Archive for ‘Books read in 2010’

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
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.