Archive for ‘YA’

July 7, 2010

June Reading

Looking over this list I realise I read less SFF than I usually would last month. This is interesting, I guess? I didn’t read half as much as I wanted or expected to; especially considering how much of this is fluffy bedtime reading. I am forced to blame the world cup.

Hope Mirrlees – Lud-in-the-Mist: This is such a classic that I’m mildly embarrassed about never having read it before. It turns out it’s utterly gorgeous. Plot-wise it’s incredibly simple (middle class townspeople threatened by the smuggling into town of fairy fruit – I’m tempted to describe it as a crime thrille) and I wondered when I started reading if it was going to be pretty and insubstantial. It’s not, it’s gloriously ambiguous and lyrical and full of light and shadow. I’m very tempted now to reread The King of Elfland’s Daughter (published a couple of years before Mirrlees’ book) and see how it compares.

Sarah MacLean – The Season: I didn’t enjoy this one at all. I suspect this is in part because I’m used to reading Regency mystery/romances for grown-ups, who are expected to be familiar with the setting. Having things explained for young readers (and heroines who are modern teenagers in empire line dresses) really put me off.

Kate Hewitt – The Greek Tycoon’s Reluctant Bride: Read because someone at work thought my reaction would amuse them. This proved to be the case.

Elif Batuman – The Possessed: I reviewed this for the Indian Express and talked a little more about my reaction to it here.

Tom McCarthy – Tintin and the Secret of Literature: I’m still not sure what the big “secret” turned out to be, unless it was that ‘popular’ literature is as fruitful a ground for literary criticism as capital L Literature. This was still tremendous fun to read; McCarthy bombards the Tintin books with multiple sorts of theory and in the process succeeds in writing a book whose main point seems to be look, look, theory can give you so much to play with. Which it can, of course, and this is one reason why I like it, but I suspect if you’re the sort of person who likes that sort of thing you already know this.

Samit BasuTerror on the Titanic: Nothing I say about this book could possibly be unbiased – not only is Samit a friend but the book is published by my employers. So you might want to keep that in mind when I claim that this book is funny and smart and utterly silly, and that the Morningstar Agency series looks to be a strange (and hilarious) mixture of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Bartimaeus trilogy. But also I’m right.

Stephenie Meyer - The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: I’m not a fan of Stephenie Meyer, as this old, desperately trying to be fair, post probably makes clear. Still, I’d read all four Twilight books, and thought that this novella, removed from the main story of the series, might avoid some of its major flaws. Plus someone on Twitter dared me.
I’m sure I came to the book prejudiced against it. Still, it was remarkably bad. Meyer continues to be unable to create a real, flawed, likeable character for her narrator, and if she has gained in self-awareness since writing the first of the books (I’m choosing to believe that certain choices she made were deliberate) her prose is still frequently cringeworthy.
I did giggle at the “Hulk smash!” bit though.

Edmund Crispin - Holy Disorders: This was my first Gervase Fen book, though I’ve had friends accost me and read out bits of others in the past. It made me accost people and read out bits. I was rather alarmed by the ending (basically, some people are just evil. and it might be genetic.) but it was a fun read.

John Mortimer – The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole/Rumpole Misbehaves: I’ve read only a few of the Rumpole books. I was surprised to see how comparatively recent this one was (2007). I know Mortimer died last year and I think this may have been his last book, but iPods in Rumpole are a bit jarring. Still, it was extremely funny.

Susan Stephens – The Italian Prince’s Proposal: Discussed here.

Julia Quinn – To Catch an Heiress and How to Marry a Marquis: Lumped together because they are a duology. I love Quinn. She’s utterly reliable; likeable, frivolous romances with plenty of witty banter. These two books, involving aristocratic agents of the Crown and the women who love them, aren’t her best, but they’re still fun. How to Marry a Marquis is better because it involves Lady Danbury (familiar to readers of other Quinn books) and a woman dressed as a pumpkin.

Julia Quinn – What Happens in London: I said I liked Quinn. This book, though, deserves a seperate entry, because nothing else will demonstrate. It has spies. It has possibly evil Russians. It has couples who bond over reading bad books to each other. This is entirely similar to my own romantic life except for the spies and possibly evil Russians. It is the most delicious piece of froth since Loretta Chase’s The Devil’s Delilah. Also:

