May. 19th, 2016 02:04 pm
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
We had a brief heatwave here last week and I discovered that my dog likes licking sunscreen off my skin; other things she likes the taste of are: perfume, hand lotion, antiseptic cream, soap, and shower gel. An oft heard refrain in out house is: "Stop licking me, I've just got out of the shower!"

It also meant that I got quite a bit of reading done in various gardens (mine; assorted beer).

The House of Shattered Wings - Aliette de Bodard
Armada - Ernest Cline
The Redbreast - Jo Nesbo
Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner
Day Four - Sarah Lotz
In the Labyrinth of the Drakes - Marie Brennan

The House of Shattered Wings is set in Paris after a magical WWI equivalent; the broken cityscape is controlled by fallen angels who are both powerful rulers and, basically, currency because their body parts are the source of magic. The worldbuilding is fascinating, the writing is gorgeous, and there are a lot of background same-sex relationships, and I just... could not get into it.

I think it was a combination of revolving POVs and not immediately sympathetic or likeable characters. I never warmed to Philippe the way I did to Selene and Madeline, and every time the narration switched back to him I would stall out. Filed under: things I wanted to like more I did.

Speaking of things I expected to like more than I ultimately did, having eaten Ready Player One up with a spoon I was disappointed in Ernest Cline's next offering. Armada is about a video game where the player fights off an alien invasion, and being a hotshot at the game comes in handy when oddly similar aliens come knocking at earth's door.

The good: it was a quick, fun read, and like Ready Player One there was a lot of geeky joy to be found in 'I understood that reference' moments.

The bad: it was lazy. Literally everything about this book was lazy. The protogonist's father really had faked his own death to become a highly classified war hero. There was a manic pixie geek girl who our hero picked up in five minutes flat using his word perfect knowledge of Aliens quotes. Being a hotshot pilot in a videogame automatically translated to being a hotshot pilot in the real world. The alien invasion plot was painfully lazy, and I kept waiting for a twist that never came.

It was like someone was trying to smoosh Ender's Game and Galaxy Quest together, and if you think those sound like two tonally inconsistent things then you'd be right.

I turned to a nordic thriller from the library for a change of pace. The Redbreast was, er, fine, if a little slow; it was six-hundred pages long and nobody died until page two-hundred. Well, it flashed back to the eastern front during WWII, so obviously lots of people died, but it was page two-hundred before anyone we cared about died. And 'he had multiple personality disorder all along...' I don't think has ever been a satisfying conclusion to anything, and makes the book feel more dated than it probably is.

Sweet Disorder is a regency romance with a plus-sized heroine, and the hero is saved from being yet another wounded soldier with a heart of gold by his hitherto undiscovered submission kink. The historical romance genre continues to provide me with more hits than misses.

Day Four is a horror set on a budget cruise liner, which in addition to the inherent horror of being on a budget cruise (A+ use of setting) has a murder, ghosts, an outbreak of noro, and being adrift at sea. I... wasn't sure about the ending. Not that I'm necessarily against the surprise alternate universes, I just thought it could have used more groundwork. But I understand that this is kind of a duology with The Three, so maybe it'll work better for me once I've read that one.

I continue to adore Marie Brennan's chronicles of a pseudo-victorian lady dragon naturalist, but as much as I'm enjoying them I was quite pleased to discover that The Labyrinth of the Drakes is book four of five, because I feel like the series is coming to its natural conclusion (Isabella finally became Lady Trent in this one); plus I'm just grateful when fantasy writers know when to call it a day.
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
I know, it's tiresome when someone doesn't post for months and the first thing they say is, gee, I haven't posted in months, but.

I stopped doing the monthly books posts because I haven't been reading enough to justify them. I've been living in the doldrums somewhat, and haven't really been up for much more than reblogging things on tumblr and hitting the next episode button. Actually, there's probably a post in me about that time I binge watched two and half seasons of The 100 just in time for the fandom to crash and burn in the most spectacular fashion.

But in the meantime, books. This is basically everything I've read since New Year.

When We Were Animals - Joshua Gaylord
Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson
The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood
The Guest Room - Chris Bohjalian
Black Widow - Chris Brookmyre
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie - Jennifer Ashley
Black Dog - Caitlin Kittredge
A Slip of the Keyboard - Terry Pratchett

When We Were Animals is about a town where every fourth weekend the adults and children shut themselves up while the teenagers run naked in the streets like animals. I guess I wanted magical realism or actual werewolves, and instead I got some kind of purge-like extended metaphor about adolescence. Blah.

Aurora is a pretty traditional sf story about a generational spaceship sent out to colonise another planet. Except the central premise of this one is that there are only two types of planets out there, ones inhospitable to all life, and ones inhospitable to human life, and as the Earth is the only place in the universe where we could possibly survive we should probably stop fucking it up, a message of which I approve.

I was skeptical about The Library at Mount Char, the blurb said it was about a bunch of orphans being raised by a mysterious ~magical father figure, so far so by the numbers. But, no, it was actually brilliant. It was brutal. It was like, imagine you were the apprentice of an uncaring God, but never realised it. My favourite thing that I have read so far this year by far.

The Heart Goes Last has an interesting enough premise. There's a capitalist dystopia (the best of the dystopias), organ harvesting, mind wipes, and living sex dolls; it's absurd and disturbing and well done, and I couldn't really get into it because all of that was wrapped up in a book about mildy awful people and their mildly awful marriage, and I just don't care.

The Guest Room is set around a bachelor party where the strippers, who turn out not to be strippers but traffiked sex slaves kill their Russian handlers. It was much more nuanced and sympathetic than I was expecting based on the summary, and, actually, was really good.

Black Widow -- Brookmyre is a fav, and Paralabane used to be my favourite of his characters. But, really, I think it's time to retire him as a protagonist. I don't think Brookmyre has figured out how to write him in a post print journalism world, and saying that he's getting involved in all this crazy shit as a reaction against his life as a Buzzfeed style content generator just isn't working for me. It's lazy, and he's starting to suffer from author's-favourite syndrome.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is a historical romance with a hero on the autistic spectrum, which from my totally not an expert, I cannot emphasise how little expertise I have perspective was very well researched and handled. Recommended.

Black Dog is about a girl hellhound, maybe I wanted more of a girl werewolf thing (it turns out that hellhounds and werewolves are very separate things where the id is concerned...) or maybe urban fantasy continues to not be in my wheelhouse. But, meh.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of Terry Pratchett's nonfiction writing. And, like, I adore Pratchett's fiction, but I'm not sure he was prolific enough a nonfiction writer to justify this collection. It was, um, repetitive. I must confess though, that I teared up at him railing against the Alzheimer's and the continued illegality of assisted dying in the UK. Still, I feel like pretty much everything Pratchett had to say, he said best in Discworld.
netgirl_y2k: (brand new day)
I went away without posting my final booklog of 2015, so.

Career of Evil is the latest and, I think, best installment in JK Rowling's Cormoran Strike series. It starts with Strike and Robin being sent a severed leg, and ends on the cusp of Robin's wedding to her bag o' dicks fiancé. I am slightly nervous that Rowling is teasing a romantic relationship between Robin and Strike; I do want Robin to leave Matthew, but because he's a bag of dicks, and because working with Strike is the life Robin wants, not for Strike himself. Plus, I just really like their Batman & Robin style friendship.

I finished Anne Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy, and I join the chorus of people singing its praises. Also, I think authors of other SFF series should take note both of how quickly all the installments were published, and how the series wasn't dragged out ad naseum. I thought Ancillary Mercy was a brilliant example of how to resolve galactic scale plots on a much more intimate scale without leaving the reader feeling like they've been conned out of the plot resolution. I very much look forward to reading whatever comes out of Ms. Leckie's brain next.

After how much I'd loved The Brothers Sinister, I was so disappointed by the first installment of Courtney Milan's new series. I know Once Upon a Marquess is the first in what's to be quite a substantial series, and there was quite a lot of groundwork being laid, but honestly, the humour was forced and unfunny, the sex fell flat, the hero and heroine were barely caricatures, and the supporting characters were even more paper thin. For a book that was basically all setup for the rest of the series, there was nothing about it that made me want to read the rest of the the Worth Saga. A big, big let down.

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare was a bit more like it on the historical romance front.

For a change of pace, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis is about a a bet between Hermes and Apollo that results in them giving fifteen dogs human like consciousness and seeing what happens. It sounds like it's going to be completely bonkers, but instead it's gorgeous, and utterly, utterly heartbreaking as all the dogs live out their lives burdened by consciousness.

