[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com

victorian-sex
The Making of Victorian Sexuality.
You might have noticed I do a lot of reading in Victorian & earlier primary sources. And one thing I keep running into is this difference between our perceptions of that era and what was actually happening. Like, at least in Tasmania, family sizes for most of that period are actually quite small. Less than a handful of kids, and often, as with the Shearn family I was talking about on FB today, one child. Ah, you say, that's because of the high infant mortality. To which I say, that's a fair comment but I first actually realised this when I was checking burials. If family sizes were small due to so many babies dying, they must have been burying them in the background because they don't appear in the death registers or burials. After a while of this, you have to consider that, maybe family sizes were small  because the birth rate was also low? And if so, how/why? Also,  much of what we are told about Victorian times concerns the middle & upper classes, and if you've read things I've written, whether blog posts or fiction, you might have noticed that's not the part of society I tend to deal with. So, this book apparently takes a look at these preconceptions and what was actually going on. I hope it might answer some questions/confirm some observations. And who doesn't like having their observations confirmed?

tea
The Social History of Tea.
This is a hardback with lots of coloured pictures, about tea. Also, I need a book about the history of tea drinking so I don't have to look up such things on Regency web sites. This rarely ends well. (High tea was not so called because it was taken at the "higher" (full-size table). Seriously. If you ever get told this, run away.)


Read more... )
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
For between the wars, we read The Dig by John Preston, about the archaeology dig at Sutton Hoo in 1939.

This one I finished. It is short, very easy to read and interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. But, I was left feeling dissatisfied. The overall tone is rather depressing, and it feels like everyone loses. There is no suspense/tension. That which is hinted at never develops. I also found the descriptions had to visualise. I had to look some up to get an idea of what he was on about.

It might have been better as narrative non-fiction.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I finally found a place to keep the House books. They had to move out because the latest arrival was too tall for their existing home.

I like to keep the non-fiction/research books in categories but it is getting harder to do. I have had to shelve some similar ones together, so there are different heights within one grouping. There are some General/Miscellaneous groupings because I sometimes get books that don't fit into my categories, but mostly the books I buy fit a Shelf (category). I like books that fit a Shelf because they are topics I need/find useful, and have some where to go. Particularly the small categories. They need more books, that is why they are small.

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So there are the House books on the middle left. Sort of defying gravity. They're mostly British so I need more :(. And the Police History books on the bottom right. They're hard to find.

More )
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Great Genre Reading Challenge trudges onwards, adding The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin. This was the entry for Victorian England, although it starts off in Crimea, which was as far as I got. After two chapters, I found I didn't care enough to keep reading. I felt the same distancing with the POV characters, like listening to someone talking about the actions rather than experiencing the actions.

Oh well.

Onwards to between the wars, with the The Dig by John Preston, which is short, at least.

Then we are almost out of the historical trenches. *dusts off arms*

Why Historical Fiction Will Never Go Away
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
There haven't been many acquisitions lately due to a shortage of funds. Blame the car, the laptop, the car, and the car again. Meh.

I can't believe how many years we managed without a car and now the damn thing is essential and it has to work every damn day.

Anyway, I digress, and if I continue this will turn into a blog about car woes, which are much less interesting than books.

The good news is that I finally exerted myself to potter down to the local library and now I have a shiny library card that lets me borrow books. Not just physical books from the library, but also ebooks, and audiobooks that I can play on my phone. The library interface allows me to browse the entire collection held by the county and put holds on books I want to read. Those books then magically appear at the local library at the massive expense of 25p each. That's almost affordable in these post-car-fixing days.

The first book I borrowed was Air Confidential: A Flight Attendant's Tales of Sex, Rage and Outrageousness at 30, 000 Feet by Elliott Hester.

Air Confidential cover

What is it about air travel that brings out the craziest, rudest and most ridiculous side of human nature? After fourteen years as an air steward Elliot Hester still doesn't know. However, he does know all about crazy passengers, stressed-out crew and the infamous Mile High club.

It looked like it might be fun. Sadly, it wasn't. Some of the stories could have been fairly interesting but Hester didn't seem to have the knack of rendering them funny. Shame. Turns out ordinary people are almost as mundane in the air as on the ground.