There were really no words to describe it.
She stood in the doorway, thinking this would be a fine time to create a list titled Things I Do Not Expect To See in My Drawing Room, but she was not sure she could come up with anything that topped what she did see in her drawing room, which was Sebastian Grey, standing atop a table, reading (with great emotion) from Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron. If that weren’t enough—and it really ought to have been enough, since what was Sebastian Grey doing at Rudland House, anyway?—Harry and the prince were sitting side by side on the sofa, and neither appeared to have suffered bodily harm at the hands of the other.
That was when Olivia noticed the three housemaids, perched on a settee in the corner, gazing at Sebastian with utter rapture. One of them might even have had tears in her eyes. And there was Huntley, standing off to the side, openmouthed, clearly overcome with emotion.
“‘Grandmother! Grandmother!’” Sebastian was saying, his voice higher pitched than usual. “‘Don’t go. I beg of you. Please, please don’t leave me here all by myself.’”
One of the housemaids began to quietly weep.
“Priscilla stood in front of the great house for several minutes, a small, lonely figure watching her grandmother’s hired carriage speed down the lane and disappear from view. She had been left on the doorstep at Fitzgerald Place, deposited like an unwanted bundle.”
Another housemaid began to sniffle. All three were holding hands.
“And no one”—Sebastian’s voice dropped to a breathy, dramatic register—“knew she was there. Her grandmother had not even knocked upon the door to alert her cousins of her arrival.”
Huntley was shaking his head, his eyes wide with shock and sorrow. It was the most emotion Olivia had ever seen the butler display.
Sebastian closed his eyes and placed one hand on his heart. “She was but eight years old.”
He closed the book.
Silence. Utter silence. Olivia looked about the room, realizing no one knew she was there.

The sequel-of-sorts, Ten Things I Love About You, was out this month, and I should be getting my copy any day now. The Booksmugglers do not seem to be bowled over, but I can trust Quinn to at least be amusing.

P.G Wodehouse – Young Men in Spats: Wodehouse. Short stories. Idiotic young men, love, nudity, Tennyson, animals, and that one story where Uncle Fred breaks into a random house and furthers the cause of young love. I’ve read them all before, but they’re still delightful.

Chris Lavers – The Natural History of the Unicorn: Leavers traces the various possible origin stories for the unicorn – not just the physical features of the animal (and how they change over time) but all the other bits that go into making up the myth. And then he looks at all those bits in the contexts of the societies that added them to the myth, and…I tried to explain what this book was to a colleague and baffled her completely. I really enjoyed it – it’s clever, frequently very witty, and I like fantastic beasts. Leavers doesn’t come to any solid conclusions, only suggesting directions to think along, and I appreciated that. It was excellent, and I think I’ll be using it in the future; not for anything specifically unicorn-related, but as a pointer to how myths come into being.

Robert Holdstock – Avilion: Holdstock’s last book affected me in much the same way as the first one I read did. It’s a more direct sequel to Mythago Wood than Lavondyss was (I have not yet read The Hollowing or Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn). In the past I’ve always had to read Holdstock books twice – once to feel them (he is an incredibly sensual writer) and once because the being caught up in the feel of the book means that I don’t engage with the intellectual aspect that he also brings. On a first read, this is beautiful, though I don’t think it quite lives up to Mythago Wood. On a second – we’ll see.

* Edit – I’m not sure how Chris Lavers ended up being credited as David. Wtf, brain. Sorry Mr Lavers!

May 31, 2010

May Reading

My reading this month included a number of books I’d read before and quite a bit of fluff (these two mostly overlapped). In addition to the books mentioned here, I’m still dipping in and out of Helen Merrick’s wonderful book The Secret Feminist Cabal. I’ve also just gotten hold of Gwyneth Jones’ Imagination/Space, also published by Aqueduct (here’s a good review). And I’m in the middle of a reread of Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur. I’ll be reading City of Ruin when I’m done. Other books I’m hoping to finish in June include Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist (I started it today and love it so far) and Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, which I first heard of a few months ago when Batuman wrote this gorgeous piece for the Chronicle. Assuming that her writing is generally of this calibre, this looks like being a remarkable book.

And so on to the books (in no particular order).

G.V Desani – All About H. Hatterr: I started reading this in April. I loved it; it’s challenging and playful and generally wonderful. I wrote more about it here.

Jesse Bullington – The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart: I wanted to like this a lot more than I ended up doing. It’s incredibly smart, frequently very funny (the brothers’ theological debates in particular), and I absolutely love the cover art. And yet somehow it just did not click for me. I may be missing something obvious, since most reviews I’ve read of it have been overwhelmingly positive. I can’t pinpoint anything that the book did wrong (except maybe the cod academic framework which felt wholly unnecessary) so clearly we were just not meant to be. I will say this for Bullington, his writing is effective. He managed to make me feel rather queasy on two occasions. There’s one particularly unpleasant rape scene, and another scene that I do not wish to spoil for anyone, but between this and Paul Jessup’s “It Tasted Like the Sea” I may never eat fish again.

