novella length piece about baseball, pretty much all voice and imagery, but it stuck with me.

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller: writing lessons and more from 27 years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. Part history/memoir, part teaching guide. Bits of this were more helpful than others (there's some repetition as well), and it's also very much an original Clarion book (I went to Clarion West) in talking about the Clarion experience itself. Worthwhile.

KA Mitchell, Ready or Knot books 1 (Put a Ring on It) and 2 (Risk Everything on It). Marriage-themed collection about 4 gay friends. Book 1 has the up-and-coming Broadway director Theo and his introverted Korean IT boyfriend dealing with the fallout after Theo’s massively public all-singing, all-dancing, Times Square proposal goes viral, book 2 is closeted former child star Jax starts a relationship with recently separated Oz, who parents two foster children with intermittent involvement from his scatty (male) ex, and does not want any more drama or lack of commitment. I do like that KA Mitchell has a lot of non-white protagonists (Oz is black and his ex Latino), and I do actually like the characters, but these are pretty slight. Everyone is super successful and rich, and there’s a lot of skimming over things – in book 1 both characters go off and have relationship epiphanies off-stage (at different times), then come back and narrate them to their partner, which successfully dulls the impact. Book 3 will deal with the last two friends, who have an on-again, off-again thing going, which is not my favourite trope but if the library has it I suspect I'll read it anyway.

In progress:

[Redacted for Yuletide]

Elin Gregory, Eleventh Hour. Historical m/m. I got about one chapter in and got distracted by something, will go back.

Lyn Gala, Mountain Prey. Contemporary small town m/m with a lead who is out on forest patrol when a handsome stranger seeking revenge on a criminal bad guy captures him and ties him up a lot, which is great because Stunt (the lead) really likes being tied up. I think this is just not working for me but I'm not sure why, given some of the stuff I've happily put up with previously.

Kate Sherwood, Dark Horse. M/M contemporary romance with the most glacial slow build ever - I think I was about 300 pages in before anyone had sex (and not within what I presume is the end-game relationship) *but* this is mostly because the lead, Dan, is grieving the loss of his long-term partner and also because he does have a job - training horses to compete in eventing - and there's a lot of horse in here, too. I do think it could have done with an edit, but it's doing quite a bit that I don't usually see in m/m (other details redacted for spoilers) and it's worth reading.

Up next:

I have been eyeing up my unread manga pile wistfully, but realistically All Yuletide All the Time.
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: 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: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I have individual entries planned for Ninefox Gambit (loved it), Too Like the Lightning (in the last few pages it finally developed a plot line that interested me; will read sequel but not out til next Feb), and Mary Berry's autobiography (am on season 6 of The Great British Bakeoff as my attempt to get back into watching television), but in the meantime I am trying to finish off everything I have out from the library before a clutch of deadlines.

Just finished:

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Starts with a court scene where the case is deliberately not revealed, a gimmick of which I am not fond, then flashes back to the moment when the narrator, a scientist in her early fifties, begins a no-strings attached affair with a security consultant at Westminster. I was not particularly grabbed by either concept and stalled out on this, and gave it one last chance before abandoning it. At which point it suddenly took a very interesting turn and had a fascinating middle, almost noir, before back to courtroom drama, which was solid and had some twists but wasn't quite as flashy. Would read another by the author on the strength of the middle.

Alex Adams, White Horse. Works through "Now" and "Then"; in "Then", a cleaner working at a pharmaceutical company finds a mysterious jar in her apartment and seeks therapy (she's in New York); as she deals with this, a mostly fatal plague, weather chaos and a war account for most of known civilisation. In "Now", it's after the collapse, and she's trying to find her former therapist (who became her lover in what the book does not consider to be a boundary issue at all), tracking him across the world through the blighted remnants. This is not a book where there is much point getting attached to characters as anyone remotely sympathetic who is not the narrator is killed off rapidly and graphically, an authorial tic that unfortunately pushes the book into farce. Zoe (the narrator's) first companion in "Now" is Lisa, a young blind woman Zoe rescues from sexual servitude to her father and uncle; Lisa goes on to get captured a few more times, lose an eye, make poor sexual choices and eventually die in a scene that manages to combine abortion and torture by a serial killer, although it's the serial killer's motivation that I actually found most offensive in this list. Spoiler. ) I do actually like some of the writing, and I feel for the author as the book, part 1 of a projected trilogy, does not seem to have done well - the second one may exist in ebook form? audiobook? the author (she has an NZ connection, which pushed me into picking this up in the first place) seems to have disappeared off the internet - but while I'm not opposed to destroying all of civilisation in literary prose Station Eleven did this much better without giving up on all of humanity in the process.