All my 2015 books )

-Fifty-one books this year. Last year I was at seventy; in the years before that I'd been pushing three figures. I think fiftyish is a good number to aim to hold at. I think it's a sign both of having a good balance between reading and other hobbies, and having a less scary-awful commute. Maybe I'll shoot for fifty-two so I'm averaging a book a week.

-29 female authors to 13 male. I feel pretty good about this ratio. My most read authors of the year were Tana French and Tessa Dare.

-It's funny I think of myself as being a primarily SFF reader, but even taking the broadest possible definition of SFF, only eleven of my fifty-one reads were in the genre, about even with non-fiction, historical romance, crime, and general fiction, there's even a volume of poetry in there somewhere.

-In 2015 I got much better at abandoning books that weren't doing it for me, so there was nothing I really hated but forced myself to plow on with. It was a year of mostly fair to middling reads, with few standouts, but no book-meet-wall incidents.

-In 2016 I would like to give graphic novels a crack. I did read the first chunk of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl before I wrapped it to give it to my sister as a x-mas gift, so that might be the place to start when enough time has passed that I can gracefully ask to borrow it back.

-My five best reads of the year were:
Carol by Patricia Highsmith
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
netgirl_y2k: (brand new day)
Star Trek: Destiny - David Mack
I Can't Think Straight - Shamim Sarif
If You Could Be Mine - Sara Farizan
Girl Waits With Gun - Amy Stewart
The Bad Dog's Diary - Martin Howard
The Lost Duke of Wyndham - Julia Quinn
The Tiger - John Vaillant
Escape From Baghdad! - Saad Hossain
The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu

I have been dipping in and out of the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy, about a war between the Federation and the Borg, for ages now. There were some really cool things about it: it's about a war between the Federation and the Borg, for chrissake! Riker and Troi Ezri Dax has become a ship captain! The format allows for a more diverse cast than TV, both in the sense of more diverse humans, and having really alien aliens. Some less cool things: needed more Borg, and more Seven of Nine, because surely Seven and Picard should have been the protagonists of a trilogy about a war between the Federation and the Borg. And some totally uncool things: Janeway had been killed off in an earlier book, and Paris and Torres been broken up; dick moves, guys. I liked it, 90s Trek was my first fandom and I have a lasting fondness for those shows, but I'm not going to count the post series books as canonical - which is fine, because I don't count the JJ Abrams movies as canonical.

I'm not sure if I Can't Think Straight, about a Jordanian woman falling in love with a British Indian woman on the run up to her wedding, was novelisation of the movie, or if the movie was based on the book, but, eh, just watch the movie because the book is... amateurish.

If You Could Be Mine is a YA novel set in Iran, where although homosexuality is illegal, sex change operations are totally legal. Something I didn't know, which is kind of cool and interesting, and kind of terrifyingly open to abuse. It's really well written, and if you're looking for a diverse f/f novel this is about ten thousand times better than I Can't Think Straight.

Girl Waits With Gun is the fictionalised account of one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the US. I think this suffered slightly from my thinking it was going to be about Constance's adventures as a deputy; instead it was about her dealing with her family being terrorised by a gangster, and her being deputized happens on the very last page. Still, it was really good, and I really do recommend it.

The Bad Dog's Diary -- Er, sometimes I read cute books about dogs, and I feel guiltier about this than I do about the Star Trek tie-ins I read.

I have been hearing Julia Quinn's name ever since I first got into historical romances, but I'm not sure The Lost Duke of Wyndham was the best place to start. It was cute and the romance was sweet, but I kind of got hung up on the plot. The lost heir to a dukedom turns up; he doesn't want to be the duke, he'd be bad at it; the guy who's the current duke is much more likable, doesn't want to give it up, plus he's good at it. So why not just...not? I know, you're not meant to overthink these things.

The Tiger is about the hunt for a man-eating tiger, whether tigers have the capacity for revenge, and life in the Russian tagia, and it's easily the best non-fiction I've read this year.

Escape From Baghdad! is a black comedy set in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Imagine a middle eastern Catch-22 with a bit of magical realism thrown in - it's that cool.

I had pretty much decided not to bother with The Grace of Kings, but then I happened to listen to Ken Liu being interviewed on a podcast and he sounded like a cool guy, so I renewed my library loan, and gave it shot, and I was glad I did. First of all, silkpunk is a really cool world, and the idea of writing an epic fantasy using China, rather than medieval Europe, as your cultural backdrop is really cool, and it's done really well. One of the reasons I was going to skip this one was I'd heard that it was pretty bad on the female character front, and, well, it's not egregiously bad, but it's also not great... There's a cross-dressing girl general, which is pretty much my entire wheelhouse, yes, but there's also a bit where one of the male protagonists stops two armies throwing misogynistic insults at each other by giving a stirring speech about the bravery of the kingdom's wives and mothers which reduces everyone to tears. It all kind of screamed: feminist dude trying. All the same, I enjoyed it, and look forward to the next book in The Dandelion Dynasty.

Right now, I am ripping through Career of Evil, which as far as I can tell is JK Rowling takes on violent misogyny.
netgirl_y2k: (panic)
The Water Knife - Paolo Bacigalupi
The Casualties - Nick Holdstock
Zeroes - Chuck Wendig
All the Rage - Courtney Summers
Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho
The Invasion of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

September was a good month for books, despite the rugby world cup starting so now hanging around in bars and shouting at my television is eating up a lot of my free time.

The Water Knife is an almost dystopia set years into a drought in North America, with California, Nevada, and Arizona fighting over what little water there is, and where an entire city's water supply can be cut off at the stroke of a court decision. I'm probably not making it sound as awesome as it is. There's also a depiction of the plight of refugees from the dry states that's, er, terrifying in its timeliness. Highly recommended.

The Casualties is a look at a street full of misfits in Edinburgh on the run up to a cataclysmic event that will wipe out, like, two thirds of the world's population. There was a lot I liked about this one, but the book's treatment of female characters was kind of a buzz kill. There were three of note: a prostitute, a nymphomaniac, and a girl with terrible facial scars, so yeah... And while the device of setting most of the novel five minutes from now in the run up to the end of the world was neat, the last section, set half a century afterwards, fell apart entirely.

Chuck Wendig's writing can be hit and miss for me (though I really admire who he chooses to be; his comments about how if you have problems with there being gay people in the Star Wars universe then you're the Empire are getting traction for a reason) but I absolutely loved Zeroes, it's about a group of hackers who get shanghaied into joining a secret government project. This may especially appeal to people like me who've recently fallen into a Person of Interest shaped hole, although if you go in expecting a straight AI story the brief veer into body horror about two thirds of the way through may throw you. All the same, highly recommended.

I feel like there's been a run of YA books about rape and rape culture recently, which is all to the good, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of the sub-genre than All the Rage.

I have a confession, I bounced off Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, hard, twice. It was too long and slow moving, and too dude heavy for me (even if the BBC miniseries did leave me in the belief that Arabella and Lady Pole totally got together after the fact.) But I loved, loved Sorcerer to the Crown which has a similar sort of Victorian era but with magic setting, but it's much more briskly paced; the main characters are a black dude, who's a freed slave and the most important magician in Britain, and a Machiavellian witch of mixed race heritage; it's made of feminist themes and awesome. It's apparently the first book in a series, but it stands perfectly well as a standalone, which is how I like my series installments :-) Highly, highly recommended.

I read the first Tearling book last year. I thought that it was fine; a generic YA fantasy, with a generic plucky fantasy YA heroine, with a bit of Arthurian legend thrown in for colour. Invasion of the Tearling is more of the same, except now there's a bit of The Handmaid's Tale added to the mix too. The one memorable thing about our generic YA heroine from book one, that she wasn't attractive, vanishes as she magically - literally! - becomes thin and beautiful. The tone is wildly inconsistent; sometimes reading like something from the middle grade end of YA, then suddenly including a graphic rape scene. The magic system makes no sense. There's sudden deus ex time travel. It's like everything plus the kitchen sink has been thrown at the wall to see what sticks.