Mostly to work out how it was done, I later downloaded an audiobook of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel to my phone. It can be surprisingly restful lying and listening to someone read a book to you. Unfortunately, it's so restful that I haven't yet heard it all the way through.

Wolf Hall cover

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition.

Yes, the Tudors. You can't get away from them these days. Blearch.

Once my laptop came back from being mended (NB dropping your laptop on a concrete floor is Not Recommended), I explored the possibilities of obtaining books from the wider library collection. This involved working my way through the Mistressworks wishlist. Seems the library is almost as unpredictable in whether or not it has these books as online vendors can be, but I did find two.

Synners by Pat Cadigan.

Synners cover

In Synners, the line between technology and humanity is hopelessly slim. A constant stream of new technology spawns crime before it hits the streets; the human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with "reality" is incidental.

Shikasta by Doris Lessing.

Shikasta cover

This study guide consists of approx. 43 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more – everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Shikasta.

Intriguing, no? And with shades of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish series.

The third book that arrived is by a Mistressworks author, but not actually a Mistressworks book.

Where by Kit Reed.

Where cover

In a coastal town on the Outer Carolina Banks, David Ribault and Merrill Poulnot are trying to revive their stale relationship and commit to marriage, and a slick developer claiming to be related to a historic town hero, Rawson Steele, has come to town and is buying up property.

Doesn't sound very SFnal. But I checked on Goodreads and it is the same Kit Reed, so we shall see what we shall see.

Finally, a free book arrived through the door. Technically, it was addressed to [livejournal.com profile] monissaw but a free book is a free book. An ARC, hence the unconventional cover.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent.

Lying in Wait cover

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don't plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.

Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.


Nice people, huh?

Thus ends this desultory round-up of books I have not been able to buy this month.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Vast by Linda Nagata.

Vast was inadvertently omitted from the two Book Pile reviews, despite appearing in the Book Pile photo. Ooops.

Vast cover

This is a Mistressworks book, and also the third book in a trilogy, so again I was playing catch-up. It's very hard sf, which I often struggle with, but fortunately there is also lots of characterisation and events and stuff happening to keep the not-overly-scientific reader engaged. Even though I knew that the characters couldn't, strictly, die, due to the tech that enables the storage of their personalities and the creation of replacement bodies, there was still one point in the book where I feared for their lives. It takes very strong writing to achieve that level of involvement.

The crew of Null Boundary are fleeing the Chenzeme, who have launched a surprise and devastating war on human colonies. Pursued by a Chenzeme warship, they attempt to adapt Chenzeme biotech to their own purposes, in order to save themselves and their ship, while seeking the source of the Chenzeme and the reasons behind their hostility.

Strange though the Chenzeme are, the human(?) crew are almost as strange to us. They can make shadows of themselves to undertake routine tasks, then return with the results. One crew members is infected with a virus that both drives and enables him to convert others to a doctrine of communality. Another has blocked off huge chunks of his own memories. They interact in unfamiliar ways. Nagata has created a futuristic humanity that feels alien, yet is believable, however strange. The enemy Chenzeme are only marginally less comprehensible.

This is a long, dense, difficult book, not to be embarked upon lightly. But well worth the voyage.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather.

My Ántonia cover

There is irony in the title here, for Ántonia never "is" Jim Burden's, but at the same time he presents here the Ántonia he knew, "his" in the sense that in this first-person narrative we see her only through his eyes.

This book takes us into Jim's life after he is orphaned and shipped out to Nebraska, arriving at the same time as Ántonia, who is a few years older than him. She and her family have travelled all the way from Bohemia to make a new life in America, but seem unable to make a go of it.

As Jim grows up, he observes the lives of his neighbours, both on the farm and then in the town his grandparents move to, Black Hawk. Jim is a sympathetic narrator, observing and describing without necessarily condemning, and sometimes it's possible to see the woman's hand behind his character. Not a criticism--more an observation.

It's a lovely, beautifully-described, poignant book that draws you in even though nothing much is happening. Well worth a read.

Nebula Awards 2010 Showcase, edited by Bill Fawcett.