Tana French, The Secret Place. I read one other Tana French - Faithful Place and liked the writing a lot while being a little irked by the solution to the mystery. However, this was on the returns shelf, and I promptly fell into it and read nothing else until it was all over. Excellent writing, excellent characters, excellent mystery. And I am particularly impressed at any murder mystery that is set at a private girls' boarding school (most of the action, in fact, takes place over one day, with a retrospective parallel narrative leading up to the murder) but where the body is not female, something which should not be so refreshing. It is also brilliant about teenage girls, specific and abstract, and I liked it a lot. I have put the first two in the series on hold despite all my resolutions to stop reserving books until I've caught up.

Mabel Esther Allan, The ballet family again. Sequel (go on, guess the title of the first one) to a book I think I read in a hurry late at night at a relative's place some years ago. Nicely observed - Allan is one of those writers with a good sense of place, and this goes from London in winter to the north of England in winter, and then to Paris in spring. Good on ballet, too, and there's a plotline with the son of the ballet family getting disillusioned by a girlfriend using him for his connections, which is unusual for this sort of book and time period, although again I think that's something Allan's good at - her The School on North Barrule was, if I remember correctly, one of the very few boarding school books I read as a child that had a co-ed school and believable characters (the last rules out Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl, a kind of Summerhill with carefully illustrated morals).

Mercedes Lackey, A study in sable. Elemental Masters again, grown-up Nan and Sarah are sent to assist John Watson (yes, that one) and his wife Mary, elemental masters themselves who take on the cases that Holmes refuses to believe in. The main thread revolves around ghosts haunting an opera singer, with other things going on in the background; it's a much more coherent book than The Wizard of London, but it still doesn't really catch fire, and I miss the training neepery of many of her other books. However. The scene in which Holmes and an elemental master play a violin duet to ensnare the villain is great. Holmes in this overall works reasonably well for me but I found Watson a bit too domestic (I don't mind if he's happy! I just like a little edge).

Martin Millar, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies. Aristophanes is trying to put on a play for the Dionysia against all manner of earthly opposition (the ongoing war with Sparta, an offended patron refusing to fund the performance, an annoying lyric poet who keeps bothering him) when someone summons Laet, goddess of discord (granddaughter of Eris) to the city. The writing is very tell-don't-show and there are a number of verbal tricks that for me fall just on the side of irritating rather than endearing ("Walking down the street with Socrates, Aristophanes was disconsolate. "I'm disconsolate," he said. [Socrates] "You look disconsolate." ) but I ended up liking it a lot more in hindsight - it's fluffy, it's light, it gets through a lot and hits all the right beats, and underneath it there's quite a lot going on about war and responsibility. It comes down to a choice by Aristophanes - Laet will enter one room, and the people there will make the wrong decision. Either he picks the room with the judges of the Dionysia, or the one with the peace conference between Athens and Sparta.

Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Siblings without Rivalry. Nonfiction parenting book, very good on both parenting strategies to use with siblings and on examining your own sibling relationships and how they influence you as a parent. Very good, very useful. General principles; oversee, but where possible let children solve their own issues (they may surprise you), don't compare, don't stick people in roles, describe rather than judge, you can treat children unequally and still be fair. Example I liked - siblings arguing pancakes - "she got more than me!". Suggested response, rather than adjudicating over numbers sizes average density etc - "Are you still hungry? Would you like a whole pancake or half of one?" (yes, obviously need to work on this if all out of pancakes, but useful in how to think about problems differently).

In progress:

Jim Grimsley, How I shed my skin: unlearning the racist lessons of a Southern childhood. Memoir. Starts when he's eleven and three black girls begin attending his school.

Yoshitoki Ōima, A Silent Voice, v1 (manga). On [personal profile] gramarye1971's rec, about teenage bullying. I am at the bit where it is not that bad but I know it's going to get worse and I needed a break.

Mark Haddon, The red house. The other things I need to write up are theatre reviews; I picked this up because I was going to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Four adults and four children spend a week together in a house on the Welsh border; things happen. It's very well written, although all dialogue is in italics (arrgh!), but it hasn't really grabbed me.

Up next:

Well, deadlines. However. Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings has one chance left to convince me to like angels (I have really enjoyed all of the short fiction of hers that I've read), and while tidying out the car I found Jeanette Winterson's Why be happy when you could be normal?, both of which are due back within the next week. I also inexplicably ordered the first two of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January detective series.

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