And yet, and yet... I read the second book, I will probably read the third. Johansen can write, don't get me wrong, and I look forward to the day when she comes up with a plot of her own and isn't trying to reverse engineer Merlin via The Hunger Games and The Handmaid's Tale.
netgirl_y2k: (panic)
A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly
Cleopatra: A Life - Stacy Schiff
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn
When a Scot Ties the Knot - Tessa Dare

The Benjamin January series is one I've been vaguely aware of through fannish osmosis for a while now, and because I'm on the lookout for another long-ish series that I can dip in and out of between other books I decided to give the first book A Free Man of Color a shot. For some reason I had a really hard time getting into it. The 19th century New Orleans setting is different and well-drawn, the protagonist interesting and likeable. At the time I thought maybe the it was the language giving me a mental block - it's accurate to the time and place, but would be wildly inappropriate now. Now that I've finished I think it was a pacing problem; it took me three weeks to read the first three quarters of the book, then three hours to finish it. Suddenly there were women living as men, secret lesbians, and the twists and red herrings came thick and fast. The ultimate solution to the mystery was that best kind of twist where I never would have guessed it, but it didn't come out of left field, all the clues were there.

I haven't decided if I'm going to carry on with the series - I might read the second one and see if I have the same problems with the pacing.

Earlier in the year I read a book about Hatshepsut which had the premise that Hatshepsut had been forgotten by history because she was quite good at being queen, while we all remember Cleopatra because she was shite at it. And because all I knew about Cleopatra was the holy trinity of Caesar, Mark Antony, and Elizabeth Taylor I swallowed it whole. Stacy Schiff's biography of Cleopatra argues the opposite: that Cleopatra was actually an excellent queen doing her best in really adverse circumstances, and that it only went massively tits up right at the end.

I suppose the lesson would be less that history forgets competent women and remembers the fuck-ups, and more that anything that can be sexualised will be.

Anyway, I thought it was a really good pop-history; interesting, and chatty, and easy to read.

Sharp Objects was Gillian Flynn's first novel, and it kind of feels it. The plot is a pretty straightforward one of a cub reporter sent back to her small hometown and family, with whom she has a fucked up history, to report on a missing person turned child murder. The twists are pretty easily guessable. The protagonist is one of Flynn's trademark slightly monstrous women, this one being a little more overwrought than her later ones. The writing was clunkier, too.

Overall, I didn't want to put this down without ever being sure if I was enjoying it, which is how I always feel about Gillian Flynn, so.

Tessa Dare is basically my favourite historical romance author; her books are funny, charming, and off-beat in ways that really work for me. And I'd been looking forward to third installment of her Castles Ever After series, not least because of the title. I don't know quite why When a Scot Ties the Knot didn't quite work for me. Maybe it was that I didn't warm to Maddie (an illustrator with crippling social anxiety) the way I had some of Dare's previous heroines. Maybe it was that the premise (our heroine invents a fake suitor to get out of London Season, and the letters she writes to him as part of the charade end up in the hands of an actual soldier) was played too straight for my tastes. Maybe it was the hero was just a little too good to be true, or maybe it was just the endless, endless bloody phonetic spellings of Scottish accents...

Filing this under: I wanted to like it more than I did.

As for what I'm going to read next, I got The Grace of Kings out of the library because I was intrigued by the idea of epic fantasy using China as a backdrop, plus silkpunk just sounded so cool, but ever since I read a couple of reviews complaining about a lack of female characters I've been eyeing it and going eh.
netgirl_y2k: (kahlan white dress)
The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
Three Weeks with Lady X - Eloisa James
Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer
Last First Snow - Max Gladstone

The Girl on the Train is being held up by all and sundry as the next Gone Girl, and it's easy to see where the comparison comes from, with the revolving POVs and unlikable female characters. I certainly had a similar reading experience with both books, where I wolfed them down in a sitting or two without ever being sure if I was enjoying them.

The thing I thought that was really well done aboutThe Girl on the Train though, were the scenes where Rachel's drunk, which were cringey and hard to read in the exact way that remembering being that drunk is. I was less impressed with the thing that pushed her from being a drinker into a drunk (I was a bit haunted by the bit where Rachel talks about how easy it is to go from one to the other; there but for the grace of god and all that...) was her infertility. I do lack a bit of natural sympathy for that trope, nevertheless I think it is overdone in the extreme as a way of motivating female characters. (Hi, last Avengers movie!)

Dark Places was about a woman revisiting the murders of her mother and sisters by her brother during the "satanic panic" of the eighties. I may be less impressed by Gillian Flynn's writing than some, but by God, the woman knows how to write a page turner, and how to rock a plot twist.

Three Weeks with Lady X is a regency romance where the bastard son is endeavoring to woo a society lady in order to make himself respectable and instead falls in love with his interior decorator. It's elevated above the generic by the epistolary sections, which are laugh out loud funny. Will probably read more Eloisa James.

I read Under the Banner of Heaven mostly because I wanted to check out Krakauer's writing/journalism before deciding if I wanted to read his book about campus rape. Sorry, but if you're a dude writing about rape culture, I want a taste of your style and credentials on a subject that's less personally fraught. I read this history of mormon extremism cumulating in the murder of a woman and her baby in horrified fascination, and I probably will read Missoula.

I will rec Max Gladstone's Craft sequence to all and sundry - it's a magic!punk world where the Gods were beaten in a series of wars by craftspeople, who are like a cross between magicians and lawyers, and it's awesome - but Last First Snow was not my favourite installment. I think because even though it's the fourth one published it's the first chronologically, and I didn't know that before I picked it up. Also it's been two years since I read Two Serpents Rise and I'm a bit hazy on the plot details, so I spent a lot of this one going, okay, I know I think Temoc's a dick, but I can't remember why I think he's a dick. I do still recommend the series wholeheartedly, though.

I'm currently failing to be gripped by the first Benjamin January novel, which is a shame because I'm in the market for a new long series that I can dip in and out of, but I'm only about 10% in, so I guess I'll give it another fifty or so pages to grab me before dropping it.


I have the cast off my broken ankle, another week off work, and instructions to start trying to walk on it. The unexpected boon of not having a desk job. On the up side, I've had five weeks off work in the height of summer; on the down, it's been the wettest Scottish summer since records began, which, frankly, is saying something, and I have a sneaking suspicion that when I do get back I'm going to find myself scheduled for every awkward, antisocial shift from now until Christmas.


While I was laid up I binge watched Person of Interest; four seasons of more than twenty episodes apiece in a little over a month.

At first I kept hitting next episode because it wasn't like I was going anywhere, and a by the numbers procedural was just what my tea and painkiller numbed brain ordered. Around about Season Three I got really into it. I kind of admire the showrunners, who probably could have kept the show on the air for ten years as a fairly unmemorable crime of the week show, committed to the AI God War direction. Even if all it nets them is another half a season to wrap things up, I think it was a bold choice.

I was surprised by how much I came out of it shipping Root/Shaw. It was If-Then-Else that really sold me on it, up until then I'd been going: well, I get what everyone else is seeing, but this isn't the sort of show where I ship people or want to consume fanworks... Er, yeah, right.

Basically, I am having many Root/Shaw and I Love Everyone In This Bar emotions, and I would like to soothe my binge watch battered brain with fic, if anyone has any recs?

Thus far I have enjoyed this apocalypse AU and this Mrs & Mrs Smith AU.
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
The Monogram Murders - Sophie Hannah
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover - Sarah MacLean
Say Yes to the Marquess - Tessa Dare
The Secret Place - Tana French

Last month I asked folks here for recommendations as to what I should read on my holidays, I got some excellent recommendations which I dutifully loaded onto my kindle, then, as you do, I bought a paperback in the airport...

Sophie Hannah got permission from the Agatha Christie estate to publish a new Poirot novel, which was... fine. The Monogram Murders is not up there with the likes of Murder on the Orient Express, nor is it as bad as the worst of Dame Agatha's; it's a solid, if unmemorable, Poirot novel. On the plus side, I didn't know who the murderer was until Poirot got all the suspects together in a room, which is a first for me; less because I am good at figuring this stuff out, and more because the David Suchet Poirot series is rerun constantly here, and I usually get about thirty-five pages into any given Agatha Christie before I go: Oh, I know who did it!

File under: reasonably solid published fanfic.

After I'd finished that my hosts kindly loaned me Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, the latest in a series of regency romances I'd been following. The really, really awesome thing about this book is that Chase, the slightly sinister owner of the gambling hell the books revolve around, turns out to be a woman. And I'd had no idea. A+ pronoun game there. I'm glad I read the paperback instead of the e-book, because I very much enjoyed the picture of the girl in the buckskin trousers on the cover, which I'm told is the first time a regency romance has had a woman in trousers on the cover.

Actually my problem with this book wasn't with the book (which is a perfectly lovely example of its genre) it was with me. As soon as you introduce a crossdressing woman to a story that's the book I want; I wanted an entire book of Georgiana scheming against the ton, and wearing trousers, and wrangling at least three separate identities.