O. Douglas – Olivia in India: Someone on a mailing list that I read mentioned O. Douglas and I looked her up. I was rather surprised to find that she was John Buchan’s sister. A couple of her books were available on project Gutenberg, and I picked this one to start with. I was a bit wary of a book written in 1912 about an Englishwoman’s travels in India, but found myself charmed anyway. The book is a series of letters from a young woman (who is travelling to India to meet her brother) to an unnamed young man. The colonialism is inevitable, but for the time surprisingly not offensive. Olivia actually engages with India, which is rather nice. Occasionally the attempt to be charming and quirky gets a bit much, but on the whole this was very likeable indeed.

Rick Riordan – The Percy Jackson series: I finally watched the Percy Jackson movie and while it was pretty good I felt that the pacing was off and it was a lot less clever than the books. This made me reread all five books in the series as well as Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files, a slimmer volume containing three short stories and some mock interviews of characters in the series. The series is fantastic; The Demigod Files is insubstantial.

Georgette Heyer – Frederica: I read Heyer when I’m tired, which is why some of her stuff seems to pop up here every month or so. Frederica is not her best, but it is quite good and has a hot air balloon and steam engines. Which makes it practically steampunk, right? Right?

Lisa Kleypas – Suddenly You: This was recommended by a friend who thought I would enjoy a Victorian publishing romance. It was nice and started off very well indeed. But I felt it threw out a number of lures for places that the story could possibly go, and then went nowhere. It’s a little unfair to judge a romance novel for not being more than a romance novel so I can’t really blame it for failing to take up the publishing angle, or the child abuse angle, or… (there were quite a few such angles). But I would have liked a better structured plot, at least.

China Miéville - Kraken: My review is here. My reaction was largely positive, but with a few caveats. Watching Miéville having fun and being a geek was nice.

Mark Mellon – Napoleon Concerto: I’m supposed to review this for someone so I won’t say much here. This is an alternate history steampunk novel set in Napoleonic France. I’ll be linking to my review when it is up.

Nick Mamatas – Under My Roof: I am a bit of a Mamatas fangirl, for various reasons. This probably means that I am biased, but I loved this book to pieces. It’s a hilarious, slim book about a telepathic 12 year old whose father has built his own nuclear weapon (it’s inside a garden gnome on the lawn) and declared independence from the United States. It’s very smart and very political and entirely lovable and I’m surprised more people have not read it.

Julia Quinn – The Bridgerton Series: I did not reread all of the Bridgerton books this month. I read four; The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and To Sir Philip with Love. There’s not much to say about these – none of them was a particularly strenuous intellectual exercise. But I love Quinn and I’m really looking forward to Ten Things I Love About You (review here).

Jon Courtenay Grimwood – Pashazade: Another alternate-history novel. Ashraf Bey arrives in Al Iskandriya and is immediately embroiled in a murder mystery. Fast paced and clever and massively entertaining. I suspect I’d need a second read to attempt any sort of critique (and I think there are aspects of it that could do with some examining) but I found it extremely enjoyable.

John Gardner – Grendel: I recently confessed on twitter that I had not read this, though I’d meant to for a while. The recommendations of a couple of people who had read it convinced me not to put it off any longer. I’m glad, it’s stunning. There’s not enough space here for anything like a review – and since I finished it only a couple of days ago I think I’d like some time to think about it and possibly return to Beowulf - but it’s a glorious book.

Georgette Heyer – Lady of Quality and Black Sheep: These two books are the same book: discuss.

April 1, 2010

March Reading (II)

Other things I read in March:

Jaclyn Dolamore – Magic Under Glass: Nimira is a “trouser girl” and dancer who is hired by a sexy, mysterious man to sing with his clockwork pianist which may or may not be haunted. There are politics, fairies and racism; love happens; there are Jane Eyre references. These things are all good. But I raced through the 200-ish pages suspiciously easily. Stuff happens too fast – it feels like one minute Nimira is trying to figure out how to communicate with the automaton, and the next they’re In Love; one moment supernatural forces threaten and the next they’ve gone away. I feel like Dolamore iss going for ‘delicate’, and runs the risk of veering too close to ‘insubstantial’. There are points where this book is absolutely wonderful, such as the more bittersweet moments when Errin comes to terms with the implications of his situation. But I find myself frustrated at how good it could have been if the plot had just been given a little longer to develop.

Paro Anand – School Ahead!: I speed read this at work so really haven’t got much to say about it, Rather a nice collection of short stories about school, I thought – it could have been less obvious about having A Moral in a couple of places, but there was this one story about running that made me really miss it.

Roald Dahl – Matilda: A reread; I was looking for a specific scene and ended up reading the whole thing in the process. Dahl’s short fiction is amazing, but I hadn’t read his children’s novels in quite a while. Matilda is still good, which is a relief.