About time you read this, you say. Well. Okay. I have much much older books than this, unread, yanno!

Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 cover

This book is a mixed bag of short works and extracts of longer works from the winners of the 2010 Nebulas, as selected by the SFWA. I read all of it except the long poem and the article by Mike Resnick.

Best Novella 'The Spacetime Pool' by Catherine Asaro didn't really work for me. Janelle is snatched from her lonely everyday life by one of a pair of brothers, twins, each of whom needs to marry her or die. There's Ruthless Sexy Brother and Ruthless Cruel Brother and kidnapping and will-she-won't-she-be raped. None of this is to my taste. Plus, there's one somewhat painful sequence where Janelle feigns ignorance of mathematics in order to entice RCB to give her a clue to how to escape. RCB is obviously stupid to comply, and the whole scene is contrived to the max. Janelle attempts to use her mathematical knowledge to calculate how to return to her own world, only to discover it's hopeless. So she throws in her lot with RSB, even though RCB has sworn to destroy his brother with his substantially larger army.

Where the story does shine is in the enigmatic world Janelle enters, which appears to be at about the medieval level while having a far more advanced history. Janelle's attempts to puzzle out why this should be so, and to work out the functioning of the portal of the title, are far more interesting than the machinations of the twins. It would have been fascinating to have explored the world a little more, and its apparent revulsion for the learning that has deprived it of a large number of its population.

The next work of fiction (the fiction is interspersed with articles about the history of the genre) is an extract from Ursula K. Le Guin's YA novel Powers, which won Best Novel. The quality of Le Guin's writing is so much better than Asaro's that the contrast is felt. Relaxing into the narrative, I started feeling an urge to read Powers again. Le Guin is an astute but compassionate observer who never lets you write off characters, but insists you understand them, flaws and all.

Kate Wilhelm's 'Rules of the Game' is next, a funny short story in which a widow sets out to rid herself of the ghost of her philandering husband. Not deep, but well observed, and offers wry but gentle laughs.

Then we have 'Pride and Prometheus', a bizarre mashup of Pride and Prejudice with Frankenstein. It's not nearly as well written as Pride and Prejudice, and also ignores the marginalia of what actually happened to Bennett sister Mary, but it has to be said it's a lot better written than Frankenstein. Beyond its device, however, I couldn't find much to attract me in it. Mary doesn't really come across as the Mary of Austen's novel, Victor goes on to his fate anyway, and, er, that's it. I guess it's okay if you like that kind of thing.

'Trophy Wives' by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is entirely different: an original, thoughtful and touching story about two women helping a third escape from marriage to an alien toad. The story presents strange people in a strange world living odd lives, but their relationships and their dilemmas are familiar and apt.

M.J. Engh's 'Talking About Fangs' is another it's okay if you like that kind of thing story. A neat twist on vampires, it's still, unfortunately, got a lot in it about vampires, who have been done to death.

Of the Rhysling Award winners, only F.J. Bergmann's Eating Light stood out for me. It's a beautiful, clever poem that I would like to frame and stick on the wall so I can reread it occasionally. Its originality is breathtaking.

Flora's Dare, by Ysabeau S. Wilce, won the Andre Norton YA Award, and I read the extract from it with interest. It's exciting, kinda cyberpunky, and takes you into a world that is difficult to sort out. Very tempted to put it on my wishlist.

The last piece of fiction is 'The Streets of Ashkelon' by Harry Harrison. I've read it before but couldn't resist reading it again, because it is just so damn good. It tells what happens when the non-superstitious Weskers encounter a Christian missionary, and it doesn't end well. Beautifully written, well thought out, and utterly ruthless in the logicality of its ending.

I'm not interested in talking much about the non-fiction because, to be honest, I wasn't all that interested while reading it. The history of the genre pieces were largely an exercise in seeing if any women got mentioned--I think I came across C.L. Moore and Judith Merril, the spelling of whose name always eludes me.

feather boy by Nicky Singer.

feather boy cover

This is a book the other half bought for me from one of the charity shops we frequent. It's not something I would have chosen for myself.