I am completely loving Tessa Dare's Castles Ever After series (very excited for the third one coming out in a couple of months.) In Say Yes to the Marquess our heroine is trying to convince her absentee fiancé's disreputable brother to call off their engagement, the brother is trying to plan them an extravagant wedding, and there is an elderly bulldog; hijinks, and food fights ensue, and it is entirely delightful.

Also, Tessa Dare writes some of the most smoking sex scenes I have ever read, which I was of course reading while my plane descended into Glasgow, and I was sitting next to the sort of Glasgow granny who can sense impure thoughts a mile off.

The thing is, the more I fall into historical romance, the sadder I get that there aren't a bajillion f/f examples of the genre for me to read. I wants it, my precious.

The Secret Place is the latest, and in my opinion the best, installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series. The body of a teenage boy has been found on the grounds of a girls boarding school, and a year later the investigation is reopened.

There's been a reoccurring theme in the series about police partnerships souring and going wrong, and I liked that this one featured an unlikely partnership working out. It's got a really good take on friendships between teenage girls, how they can seem cliquey and claustrophobic from the outside, and be super important to those involved -- it's sort of what I'd wanted The Fever to be and had been disappointed.

There's also -- the more I think about it, perhaps there's always been a thread of magical realism in the series, what with what happened to Rob's childhood friends and what may or may not have been living in Pat's walls. But it's more explicit and yet never addressed here, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

I have been feeling nostalgic for 90s Star Trek (first fandom!) so I am dipping in and out of the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy. There's obviously an ongoing post-shows book series into which I have plunged heedless of continuity. On the one hand Ezri Dax is a ship captain, which is awesome, and the cast of characters is super diverse, both the human characters, and having really alien aliens; on the other Janeway has been killed off and Paris and Torres broken up, both of which are completely unacceptable. Also, for a trilogy purportedly about a war between the Borg and the Federation, needs more Borg. But mostly, Star Trek!
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson
Them: Adventures with Extremists - Jon Ronson
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall - Anna Funder
The Creation of Anne Boleyn - Susan Bordo
Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

It turns out that what's really good for getting me back into reading more is actually having a dedicated e-reader rather than trying to read on the kindle app on my tablet (tumblr is a ridiculous timesuck, News at Eleven!)

I find Jon Ronson's pop journalism immensely readable and really enjoyed his latest, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, about public shaming in the digital age, and what it means now that there's no longer really such a thing as it'll all be tomorrow's chip wrapping. I had lot of natural sympathy with Ronson's view that call out culture had started from a place of good intentions and great justice (his example was people's reaction to Jan Muir's horrible, homophobic article about Stephen Gately's death; I suppose a fandom equivalent might be race fail) and has since migrated to a place of willful misunderstandings and unwillingness to let people move on.

I went back and read Them, where Ronson embeds himself with extremists of various stripes and discovers that they all believe in a secret cabal of powerful people running the world, even if they disagree about who exactly is in that cabal. This has... not aged well. It was researched and written in the late 90s, and you can sort of tell that it predates constant, easy access to the internet because a lot of Ronson's investigations/misadventures could have been rendered moot by five minutes on google.

I was very young when the Berlin Wall came down, and I remember seeing the images on TV but not really having any idea of what was going on or why, and like all products of the British eduction system almost everything I knew about Germany was in relation to WWII. So although I've been to Berlin twice (I'm going again on Wednesday, actually; I think it's a brilliant city) and done all the usual tourist things I still didn't know much about the rational behind the Wall or life in the GDR. So in a fit of belated intellectual curiosity I read Stasiland which was brilliantly researched and written, and fascinating, and awful. Recommended.

The central premise of The Creation Anne Boleyn is that portrayals of Anne Boleyn throughout history owe less to any historical fact and more to the prevailing social norms at the time; which is an argument that I, at least, find difficult to argue with. It's a cultural history that moves from Anne the historical figure, to Anne the patron saint of the reformation/villainess in chief in the Protestant/Catholic culture wars, to Anne the fictional character up through The Tudors, to Anne Boleyn online 'fandom'.

As much as I agreed with the author's premise, and as much as it was really, really interesting as a cultural history I did have... niggles. I'm not sure the editing was great (my point of view when it comes to editing, btw, is that if I notice it, it's probably not great) with lots of arguments, indeed entire paragraphs, repeated almost verbatim. There's lots of criticising other historians for not questioning unreliable sources (mainly Chapuys' letters), or speculating without making it clear that that's what they're doing, then turning around and doing the same thing herself. There's also some attacks on historians and writers who've tackled Anne; I've never read Phillipa Gregory, and I know that a lot of people hate her writing, but the attack on her felt weirdly vitriolic; I objected less to her digs at David Starkey whose documentaries have always had an unpleasant veneer of sexism for me. Anyway, interesting but flawed.

The Voyage of the Basilisk was the only fiction I read this month (non-fiction can be really good for getting out of a reading slump, I find) and in this installment our pseudo-Victorian lady dragon naturalist rides sea monsters and gains a love interest. If you're not already on this ride then I highly recommend you hop on; it is so much fun!


As previously mentioned I am off on my holidays later this week, to Berlin, no less, which is awesome because huzzah, holiday! and because it means I get to hang out with the awesome [personal profile] fitz_y and her equally awesome partner. But is less than awesome because it means I have to get on a plane. I... do not fly well. I have strategies in place for getting me through flights:

1. Have an extremely large Gin & Tonic in the airport.
2. Pretend I'm not going. I'm not going to get on a plane; I am, for unrelated reasons, going to fill this suitcase with a week's worth of clothes and toiletries. I'm not going, of course, and the fact that I've booked a taxi to the airport doesn't mean that I am. I'm not going; I am going to join this queue at security, though, because I'm British and it is a queue... and so on and so forth until the plane is taxing down the runway.
3. Have a book to read on the plane that is so engrossing that I forget that I'm however many miles up in the air and not just on the high speed train to Aberdeen.

Does anybody know of such a book? Seriously, though, a total page-turner, or the sort of book you just vanish inside, or both? A book to see off an incipient panic attack, if that's not too much to ask. Any genres, fiction, non-fiction, anything?
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
Shadow Scale - Rachel Hartman
Fair Fight - Anna Freeman

Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina, about a half dragon girl caught between a coming war between humans and dragons. I didn't like it quite so much as the first one; this is partly grading on a curve because I freakin' adored the first one, partly that the first half of the novel follows Seraphina as she travels around trying to find the other half dragons, and quest narratives do very little for me. I also wasn't thrilled about a wild love triangle appearing. I mean, I loved that Glisselda isn't straight (called it!) and that she and Kiggs went through with their marriage of political convenience. But I wasn't wild about Glisselda turning out to be in love with Seraphina, and if that kiss was meant to be an implication that Seraphina isn't straight herself and they're going to come to some sort of poly understanding it could have stood to be less... wishy washy. I still wonder if the decision to market the books as YA was made at a comparatively late stage, because the characters all seem to have been written as 3-5 years older than their stated ages; it would explain the pasted on love triangle, and vagueness of its conclusion too. I like that it is a duology (everything is a bloody trilogy these days) but I do wonder if it wouldn't have stood up better as one slightly longer volume.

Don't get me wrong, I did like them, and I do recommend them. I think Rachel Hartman did a bang up job with a premise that could very easily have veered into 'sparkling vampires' territory. I just liked the first one better.

Fair Fight is a historical novel set in Victorian England featuring three revolving POVs; Ruth, a boxer raised in a brothel, Charlotte an upperclass miss who is married beneath her station and forms an unlikely friendship with Ruth, and George a manipulative dandy who's involved in a long standing relationship with Charlotte's brother. You know how when you have a book with rotating POVs there's usually one where you go 'oh, not you again', but here I found all three characters compelling, and sympathetic, and repulsive in very different but equally fascinating ways.

I absolutely fell in love with this book, and I usually find boxing a bit... distasteful, but I absolutely loved it. It was a bit like The Crimson Petal and the White, a bit like Fingersmith, and a bit like Life Mask. Highly recommended.

Two thirds of the way through and I think I'll abandon The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. It's a play on the Scarlet Pimpernel and the first real dud of my stroll through historical romance; a bland plucky by the numbers heroine, and equally bland former rake with a heart of gold hero. And maybe it's because of the royal baby has been all over the news this week, but every time the heroine started talking about restoring the monarchy my grumpy inner republican (small r) reared her head.


I've got the election coverage on in the background. Hmm, if the exit polls are right Scotland should have taken independence when it was on the cards. I'm probably not going to stay up much longer, but before I go to bed have a story of the these people don't vote, do they? variety.