Victoria Alexander – The Lady In Question: I mentioned reading a couple of books by this author last month. Clearly I cannot resist the lure of long series about families – the protagonist of this one is the twin sister of the protagonist of The Pursuit of Marriage. This one has spies – why am I reading so many regency romances with heroes involved in British intelligence? This book caused me serious worry. There is a hidden notebook that is crucial to the plot and we do not know where it is. At some point in the book the heroine notices a random slit in her mattress and thinks nothing of it. At this point the reader (me) is thinking this may be the hiding place. The mattress is never referred to again, the notebook is found elsewhere, and I’m left wondering whether this is just something the author forgot to address or she’s being clever and playing with the reader’s expectations. Romance novels are my comfort reads. I expect to understand what’s going on, and I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that in this case I am not sure.

Kathleen O’Reilly – Touched By Fire: This was rather weird. The hero is the son of a criminal who raped his mother, though no one knows this but himself and his father. He’s had a traumatic childhood with a father who keeps telling him that his evil blood will revolt against him and he won’t be able to resist his violent sexual urges. So when he meets the female protagonist he is a) very fucked up indeed and b) a virgin c) obsessed with dragons and how to tame them, don’t ask. Also, there is gambling (not that interesting) and social stigma (likewise, next to the magnitude of the hero’s issues) and child prostitution and an orphanage. And did I mention dragons? The heroine is honestly the least memorable thing about this book. The rest is fantastic.

Charles Butler - Four British Fantasists: Butler examines the role of place and history in the children’s writing of Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Penelope Lively and Susan Cooper. I will admit I skimmed the Penelope Lively bits as I’ve read nothing by her (which must be remedied), but Butler’s commentary on the books I am familiar with is interesting and assured. I think he stumbles a bit in the discussion of Garner and appropriation in Strandloper (I fumed about this for a while) but it’s a thoughtful, interesting work of criticism on the whole.

March 31, 2010

While on the subject of Messrs. Tolkien and Lewis

Here’s an extract from something else I’ve been reading.

[Alan] Garner … was not an English student: his subject was Classics, and his academic ambition the Chair of Greek. However, he was a member of Lewis’ college and his tutor, Colin Hardie, was an Inkling and a friend of both Lewis and Tolkien: “I’ve no doubt that my tutor talked about things that C.S. Lewis had said the night before.” Garner’s own contact with Lewis was of a fairly unorthodox kind: “I practised abseiling from my room one dark night, and put my bare toes on the bald head of C.S. Lewis, who was leaning against the wall for reasons of his own. He yelped and ran.” As for Tolkien, Garner attended his “bravura demonstrations of Beowulf” out of interest, and was deeply impressed. “He would walk up and down and declaim it, and I used to go to these performances. That’s when I first heard English, and I was thrilled by simply the drama and the music of it.” On the other hand, Garner records that “I once heard him argue that modern English was not an appropriate medium for literature. It was interesting to hear such an intelligent man talk such rubbish.”

Abseiling. Oh Alan Garner.
March 4, 2010

February Reading (II)

And this is the non-romance list. In addition to this lot, I started Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies at the end of the month. I am progressing slowly, mainly because I am enjoying it so much. I have dogeared or postitnoted every other page as having something enjoyable I wish to share.

The non-romance bit.

Alexander McCall Smith – The Comfort of Saturdays and The Lost Art of Gratitude: I love the Isabel Dalhousie books. They are the ultimate comfort read- they make me generally peaceful and in favour of humanity. These two most recent books in the series involve medical fraud, tightrope walkers, bratty composers and a greater role for Brother Fox, but really, I’m just reading them for Isabel.

Francisco X. Stork – Marcelo in the Real World: I love this book. There are plenty of wonderful reviews on the internet that will give you some idea of why. You should read those.

Naomi Novik – Temeraire: I raced through this one. It was surprisingly addictive. It’s set in an alt-universe nineteenth century England with dragons. Will Laurence accidentally comes into possession of a dragon and has to give up his job and fiancée for his new duties. Luckily he discovers in an implausibly short period of time that he doesn’t mind this too much. The love between man and dragon is strong (and worryingly slashy, which would be fine if one of the protagonists were not a giant lizard). I really liked Temeraire, but it is too frequently obvious that it has been written by an American woman in the twenty-first century; sentence constructions like “wished he wouldn’t have done that” pop up occasionally and are a bit jarring. Still, it is set during one of my favourite periods in English history, it mostly gets the tone right, and it has dragons. I am definitely reading the rest of this series.

N.K Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Reviewed here, so I will not discuss it in this post. Except to say that it is a fine book and deserves your love.