Robert is bullied at school, and on the way to and from school, but through a relationship with the elderly Edith Sorrel, whose own son died at Robert's age, he begins to find courage and inner strength.

Stories about bullying...usually something I avoid. But I worked my way through this book and found it fairly rewarding. There's good complexity in the characters and the book doesn't take a monochrome view. But I don't want to write any more about it because I don't particularly want to think about it.

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth.

Four cover

Completism will be the end of me. This book is basically the opening scenes of Divergent before Roth decided it wasn't working with Four as a character and switched to writing about Tris, plus some deleted scenes. It is a completely unnecessary book. But, yanno. Fans.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Lots of my friends loved this book and I wanted to love it too. But.

The Long Way cover

Human clerk Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunnelling spaceship with a diverse crew. On their way to create a subspace tunnel for a tribe that's recently allied with the GC, to which the crew belong, they have various adventures, including a raid by pirates.

It's a fun book in many ways. The characters are mostly well drawn and very different, although Corbin, the kinda-sorta villain, is something of a cipher. We get to know the ship and the crew and to understand their work. I liked best the team of Jenks and Kizzy, the two techs, and Kizzy especially is fun (kinda like Holzman in Ghostbusters). But the narrative is episodic and patchy, and the book tries too hard to be PC for my taste. Yes, it's frothy PC fun, but sometimes too much sugar is too sweet. So I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would.

And, ouch, a prologue by any other name is still a flipping prologue.

Meridian by Alice Walker.

Had I been looking for something bitter to cut the sweetness of the previous book, I couldn't have chosen better than Meridian. It is awash with pain.

Meridian cover

This book's non-linear narrative tells the story of Meridian Hill, who goes from being a school dropout with a child and a deadbeat husband to a stalwart of the civil rights movement in the South, on the way getting an education at a college singularly ill-equipped to hold her. Even when almost crippled by illness, Meridian keeps fighting for her people's rights. There is nothing fluffy about this book; it's a no-holds-barred look at real people and real struggle. Painful but true.

The writing is consistently good throughout, although there was one point where I had to read back and still couldn't follow the shift in the narrative. There may have been a scene break omitted; I don't know. Overall though Walker draws her characters at least as large as life, and you don't mistake one for another.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier.

Another book that holds people up to the light and doesn't really like what it sees.

The Scapegoat cover

Unlike Meridian, however, this book deals with much smaller issues--the fortunes or otherwise of the family of the Comte de Gue, a prick of the first order. Jean the Comte takes the first opportunity to swap identities with his chance-met doppelganger, John, and leave him either to convince the world he's not the Comte or to try to sort out the Comte's troubled family, including a morphine addict mother, an estranged sister, and a daughter who sees visions of the Virgin Mary.

John the not-the-Comte wades into the family and also acts pretty much like a prick, treating the Comte's pregnant wife as he imagines the Comte would treat her and dashing off for pretty little trysts with the Comte's compliant mistress.

It's not an awful book; it's just full of awful people. Meh.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein.

Steerswoman cover

The Steerswoman plays with the reader's expectations, teasing them as to whether this story is "really" SF or if it's Fantasy. There's magic--or is there? Perhaps it's fakery. Or electricity. The reader must make up their own mind.

Steerswomen like Rowan (and a few men) are the keepers and disseminators of knowledge. They must answer any question they are asked or cease to follow their calling. In return, anyone who fails to answer their questions is blacklisted, unable ever to question a steerswoman again.

Rowan is intrigued by some gems or jewels that have turned up in various places, as if thrown across the land by a giant's hand. There's no obvious way they could have been made, or inserted themselves into trees. At the same time, they don't seem to have any particular value. Yet someone is determined to put an end to her investigation. For protection, Rowan links up with Outskirter Bel, and, despite the differences between them, they gradually become friends.

But as Rowan persists in investigating, the two friends are drawn further into danger.

I enjoyed this book. It sets up a believable and well-drawn society, and Rowan and Bel have strength, intelligence and endurance without being set up as superheroes. Their determination reminds me of Snake in Dreamsnake. My only difficulty was that Rowan's intellectual leap regarding the nature of the jewels struck me as coming out of the blue. I didn't feel enough groundwork had been laid for it to convince. A small blemish on an otherwise well-constructed book.