My sister is a doctor. An actual medical, dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a... doctor. She is a clever lady. She also wanted to vote Green today. I'd voted in the morning and texted her to say that there wasn't a Green standing where we live. We live in a Labour/SNP marginal, our Labour incumbent is a wanker and Dr. Sister hates the SNP. I assumed she'd hold her nose and vote Lib Dem, or spoil her ballot.

Instead - and again this woman is a doctor - she voted for an independent who she knew nothing about on the assumption that he was one of the harmless save-our-hills, save-our-hospital type independents. She went home and googled him; turns out he's a loon of the radical right, who got kicked out of UKIP for being too reactionary, and whose main platform is the reestablishment of the British Empire.

I've never been the brains of the family before; I don't like it.
netgirl_y2k: (kahlan white dress)
Karen Memory - Elizabeth Bear

Only one book finished this month, and it was one I started in February. Karen Memory should have been the stuff of my id; the central romance was f/f, the central relationships were all among women, a group of mutually supportive sex workers, no less. But, I don't know, the pacing was a little borked, I thought, there never seemed to be a sense of narrative urgency and the various subplots never really came together. There was also the fact that it was steampunk; now, it's not that I don't like steampunk, it's just that I haven't read a whole lot of it. I remember reading a great thing a while ago that in any genres or sub-genres there are the introductory texts (usually some of the first ones written, or those that play the genre straight), then the intermediary texts (those that build on what's come before, and start to play with the established tropes of the genre), etc. And because I haven't read much steampunk I think I've missed a step or twelve between 'what if technology was developed along steam rather than electric lines..?' and 'and then our heroine attacked a nineteenth century submarine with an ambulatory sewing machine.' It was less the book, and more my not being the right kind of genre-savvy. I do think the pacing was dodgy, though.

I dipped in and out of few different Discworld books in memory of Terry Pratchett, but I couldn't settle to read anything straight through.

Actually, I've been feeling a bit twitchy and off all month. Revenge of the Brain Weasels, I guess, which is annoying, because I have been so much better for so long now. Still, I am so much better at managing my anxiety than I used to be - for one thing, anthropomorphising it as playful weasels nibbling at loose wires inside my head has been hugely helpful.

So because it only ever takes me one really good read to yank me out of a book slump, I ask: read any good books lately? Any genres at all, fiction or non-fiction (actually non-fiction might be quite good for my attention span currently), but really anything at all that you've enjoyed or found attention grabbing?
netgirl_y2k: (panic)
Dead Girl Walking - Christopher Brookmyre
The Unquiet Dead - Ausma Zehanat Khan
Faithful Place - Tana French
Broken Harbor - Tana French

All thrillers this month, for a change of pace.

Dead Girl Walking I was really excited about, because the last Jack Parlabane book came out, like, five years ago, and it's one of my favourite series. It's not Brookmyre's best title; nothing will ever beat Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks in my book.

It wouldn't surprise me if this was the last Jack Parlabane book; the way a lot of characters from previous books made what seemed like a finale farewell appearance, and the way Brookmyre, who's always seemed to be a pretty socially conscious writer, seems to have accepted that in this day and age you can't have your protagonist be a journalist who uses, ahem, extra legal methods and still pretend he's the hero. I do kind of admire writers who know when to retire a series, though.

Anyway, it was good; I enjoyed the central mystery, involving an awesome lesbian rock star, her violinist sort of girfriend, and a sex trafficking ring. But it's probably not the best place to jump into the series, more a fond farewell to some long established characters.

The Unquiet Dead, on the other hand, is the first in a series; actually, I think it's the author's first book. You can sort of tell; the pacing's not great, and the conclusion is spoiler )

It's a Canadian set murder mystery where the victim very quickly turns out to be connected to the Bosnian war; and the narrative is split between the investigation and flashbacks to the genocide. The thing that really elevates this book and makes it worth reading is that the author is apparently an international human rights lawyer who was involved in the war crimes trials and really knows her stuff; the chapter headings are taken from the statements of survivors, which adds poignancy to the whole thing.

I'd almost given up on the Dublin Murder Squad books after The Likeness. My problem with that book was the idea of a murder victim who was so the spitting image of an undercover detective that the detective could move in with her housemates for weeks on end without raising any eyebrows completely shattered my suspension of disbelief.

Thankfully the next two books in the series hew a bit closer to reality. Faithful Place is about a twenty year old cold case and a dysfunctional family, and Broken Harbor is about a family massacre and the early days of the recession in Ireland.

As much as I'm enjoying Tana French's patented blend of ambiguous endings and strangely dislikable yet compelling protagonist, I'm taking a break from the thrillers for a while, and I'm halfway through Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory, which so far contains a steampunk version of the American goldrush, a group of friendly prostitutes, a central f/f relationship, and an evil mind control machine, and I'm absolutely freakin' loving it!

Only four books this month, but February is a short month, plus I fell into an Agent Carter fanfic shaped whole. I couldn't help it... Peggy/Angie is like the friends-to-lovers sprinkled coffee shop AU x spy AU of my heart.

Anyway, here are some recs for fics I have especially enjoyed.

Griffith House Rules by [ profile] The-Stephanois Five times Angie heard noises coming from Peggy's apartment and the one time she caused them.

take a look at what i found by [ profile] likebrightness Peggy knocks before she can think better of it. Hopes Angie wakes up before Miss Fry does.

After the Applause by [ profile] tartanfics Angie doesn't have anyone waiting for her out in the audience. She didn't get to tell Peggy she finally got a part in a show; Peggy wasn't there to tell. She ran lines with Sarah from 4A. There's been not a word from Peggy, nothing, after Angie went to all the trouble of calling up her family and finding Peggy a way out of the city.

The Scheme of Things by [ profile] QuickYoke Angie manages to cross the pond to England during the last years of the War. But she soon finds that helping with the war effort isn't all that cracked up to be.

wake up where the clouds are far behind me by [ profile] ProfessorSpork Angie’s lips are half-cocked in a smirk but the eyebrows give her away, lifted in poorly-masked concern. “Still not sure what kinda errand needs doing on the Brooklyn Bridge alone at this hour. You sure you’re done, Pegs?” That’s the question, isn’t it?

Semi-related. I have a blanket permission to podfic statement tucked away somewhere on AO3, which I quite often forget all about until someone takes me up on it.

And [ profile] reena_jenkins took me up on it and podifcced Living Arrangements.

Now, I don't often listen to podfic of my own stuff all the way through. Not because I don't love that people record it, because I absolutely do, but because as soon as I'm listening to it all I can hear is my weird word choices and awkward sentence structures. But this I listened to all the way through. Twice. Reena's reading is so good that she managed to make me forget I'd written it.
netgirl_y2k: (fire cannot kill a dragon)
Romancing the Duke - Tessa Dare
The World's Wife - Carol Ann Duffy
Carol - Patricia Highsmith
My Real Children - Jo Walton
In The Woods - Tana French
The Likeness - Tana French

Because I wanted to continue dipping my toe into historical romances this year, my first book of 2015 was Romancing the Duke, in which an impoverished young lady and secret author unexpectedly inherits a castle, only to find that the previous owner, a crotchety and recently blinded duke, is still in residence. It was light, and charming, and neatly managed to avoid the tropes (rape as love, dub-con stuff) that I am leery of encountering in historical romance. To be fair, I don't know how prevalent those tropes really are, and how much I'm just being a snob...

There was some good stuff in there about being a fan, too, which I thought was quite impressive to work into an historical romance.

So I'm going to read the next Castles Ever After book, and then I'm going to go back and see what else [personal profile] selenay has read and liked. Because in books, as in fanfic, if you find someone whose tastes overlaps with yours, then it's okay, I think, to stalk their recommendations.

The World's Wife is the first collection of poetry I've read since, gosh, secondary school. That's one reading resolution for the year ticked off! A collection of poems about the wives of historical, fictional, and mythological figures; all excellent. It's probably the only book of poetry I'll read this year, but at least I'm not scared of poetry any more!

Fun fact, I have to read poems aloud, or at least mouth along, or my brain just skips right over them. So, no reading on public transport.

Carol I'd been meaning to read for years and finally got around to it in anticipation of the upcoming film. I found it a bit slow in the beginning, but compelling and beautifully written. But because it was a book about lesbians written in the 50s (late 40s, maybe?) I was reading it braced for tragedy. And the fact that it didn't end in tears was such a huge relief and, like, a crushing weight that I didn't even know was there off my shoulders. This, by the way, is why diversity in fiction is as important now as it was in 1952. Anyway, I ended up really loving it.