Appupen (George Mathen) – Moonward: Lightning hits a tree, life originates and evolves, and eventually a god, Mahanana is born. Agriculture, cities and capitalism follow. Moonward is a set of loosely interwoven stories about life in Halahala under the increasingly dystopic rule of Mahanana, with the first and last stories dealing with people trying to look moonwards. With very little text all the focus is on the artwork, which does not disappoint. Appupen’s black-and-white artwork is incredibly diverse stylistically, beautiful, and manages to be funny, angry and depressing all at once. The occasional full-page pieces are especially impressive – particularly the illustration for the rat-fable and a piece that depicts a line of people carrying crosses on their backs. There are also the depressed mechanical birds which I (I do not know how the author would feel about this) wanted to pet. As is usual with Blaft books this one is beautifully produced as well. Definitely a keeper – I’m not sure I’ll be reading it at one go again for a while, but definitely in bits and pieces.

Terry Pratchett – The Unadulterated Cat: Adorable and (as far as I can tell) true. I remain a dog person, though.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games: This was an almost accidental reread – I was looking up a quote from the book and got sucked in so that I ended up reading the whole thing. Not that I’m complaining. I loved the book when I first read it last year, and this reread has reminded me that I am still to read Catching Fire, the next book in the series. (Mockingjay, the final book, will be published later this year.)

Hirsh Sawhney (ed) – Delhi Noir: Reviewing elsewhere, so that’ll probably be put up at some point soon. There are some excellent stories in this collection, though, and it’s worth a read.

I forgot, while listing the romance novels I’d read that I’d also reread Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. I will make up for this by posting an extract.

“I wish you will keep still!” she said severely, patting his arm with a soft cloth. “See, it is scarcely bleeding now! I will dust it with basilicum powder, and bind it up for you, and you may be comfortable again.”

“I am not in the least comfortable and shall very likely be in a high fever presently. Why did you do it, Sophy?”

“Well,” she said, quite seriously, “Mr. Wychbold said that Charles would either call you out for this escapade, or knock you down, and I don’t at all wish anything of that nature to befall you.”

This effectually put a period to his amusement. Grasping her wrist with his sound hand, he exclaimed, “Is this true? By God, I have a very good mind to box your ears! Do you imagine that I am afraid of Charles Rivenhall?”

“No, I daresay you are not, but only conceive how shocking it would be if Charles perhaps killed you, all through my fault!”

“Nonsense!” he said angrily. “As if either of us were crazy enough to let it come to that, which, I assure you, we are not—”

“No, I feel you are right, but also I think Mr. Wychbold was right in thinking that Charles would—what does he call it?—plant you a facer?”

“Very likely, but although I may be no match for Rivenhall, I might still give quite a tolerable account of myself!”

She began to wind a length of lint round his forearm. “It could not answer,” she said. “If you were to floor Charles, Cecy would not like it above half; and if you imagine, my dear Charlbury, that a black eye and a bleeding nose will help your cause with her, you must be a great gaby!”

“I thought,” he said sarcastically, “that she was to be made to pity me?”

“Exactly so! And that is the circumstance which decided me to shoot you!” said Sophy triumphantly.

February 28, 2010

Practically Marzipan: Books on a plane

I am amazed I managed to get through this without screaming about getting these motherfucking books off this motherfucking plane.

Anyway. An edited version of this appeared in the New Indian Express yesterday.

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Recently I read of a rumour (hopefully proved false by now) that passengers on flights bound for the US would not be allowed to carry anything on their laps during the last hour of the journey in order to prevent terrorism. Among the dangerous items banned from passengers’ laps were books.

Packing books for a journey is a complex and involved process. For one thing, there’s the time factor to be considered. How long is your trip, and how much time will you, realistically, have to read? If you’re like me, you will vastly over-estimate this and carry twice as many books as are actually required, but it’s good to have a figure to base things on.

There’s also the question of packing relevant reading. Until relatively recently, when I went on holiday I would try to carry books about the place I was visiting – historical fiction or crime thrillers or anything that would be familiar with the geography of the place. It took a few years for me to realize that this didn’t always work. Some places simply that interesting, and even when they are you still risk an informational overload that could leave you craving a bad romance novel. The situation is made worse for me because I’m actually a terrible packer, and far too prone to wanting to carry everything I might need – I have a pair of formal shoes that have traveled halfway across the world with me on the pretext that I might need them. They have never been worn. With books, my instinct is to fill my bags with related and unrelated literature, thus (in theory, at least) preparing myself for every eventuality.

At this point constraints of space and weight come into play. I know through long experience exactly how many trade paperbacks can be stuffed into a regular backpack – subtract four if the backpack also contains a laptop. Whether it is wise or healthy to carry a big bag of books on ones back is of course another matter entirely. But the alternative is to put the books in one’s checked-in baggage and airlines are unfairly harsh about those of us who wise to transport mini-libraries around with us. (I could, perhaps, just about avoid having to deal with airline baggage allowances if it wasn’t for the fact that I buy books compulsively when in other cities).