Despite the fact that I want to read every word Jo Walton has ever set down in print (and also, kind of, poke around inside her brain to see how it works) I had put off reading My Real Children because the main character is an elderly woman with dementia - real life and my hobby getting a little too close, there - who remembers living two different lives. It was a lot like Kate Atkinson's Life After Life if more overtly science fiction-y. In the end I was glad I read it, I thought it was wonderful and swallowed it whole.

Then I read In The Woods and The Likeness, the first two books in The Dublin Murder Squad series, where a secondary character in the preceding book is the protagonist of the next one. They're good; a bit more literary than your average murder mystery series, which can be a good thing, but sometimes seems to come at the expense of pacing and narrative urgency.

I'll get back to the rest of the series, but there's a reason why my current read is Dead Girl Walking by Chris Brookmyre, which has no illusions at all about being literary, but is certainly exciting.

One of my new years resolutions vis-a-vis reading was to abandon books that weren't working for me. Now I often come back to, and ended up loving, books that I've abandoned, because it was a timing thing more than anything. But with the aim of fewer false starts in future I'm going to start recording books that I did not finish and why.

So in January I DNF Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts, which despite it featuring a lesbian main character and dragons, and thus being right up my alley, I abandoned at about the 1/3 mark for the following reasons, 1) the writing, which was a bit blunt and functional; nor necessarily a deal breaker, but not what I was in the mood for just then, 2) the main character having a lot of self loathing and internalized homophobia, including lashing out at the idea of a wider gay community, and I get enough of that in the privacy of my own skull, thank you very much.

2014 Books

Dec. 30th, 2014 11:05 pm
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
Books Read List! )

-Sixty-seven books. That's four less than last year. But only one reread. So as far as new-to-me books go, I'm actually up by nine.

-Thirteen male authors. Thirty-one female. More or less. I don't know if I unconsciously skew toward female authors - I know I very consciously veer away from books with no major female characters - or if it's just a result of where I get my book recs. You lot, mainly, and a couple of sites that try to read and rec diversely.

-I am aware that my genre classifications are a bit weird. Other people probably don't divide their libraries by which books have lesbians and which have dragons. I swear, if somebody ever writes a book with lesbians and dragons I'll be their servant for life.

-I hit a lot of reading slumps this year. Usually because I hit a book that I found a slog, which put me off picking up the next book. I especially remember struggling with/hating The Rapture of the Nerds, London Falling, Annihilation, God's War, and Parasite. Next year I would like to get better at abandoning books that aren't working for me, no matter how much other people liked them.

-My best discoveries of the year were Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, Alexis Hall's Kate Kane books, and Courtney Milan's Brothers Sinister series.

-My five favourite books of the year were
1. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
2. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
3. The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey
4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
5. Hild by Nicola Griffith

-Next year I would like to read more non-fiction. I would like to read more widely in different genres, because look how well my dive into historical romance worked out. But who am I kidding, it'll probably be more dragons and lesbians. Huzzah!
netgirl_y2k: (kahlan white dress)
A World of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin, and, er, some others.
Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel
Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers
The Woman Who Would Be King - Kara Cooney

I had extremely mixed feelings upon picking up awoiaf. On the one hand it is a fic writer's wet dream, on the other hand I felt like I was subsidising both some of the more, ahem, toxic elements of the fandom, and GRRM's procrastination. Putting out a book of history and worldbuilding that you've worked out but that you can't quite fit into your main series. Awesome. But surely it's the sort of thing you publish after you've finished your series and not in a fit of panic when you realise that you haven't put out a new book in five years and you have a TV adaptation steamrollering up behind you...

Don't get me wrong, a lot of the artwork is fucking gorgeous, and there are lots of fascinating little titbits. Next round of got_exchange you see if I don't request fic about Lady Sabitha Vypren.

But a lot of the historical stuff, Aegon's conquest and the Tragedy at Summerhall, were things that were already in the books or were easily guessed. And then there was a weird change of tone, because the chapters dealing with ancient history or the world beyond Westeros read like a very long and expensive wiki entry, then when it got to the bits on Robert's Rebellion it was obviously meant to have been unreliably narrated by an obvious Robert partisan, probably so we can all clutch out pearls and pretend to be surprised when it turns out that R+L=J.

Station Eleven I highly recommend. If you only read one apocalypse/dystopia novel (a genre I thought I was burnt out on) make it this one. It's about a superflu that wipes out 99% of the population, and is set on the years leading up to, during, and twenty years after the collapse of civilisation. It's bleak in places, but not nearly as grim as a lot of these stories are, and features a post apocalyptic traveling symphony/performing Shakespeare company.

There's a terrible, pretentious term for genre fiction written with a literary bent which I've always found vaguely insulting, but this really is cleverly and beautifully written. There's also a lovely geeky nod in that the symphony's motto is a line from Star Trek: Voyager, Because survival is insufficient.

Highly, highly recommended.

Grave Mercy features assassin nuns. Nun assassins. Nuns who are assassins. My main problem with this book is that there weren't enough assassin nuns. Our heroine joins up with the convent of assassin nuns (never going to get tired of typing that) and then there's a time skip to three years later when she's completed her training and is off on her first assignment. There's court intrigue, historical details, little feminist grace notes, and a sweet romance. But it wasn't the book I wanted to read; the book I wanted to read, by the way, was a heartwarming tale of female friendship set against the backdrop of assassin nun training school. Ho hum.

I liked it, though, and will read the rest of the series on account of the, you know, assassin nuns. It reminded me a lot of the Graceling books, and a little of Gemma Doyle, so if that's your thing...

The Woman Who Would Be King is a biography of Hatshepsut, who got herself crowned king of Egypt about three and a half thousand years ago. I have occasional bouts of self-improvement where I seek to teach myself about all things I didn't learn at university, firstly because I didn't go to that sort of university, and secondly because I was busy drinking things and falling down.

There was a lot of interesting things, mostly in the introduction and the conclusion, about the narrative surrounding powerful women. How we all remember Cleopatra because she was a pretty terrible ruler, and Hatshepsut is erased because she was pretty good at it and doesn't fit the prevailing patriarchal narrative that women can't do maths/play football/rule a country, rather than that this one woman, in this particular set of circumstances, couldn't do it.

As an aside, I was telling my sister this and she said: Yeah, that's why the only thing you know about Catherine the Great is the thing with the horse. So now I have to read a biography of Catherine the Great.

There was also some really interesting stuff about gender presentation, and how Hatshepsut's monuments became more masculine as her reign progressed, but her insistence on using feminine pronouns made it harder for future kings to easily erase her from the historical narrative.

But mostly it felt like an academic historian failing to write a pop-history book. I know very little is definitively know about Hatshepsut, but I mostly felt like I was reading a book about ancient Egyptian religious cults and architecture rather than one about antiquity's foremost female king; and that may well have been a very fine book, it just wasn't the book I'd signed up for.

I definitely need to read more nonfiction though, because I got to the bit on dynastic incest and found myself thinking: Golly, that's positively Targaryen...

Next, I think, I'll read A Vision of Fire because Gillian Anderson's name is on the cover. This may well prove to be a mistake. I will report back.
netgirl_y2k: (brand new day)
I was on holiday at the turn of last month, so this might be quite a long list, fortunately as I read a few of them in early September I can't really remember what I wanted to say about them.

Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay
The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living - Nick Offerman
Ask the Passengers - A.S. King
Astray - Emma Donogue
Full Fathom Five - Max Gladstone
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer
Ascension - Jacqueline Koyanagi
The Duchess War - Cortney Milan
The Heiress Effect - Courtney Milan
The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan
The Suffragette Scandal - Courtney Milan
The Governess Affair - Courtney Milan
A Kiss for Midwinter - Courtney Milan
Talk Sweetly to Me - Courtney Milan
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher - Hilary Mantel
Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays about feminism, and pop culture, and guilty pleasures. Clever stuff. I mean, I read and enjoy the likes of Caitlin Moran, but it's good to read anything about feminism that isn't quite so straight, white, and middle-class, you know?

Sarah Waters is one of my very favourite authors and The Paying Guests is my favourite of hers since Fingermsith. It's a bit of a return to form, I thought; I tell myself that I have other reasons for disliking The Little Stranger than the absence of lesbianism, but fair or not, queer women throughout history are why I read Sarah Waters. Anyway, this is about an upper-class mother and daughter in the interwar years who have to take in lodgers to make ends meet. It's half historical lesbian romance, half courtroom drama, and I really liked it a lot.