Once on a plane, the books you’ve carried with you become tremendously important. You don’t want to carry anything that will make you cry – I made two businessmen seated next to me quite uncomfortable once when I carried a particularly weepy book on a flight. Equally, you don’t want something that will make you laugh too much or cause the stewards to think you require medical assistance (P.G Wodehouse is not a valid excuse for disrupting a flight). And it must be absorbing enough to keep you absorbed, since if you glance away from the page you run the risk of being sucked into conversation with the guy next to you, who wishes to tell you all about his son in England who is well settled and unmarried and possessed of every virtue. Do not look away from the page. If books are a weapon in this case, they’re a defensive one.

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The book that made me cry and so disturbed those unfortunate men was Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, which I wrote about here. I think my most inspired choice of themed books was on a few days’ trip to Turkey, when I carried Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, and Teresa Tomlinson’s The Moon Riders (also a tear jerker, though).

February 20, 2010

In which I come from the future

Reading N.K Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (about which more later, but it’s brilliant and you should read it) I was very pleased to find an extract from another book that is soon to be published by Orbit, Celine Kiernan’s The Poison Throne, at the back. I was also very amused, because the book was first published in Ireland a couple of years ago. I read it last summer (though I never reviewed it I did talk about one aspect of it here – beware spoilers) and talked a bit about its sequel, The Crowded Shadows, here. I’m really glad that Orbit are getting the book to a wider audience, and that it’s getting this publicity – it’s a book I genuinely like (and since I published that first blog post I’ve exchanged enough emails and blog comments with the author that I’m glad for her sake too). It’s just that, having spent most of my life in a country where most books and movies are released much later than the rest of the world, it’s a little bewildering to find people anticipating part one of a trilogy while I am desperately waiting for part three.

February 2, 2010

January Reading (III)

This is the last post in this set – a lot of the books I’ve read this month are pretty short, and reasonably light to get through. I highly doubt I’ll be consuming anything like this much for the rest of this year.

Nirupama Subramanian – Keep The Change: Light and funny and very readable. Keep The Change is about a nice TamBrahm girl who gets into a rut, moves from Madras to Bombay, and deals with things like a corporate career and finding love. The cultural stereotyping-as-humour gets tiring at times (and you feel like the author never quite manages to get away from it, even when she’s trying to undermine it a bit towards the end) but it’s still a really enjoyable book.

Elsie J. Oxenham – A Dancer From the Abbey/ The Song of the Abbey: Girls’ Own literature is one of my comfort reads, and though the Abbey series (which tend to be categorised as school stories, even though most of them have nothing to do with a school) is nowhere near as good as some of the other writing within the genre, it’s a satisfyingly long series, which is obviously what one wants – I still haven’t read the whole series yet. These particular books were pretty disappointing; they are some of the last in the series, and as far as I can tell the author is in a tearing hurry to marry off any adult female characters (bar the writers, for some reason) who might still be unattached. Both books follow pretty much the same pattern: nice young man with some sort of connection to the Abbey people returns from Africa to England, meets a member of the group around the Abbey, and is engaged to her by the end of the book. The book following these two, Two Queens at the Abbey (last book in the series) apparently has the same thing happen again. In future if I do choose to reread the Abbey books I think I’ll try harder to ensure that the ones I pick aren’t functionally identical.

Angela Carter - The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History: I had only ever read sections of this book before, and it is rather good. Of more significance to me, though, is that I was reading Carter critically for what may have been the first time, as opposed to reading her with fangirlish glee. This is new, and welcome, though I will continue to fangirl her whenever I want to.

H.G Wells – The Time Machine: Read as a companion piece of sorts to the awful Jaclyn the Ripper book I mentioned here. I hadn’t read the book in years, and it was actually a lot better than I remembered it being (and I remembered it being pretty good). Even with such distractions as this.

Daisy Ashford – The Young Visiters (sic): The situation as I understand it: Nine year old Daisy Ashford writes a book; possibly quite good for a nine-year-old. In 1919, when Ashford is in her late thirties, it is published with a preface by J.M Barrie with the original typos because that’s just so cute. Except it’s mostly not cute, but annoying. Still, it does contain this lyrical tribute to bathrooms everywhere:

Then Mr Salteena got into a mouve dressing goun with yellaw tassles and siezing his soap he wandered off to the bath room which was most sumpshous. It had a lovly white shiny bath and sparkling taps and several towels arrayed in readiness by thourghtful Horace. It also had a step for climbing up the bath and other good dodges of a rich nature. Mr Salteena washed himself well and felt very much better.

For which I am willing to forgive it much.