The Nick Offerman autobiography I read all in one night as I was fending off a panic attack. I don't actually watch Parks & Rec, but I'd seen enough gifsets of him on tumblr to think: this is a man who should have a manifesto, I would like to read that manifesto. The best bits were where he was talking about his marriage. My new romantic aspiration is to marry someone who talks about me the way Nick Offerman talks about Megan Mullally.

Ask the Passangers is YA novel about a teenaged girl's coming out, with a dash of magical realism thrown in. I think it suffered from my unfairly comparing it to The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which I'd read a few months ago and is similar on the surface, and they aren't remotely in the same league.

Astray is a collection of short stories about people moving to or around the US and Canada. What really struck me about it was that there wasn't a single story that I didn't like or was underwhelmed by; that never happens with short story collections. I continue to be knocked out by Emma Donogue's writing is what I'm saying.

Full Fathom Five... I just can't say enough good things about Max Gladstone's Craft sequence. Brilliantly wrought, diverse fantasy about gods and magic and all those stuck in between. This is a don't walk, run type of recommendation.

I had heard so many good things about the Southern Reach Trilogy, and I think maybe outside factors played a part. Because I was chugging through Annihilation cheerfully enough; then when I was about two thirds of the way though my dog died, and I lost interest in reading for a while. And when I finally picked the book up I found the last third really hard going and bleh, and have pretty much no interest in picking up the next two books in the series. So, yeah, sorry, book, it's not you, it's me.

Ascension had so many good things in it. Spaceships! A werewolf in space! Important sibling relationships! The protagonist is a non-white lesbian with a chronic illness! With all that it was kind of a shame that the plot never really came together for me, and by the time it turns out that half the ship's crew is in a poly relationship it had the feeling of some kind of bingo card being checked off. Not that you couldn't do something awesome with a poly spaceship crew, just that this book didn't do it. File under: books I wish I liked more than I did.

Historical Romance is not a genre I read much, or at all. But I heard Courtney Milan's name bandied about in connection with the [ profile] ask-a-man tumblr, and I read the entire Brothers Sinister series, including the novellas, within about a fortnight. I couldn't get my grubby little hands on them quickly enough. I completely loved them, the heroines, beta male heroes, background queer relationships, inter-racial romances, lady scientists, feminist notes, and so so much fun. So, yeah, I'm taking this as a lesson on the benefits of reading outside my usual genres.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is the very definition of a book I bought because of the title. The title story is magnificent, the others slightly more hit and miss. There were a couple I didn't actually understand, but, hey, Hilary Mantel is smarter than I am, news at eleven.

Ancillary Sword I actually liked more than Ancillary Justice, and I fucking loved Ancillary Justice. I loved that the sequel is a little more tight focus on a small group of characters, but that still has the fascinating world-building and smart as heck gender and identity stuff.

I'm having a bit of a book slump at the moment, because all I really want to read is Ancillary Mercy, which, alas, will not be released for a year or more. So if you've read any good books recently, you should totally tell me about them.
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett (reread)
Parasite - Mira Grant
The Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanagan
Fever - Megan Abbott
Two Serpents Rise - Max Gladstone

Kind of a slow month, book wise, partly because of one or two books that I found kind of hard going, but also because I did something a bit silly. I'd been hanging onto my old Kindle Keyboard in the hope that it might loop past obsolete to really quite retro and neat; but I saw a good deal on a refurbished Kindle Fire and got one of those instead. It is nice to have a wee tablet; but it's slightly too big, slightly too heavy, slightly too breakable feeling, and slightly too "hey, tumblr's right there; who's for a quick game of Angry Birds" to use as a dedicated e-reader.

Feet of Clay is, interesting enough, the first book I've reread this year. I used to reread books a lot, and now I hardly ever do. Partly it's because I feel my age, and realise that there are more interesting books in the world than I could possibly read even if I did nothing else. But it's also, and more honestly, because I used to have no money, live in a rubbish public library system, and own twelve books that I just reread on a loop. But it's always a good time for Discworld and the City Watch.

I think this is the point where I accept that, although she butters many parsnips, Mira Grant's fiction does nothing for me. Parasite is set in a near future where people are implanted with their own personal intestinal parasites which regulate their health, and it was just a roll call of meh for me. For one thing, although it was meant to be 2027, apart from the intestinal worm thing, it's indistinguishable from 2014. For another, the "plot twist" is so obvious and telegraphed from so early on that it barely qualifies for the name. The body horror angle that should be there in a story about personalised body-controlling tapeworms was so tepid as to be nonexistent. Oh! And Our Protagonist suffers from memory loss; she is either an adult woman with amnesia, or an entirely new person who is six years old; there's an entire subplot about whether her parents should have guardianship of her or not, and it keeps coming up that she's still relearning the English language, and yet no one questions her being a sexual relationship!? Bah!

I had read Tender Morsels last year and been utterly traumatised by the contents; two in the morning, ugly crying traumatised. But at the same time I'd thought that Margo Lanagan's writing was completely gorgeous. The Brides of Rollrock Island is about selkies, and is quietly, completely, desperately heartbreaking; but very lovely. I'd definitely recommend reading this one first.

Fever was one of those books that was so very Not For Me, that it's hard to tell if it's objectively any good. That's one of the things I don't like about the Kindle Fire: it's a bugger to sideload, and impossible to organise once you've got things on there; so unless something's absolutely awful I'll probably just plug on to the end. It's about a small town where teenage girls start coming down with a mysterious illness; and is it mass hysteria, is there foul play afoot, is it the polluted lake at the centre of town, or the HPV vaccine the girls have recently had..? Who knows, and by the end of the book, I really didn't care very much.

If I haven't already made a ringing endorsement of Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence books, then you should consider this a ringing endorsement of the Craft Sequence books. They're set in a fantasy, some sort of magic-punk, world where people have used magic to overthrow their gods, and are trying to figure out what happens next. They remind me in a way of China Mieville's Bas-Lag trilogy , although these are a little easier on the brain.

Two Serpents Rise is set in the same world as Three Parts Dead, but in a different city with a completely new set of characters, which I love. I have recently discovered that I have very strong feelings that books in a series should have a self contained story. I am particularly biased against series that are just one long story split into parts. I mean, Lord of the Rings has been hugely influential on the fantasy genre and on me as wee thing, but it turns out that, damn, I hate a lot of its tropes.

Book Meme

Aug. 12th, 2014 11:56 pm
netgirl_y2k: (brand new day)
I've seen this meme as a pick a letter and I'll answer whack-a-doodle, but I am contrary and like talking about books, so I'm going to answer them all.

books a go-go )
netgirl_y2k: (Default)
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch
God's War - Kameron Hurley
The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Emily M Danforth
An Untamed State - Roxane Gay
The Queen of the Tearling - Erica Johansen
The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison
We Were Liars - E Lockheart

I was so so on the first Gentlemen Bastards book, freaking adored the second, but perhaps I was just blinded by the lady pirates, because The Republic of Thieves met with a resounding "meh" from me.

On the plus side, we finally get to meet the oft spoken of Sabetha, and there are some neat feminist bits on Sabetha's feelings about being the only girl Gentleman Bastard, and always being in Locke's shadow; there were lots of funny, charming, witty sections; say what you like about Scott Lynch, but the man can turn a phrase. On the minus, neither the current plot (Locke and Jean competing with Sabetha to rig an election) or the flashback section (the young Gentlemen Bastards stage a play; ostensibly to teach them to grift and work as a team, but really they just put on a play, and not a very good one, at that) ever really get going, and the pacing felt clunky as hell.

The city-destroying bondsmagi, which I'd though were fascinating when viewed from afar in The Lies of Locke Lamora, turned out to be much less interesting up close; where they seem to mostly bicker internally and interfere in local politics. Then there was the end, which took a sudden, awkward turn from shenanigans to grimdark, and a reveal about Locke's "mysterious origins". And my feeling on protagonists with "mysterious origins" can be summed up thusly: please keep them to yourself.

I wanted to like God's War more than I did. It's set in a matriarchal society because all the men automatically get drafted into a holy war that's been fought for so long that it's origins have basically been forgotten; there's a delightfully bizarre insect based magic/technology system. But. But, it's low on description, so it's hard to envisage the world, and what should be pretty significant world-building points, like the fact that there are shape-shifters, only merit a throwaway mention. The plot was occasionally hard to follow; it's fast paced and exciting, but often in a sort of: wait, wait, what happened? who are they? what's going on? type way. Then there were the characters; now I don't think that characters always have to be nice, but all the characters here were so viscerally unpleasant that I couldn't imagine willingly spending any more time with them.