P.G Wodehouse – The Mating Season: This is not one of my favourites, but it is a Wodehouse book and therefore deserving of my love. Bertie impersonates Gussie Fink-Nottle and Gussie impersonates Bertie (here I should say something clever about the instability of identity in Plum’s works, but it all seems meaningless when you’re talking about an author who in Piccadilly Jim has a character impersonating himself). Multiple engagements are broken and re-forged in various combinations, and there is random abuse of the constabulary and everything turns out well in the end.

Philip Reeve – Fever Crumb: This book really deserves a post to itself, and will probably get one in the next day or two. For now though – it’s really good, though not quite as visceral as I recall A Darkling Plain being(which is rather an unfair comparison), and I definitely think it’s best read after the Mortal Engines series, though it comes before them chronologically. And it’s such a beautiful object, the hardback is solid and lovely and looks like it is made of wood. Definitely worth it.

So what are you reading?

January 29, 2010

January Reading (II)

(In which there is much genre)

One of the books I’ve been looking forward to for a while now is N.K Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (it’s out in a few days, and I am checking the post every day with great anticipation). Recently Jemisin wrote this post at the Orbit Books blog.

All those stories about restoring a deposed king to a usurped throne, for example — well, what makes the deposed king any better than the usurper? Why must power be kept in the hands of the people who originally had it (and weren’t competent enough to hold it) as opposed to someone new, with better organizing skills and possibly fresh ideas? The message in these fantasies seems to be support the status quo! Don’t question it! Change is bad! What does it mean that we readers find such comfort in these fantasies that we’ve made quite a few of them bestsellers?

Which made me curious to revisit a set of fantasy books I’m very fond of: Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. I’d reread the Song of the Lioness quartet comparitively recently, so decided to read the Immortals Quartet (after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Numair-Daine relationship was refreshingly noncreepy) and the last two Protector of the Small books to see how they dealt with monarchy.
So to list those out in a format easily readable to people skimming this:

Wild Magic
Wolf Speaker
Emperor Mage
The Realms of the Gods
Squire
Lady Knight

And…I’m not sure Pierce does anything particularly radical with the notion of monarchy, however awesome she is in other areas. The first two series are told from the perspectives of characters who are reasonably close to the Royal family – Alanna and Jonathan (the prince in the first few books, the king in all the books thereafter) are close friends, and Daine is definitely a fan of the king and queen. Thayet’s status as deposed royalty definitely contributes to her attractiveness as a prospective bride for Jon. And King Jonathan’s enemies are the enemies of The People as a whole – they are all shown to be ruthless, unconcerned with the larger population or the land itself, and power-hungry – none even attempt to appear as liberators or people with a Cause.
Then in the Protector… series you finally have an outsider of sorts (still a member of the nobility, but a critical outsider to the court) who is able to see that a lot of Jonathan’s actions are flawed, if well meant. But while Keladry, and occasionally Raoul, criticise a lot of Jon’s actions, it is ultimately understood that a) ruling is complicated business b) Jon and Thayet are doing better than most and c) when it comes down to it, they’re on the side of the king. Who is their employer, so this is hardly to be wondered at.
I need to reread the Daughter of the Lioness books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) soon – those actually do deal with a successful people’s movement and the removal of a royal family. Which is the sort of thing I love to read about, but the royals here are replaced with someone who is not only a distant relative, but also a descendant of the rulers this last set of royals replaced. And she’s destined to rule; it’s in a prophecy and everything.

Felix Gilman – Thunderer: I got about half-way and there was a freak accident with the book and a tomato, and I am going to have to get myself a new copy or perform extensive surgery on this one. I’m quite upset about this, since up until that point I’d been utterly absorbed. This is the first thing by Gilman I’ve read, and I am definitely a fan now.

Philip Pullman – Northern Lights: My first reread in many years, and I realised I was picking up a lot more of the alt-history and steampunky elements I had overlooked as a child. I’m now very tempted to reread his Sally Lockhart stories – I’m pretty sure my knowledge of (and appreciation for) Victoriana has increased exponentially since I read them at fourteen or so.

Maureen Johnson – Suite Scarlett: Maureen Johnson was awesome and put her book up for free on the internet for a few weeks. I like free books, and I like what I’ve seen of her as a writer. Suite Scarlett worked wonderfully for me; it’s charming and warm and generally happy-making. Must get hold of Scarlett Fever soon.

Sandra Marton – Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin: Oh dear. Mills and Boon titles are getting more and more ludicruous, and this – honest Italian-American banker who hates his family’s mafia connections is coerced into marrying pretty Sicilian girl with mafia connections and she yells at him a lot before they fall in love – is not one of the better pieces I’ve read; these books really need a completely over the top ridiculous (as opposed to mediocre ridiculous) plot to carry it off. On the bright side it does, as Supriya reminds me, describe the Tempestuous Virgin’s pubic hair as “the delicate curls that guarded her feminine heart”. Which makes the whole thing worth it, somehow.

Stephanie Laurens – Devil’s Bride
Rake’s Vow
Temptation and Surrender: I will read any regency romance that is written in recognisable English. I cannot help it. I blame my mother for all the Georgette Heyer love – Regencies are the only form of romance novel that really grab me, and I am not picky at all. Even so, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have now read all of Laurens’ “Cynster” books – a series of sixteen or so books about a the Cynster family (the men have names like Devil Cynster, Scandal Cynster, Lucifer Cynster, Gabriel Cynster…I don’t know) and how each of them finds love, while solving a mystery (frequently a murder). Rake’s Vow was disappointing in terms of what was at stake in the murder plot – more disappointing still is my knowledge that I must now commence upon Laurens’ Bastion Club series.

One more post on a couple of days and my January list will be at an end. Coming up next, among other things: school stories, child prodigy, and Angela Carter!

January 27, 2010

January Reading (I)

Since I am rubbish at keeping track of what I’ve read, I’m going to be listing what I read in 2010 by month here on the blog. How many books I read in a month and how much I talk about them will, of course, vary. I’m dividing this month’s reading into a few parts so as not to scare myself out of writing, or you out of reading.

Laini Taylor – Lips Touch: First, this book could do with a better cover, particularly when you consider the sheer brilliance of the illustrations inside . I would never have picked this up if I hadn’t already read a number of positive reviews. Lips Touch is a collection of three separate stories about young girls and desire. The first, “Goblin Fruit” is the one that pleased me the most, though it’s not the best of the stories. “Goblin Fruit” bases its back story on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market – the protagonist is the granddaughter of one of the sisters (the good one) in the original story. Yet the other text that informs “Goblin Fruit”, and the comparison is, to me, inevitable, is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. The story works for the same reasons Twilight works: there’s the sense of danger, there’s the centring of female desire that is shown to be overwhelming, there’s the consummation of that desire, continually postponed. But there’s also the knowledge gleaned from the Rossetti story that that danger is concrete; that desire is being used to manipulate the protagonist; that this Goblin, however attractive, is not a sparkly vegetarian. So you have a text that positions itself between two opposing attitudes to female desire and then (to me, at least) manages the best possible resolution. And the artwork really is wonderful.

Karl Alexander – Jaclyn The Ripper: I’m supposed to be reviewing this, so will not begin here to go into all the reasons this book amazed me. But I find myself full of questions. Why was this published? Did anyone read it before it was published? Was it edited? Will I ever again experience this horror, this indignation, this hysteria all at the same time?

John LeCarre – A Murder of Quality: At some point in December I decided to read (and in some cases reread) a set of crime novels set in schools, including Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (magnificent – also, here is some amazing crossover fanfic for anyone who is both a Tey and a Forest fan), A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake, and Report For Murder by Val McDermid. More suggestions would be welcome; I find myself appreciating these more than ever after a year of researching public school stories in general. I’d read A Murder of Quality years ago and had completely forgotten everything about it. As usual, LeCarre is excellent.

L.T Meade – A Modern Tomboy: See here.

Kate Douglas Wiggin – Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm: I had never read this before, and I wish things had stayed that way. Imagine all the twee bits of Anne of Green Gables interspersed with the creepy bits of Daddy-Long-Legs. The only redeeming factor, if it can be called that, is that the child character who grows up to (presumably) marry the benefactor who has waited for her does not refer to him as “daddy”.

L.M Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables: After the awfulness that was RoSF, I had to revisit it. I am very fond of all of the Anne books up until her marriage to Gilbert – though I think Rilla of Ingleside has its moments. Anne and Rebecca remind me, though, that I’ve noticed that young Budding Writers in these books (all the examples I can think of are female, presumably due to the quantities of Girls Own literature I scarfed down as an infant) are always too florid and wordy and over the top, and they become good writers as they learn to turn this down. Even as I write this I realise it doesn’t apply to Rebecca; either because Rebecca is Perfect or because Wiggin was genuinely unable to recognise bad prose when she saw it? But it’s interesting, because when I was growing up and trying to write I often had the opposite problem. I very rarely let loose the adjectives, and tried so hard to be understated that I often ended up stating nothing at all. Different times, I suppose.

Anil Menon – The Beast With Nine Billion Feet: I’ve been looking forward to Anil Menon’s young adult novel for ages. This is a work of science fiction, it’s set in Pune, and it is incredibly satisfying. I came into this with perhaps unrealistically high expectations, having already read some of Menon’s shorter work (and fangirled his blog) – as a result it didn’t blow me away quite as much as it could have. But it’s good, and layered and thoughtful and never overdoes things, and there are so many angles (Tara’s relationship with Sanskrit and her Sanskrit teacher, for example) that I really want to revisit and think about some more. I will be rereading this, and soon.