I'm intermittently annoyed that everything seems to be a series these days, even sometimes things that would be better off as stand-alones; but that's the Gentlemen Bastards and Bel Dame Apocrypha that I don't feel like I have to keep up with.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is about a girl coming out in Montana in the early-mid 90s, and I couldn't put it down for two days. You know when a book just speaks to you--? Not the parts about making out with cowgirls, or being shipped away to pray away the gay camp parts, obviously.

My experiences ran more along the lines of being felt up in the sixth form art room, and coming out to my parents to such a thunderous lack of reaction that to this day I'm honestly not sure they actually heard me.

But about how things were in the days in before the internet (there's a great quote that's been floating around tumblr about how if you think the internet is making us lonelier then you were never lonely before 1995) and how desperate you can be to see yourself reflected somewhere. Cameron endlessly rewinds that one scene from Personal Best; at least I had Xena when I was doing my own teenaged coming out a few years later. Representation matters, etc. But at least kids coming out now have youtube and netflix and tumblr gifsets, and thank goodness they do.

An Untamed State was another one that I couldn't put down. It's about a Haitian American woman who's kidnapped for ransom while visiting her family in Haiti. Everything horrible that you worry might happen to a woman kidnapped by a group of men happens, but it's exactly as horrible as it needs to be, and not at all titillating. (This is my residual GoT S4 feelings speaking; I now consider a rape scene not being sexualised to be a selling point.) It's awful, and harrowing, and compelling, and recovery isn't easy or neat, but it's possible. If you think the sexual violence wouldn't upset you too much, then I highly recommend it.

First things first about The Queen of the Tearling, when I rule the world all books that are the first in a trilogy will be forced to declare so, on the first page, in bold print. It's about a queen who was raised in exile, and comes into her throne to undo some of the mistakes of her mother's rule. She has a circle of loyal guards, and the antagonist is an evil queen sorcerous type.

So far so much typical fantasy fare with a kind of Arthurian twist. But the thing that makes it a bit different is that apparently this is a post apocalyptic world, "post-crossing" they say in the book. So I think the answers to the questions posed by that (why does the post apocalyptic world look like feudal Eurpoe? Where did the magic come from? How did the people get here; the book says they sailed but that must have been metaphorical sailing, right?) will either lift it above the mediocre or make it crash and burn. Yeah, not bad, but too "first book-y" to really say much about it.

The Goblin Emperor is about the despised half-goblin son of the emperor of the Elflands who unexpectedly comes into the throne when his father and older brothers are killed. I'd sort of been side-eying this because... elves, golblins, boy characters. But it was brilliant, completely and totally brilliant! Totally immersive world-building, and sucked me into elven court intrigue, to the point where I finished it and came out blinking into the light, going, where will I find another book that good?

We Were Liars was not that book. There's a huge (over-rated, to my mind) twist at the end, so I won't say much about it. The experience of reading it reminded me most of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, not because the plots are at all alike, no, but because they were both books that came highly recommended and that I read going I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR WANKY PRETENTIOUS RICH KID PROBLEMS, FUCK'S SAKE.

Okay, it's possible I have some, ahem, class-related issues.

Anyway, now I'm dipping in and out of the Discworld, because I couldn't find a good follow-on to The Goblin Emperor, and I panicked.
netgirl_y2k: (fire cannot kill a dragon)
Pump Six and Other Stories - Paulo Bacigalupi
Kissing the Witch - Emma Donoghue
Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone
The Round House - Louise Erdrich
The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan
Iron & Velvet - Alexis Hall
Shadows & Dreams - Alexis Hall
Talker 25 - Joshua McCune
The Girl With All The Gifts - M.R. Carey
Carmilla - J Sheridan LeFanu
The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Not that long ago I was talking to someone about short story collections and how I have a hit-and-miss relationship with them. There are a few authors, I think, who write amazing short stories; alas, there seem to be more who use these collections as dumping grounds for their more half-baked ideas.There's also the thing, I think, where fandom has the short story-to-novella length form down to a fine art, so that's where I go when I want shorter stories. So it's kind of weird that I started the month off with two collections of short stories.

Pump Six I've been meaning to read for years, because I'd really loved The Windup Girl by the same author, and I'd heard there were a couple of stories set in that universe. So of course I'm only getting around to reading it now, when I've forgotten everything about the novel. Of the ten stories in the collection I absolutely loved nine of them. Nine of them are, like, cynical dystopias about environmental/technological apocalypses and mistrust of corporations, all good stuff. But the tenth is a contemporary story about a man who "accidentally" kills his wife. This annoyed me for two reasons, 1) it felt really out of place, like it was breaking the established theme, and 2) man kills woman, begins new life, might have been dark and groundbreaking at some point, but now it feels like it should be a square on misogynistic cliche bingo.

Back when I was talking about how much I'd liked one of Emma Donoghue's novels, basically everyone said I should read Kissing the Witch. A collection of feminist, occasionally queer, fairytale retellings, about the women trapped inside traditional fairytales. I can't image why you guys thought I would like this? Hee, yes, highly recommend.

Three Parts Dead I bought almost randomly - I had a book token, it was a pound, I vaguely recalled hearing something good about it, though I couldn't remember what or from who - and I'm delighted I did, cause I really loved it. It's a sort of fantasy steampunk thing, set in a world years after magicians have gone to war with the Gods. The world-building is awesome, it reminded me a little of China Meiville's Bas-Lag trilogy, although I liked the plot a lot more. Don't get me wrong, I love the Bas-Lag books, but I do think they coast by on the world-building. Lots of interesting, diverse characters too. I really look forward to reading more in this series. And that's kind of saying something, given that I'm currently experiencing one of my periodic bouts of annoyance at why is everything a series?

The Round House is about the rape and attempted murder of a women on a native american reserve in the 1980s (a time and place about which I know shamefully little) and the effect this has on her adolescent son. I mostly read SF/F, and I love it, but sometimes I want something different, not as a palate cleanser, as such, but just as a change of pace. And I'm so glad this was recommended to me; it's beautiful and horrible and fascinating. The thing that horrified me the most, actually, wasn't the rape, of which we only see the aftermath, but the legal purgatory the family find themselves in because the mother can't remember where, on tribal, state, or federal land, the attack took place. Anyway, if you're up to it, recommended.

The Tropic of Serpents is the continuing adventures of a pseudo-Victorian lady dragon naturalist. Much like the first one, if the words Victorian lady dragon naturalist appeal to you then you should love this, and if they don't then we can't be friends don't bother.

Iron & Velvet and Shadow's & Dreams are the first two (currently the only two; alas, I would read twelve of them) volumes in the Kate Kane series. And lesbian urban fantasy is a genre there ought to be more of, as all right thinking people would surely agree. Anyway, as urban fantasies go it's pretty standard fare: London, vampires, werewolves, magic, a supernatural PI. But damn if they didn't hit me square in the ID. Everyone is a woman; the PI, the vampire prince, the alpha werewolf, the witch queen of London; and there's this sort of love quadrangle going on. They're fun, and sexy, and silly, and sort of embrace their own silliness, and I really loved them a lot.

Talker 25 I did not like at all. Which was surprising because... dragons. It's set in a world twenty years after dragons have mysteriously appeared in the world, and people have reacted about as well as you'd expect to hundreds of giant fire breathing lizards appearing out of thin air. It sounded so promising, but it was just bad. The world-building was nonsensical and half-arsed (where did the dragons come from? why can some people talk to them telepathically? why do all dragons sound like some kind of sub-par Smaug?) The writing read a lot like the younger end of YA, then two thirds of the way through it turns all rape threats and torture porn. Bah.

I went through a zombie phase a few years ago where I read every zombie book going (I'm an adult now; I like dragons) after which I felt like zombies had been done to absolute death. But The Girl With All The Gifts was written by the guy who wrote the Felix Castor, so I gave it a shot. I ended up really liking it. There were enough twists on a familiar formulae to keep me interested; the twist about the protagonist is pretty obvious almost from the first page, but the ending is fucking awesome! Good undead stuff.

I'd been meaning to read Carmilla for ages; novella, vampires, Victorian sapphism. Yay.

The Silkworm is the second mystery JK Rowling has written under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. This is set in the world of writers and publishing, and I very much enjoyed reading her take down of a certain type of white male literary writer (I would love to know how much of that stuff is based on her real life experiences). It was a pretty engaging mystery, and I had no idea who the killer was until the reveal. Funny thing is, I know I read the first one last year but I can't remember a single thing about it; so yeah, enjoyable if not particularly memorable.


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