Where the narrative is strongest is in the interactions between Rowan and Bel. Both stick to their own principles while slowly coming to appreciate the other's point of view. As their friendship strengthens, so their characters gain depth. The young man whose help they obtain later in the story, William, is perhaps not quite so well characterised; in fact he's a bit annoying. Or maybe he's annoying because the author wants us to know, hey, this guy's annoying. But he means well.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

Polar City Blues cover

Set on the planet Hagar, where life is mostly conducted after dark, due to the sun's intensity, Polar City Blues is a curious mixture of a detective story with a First Contact tale. It has an impressively diverse cast, including a furry and naturally mute telepath, and white people who are considered inferior to the dominant blacks.

Hagar, a Republic planet, is caught between the rival powers of the Confederation and the Alliance. When an alien carli from the Confederation Embassy is found murdered, Chief Bates must investigate while walking a tightrope of diplomacy. And when telepath Mulligan is swatted by an unknown power, and an unknown assassin targets any witnesses to the carli's assassination, ex-Naval officer Lacey must put her life on the line to identify the assassin.

Add to this a crashed pod, another murdered alien, his distraught soulmate and a spreading alien bacterium that makes people smell of vinegar (and itch. And ITCH.).

Despite the SFnal trappings, there's much here that's tediously familiar. Drugs and drug dealing. Prostitution. Crime bosses. Spies. Hate mobs. Some part of me wants something different from human life on a different world. A way of living that, if not better, is at least other. Yet even the presence of effective telepaths doesn't seem to affect the way people behave.

Then we have Buddy, the AI who's in love with Lacey, and also incredibly cutesy and annoying. At some point in his narrative arc, I wanted to put the book down and walk away. It is possible to go too far in AI/human love rivalry, I fear.

The book is readable, if a bit slow-paced, and there's plenty of intrigue for those who can wrap their heads around such machinations.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

Dreamsnake cover

Dreamsnake is unusual among post-apocalyptic science fiction in that new ways of living have been built, some of them technological, others closer to the land, and there's very little harking back to the past. The 'ancients' are mentioned and some of their buildings and their mistakes survive, but for the most part Dreamsnake's characters live in the present. As do we.

Snake is a healer who uses three snakes to diagnose and cure illness and disease. One is Grass, a dreamsnake, a species that originates with offworlders who are mentioned but never appear. Dreamsnakes are incredibly rare and the healers have had very little luck in trying to breed them. Yet at the same time they are essential to the healer's work--they bring comfort and ease to the dying.

When she is treating a boy called Stavin for a tumour, Snake misjudges the fear and hatred of his clan for snakes, resulting in Grass's death. Desolate and blaming herself, Snake resolves to return to the healers' hall where she was trained. But on the way she finds more people to help, and learns of a possible source of dreamsnakes. If she can bring dreamsnakes to her fellow healers, then maybe the loss of Grass will be forgiven.

The writing is spare and overall doesn't try to evoke emotion in the reader, which perhaps makes for a little distancing. But Snake is an interesting and compassionate character, who is also brave when trying to do the right thing. On her journey she introduces us to the different ways of living that have developed in the aftermath of what seems to have been a nuclear war. Tribespeople, desert people, horse breeders, recyclers, the closed and enigmatic city, all are glimpsed through Snake's eyes and so imperfectly understood.

The snake medicine is fascinating, being a mixture of breeding, training, and genetic manipulation. Snake can let the snakes free to hunt, drink or explore, knowing they will return to her when she taps the ground. But although she's immune to their venom, she's not impervious to being bitten. It's these small details that make the snakes realistic.

Overall, an intriguing and enjoyable read.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Book pile

There has been much reading since the last post, and these aren't even all of them--just the ones that happened to be sitting in a 'read' pile on the floor. They're not in reading order as that would require organisation and proper entry of data into libib. They're just books I've recently read.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Memory cover

Book 10 in the Miles Vorkosigan series, and perhaps an odd choice when I haven't read 1-9, yet it was selected for the Mistressworks list, so here we are. The copy available on Awesome Books was a hardback, which isn't my favourite, but when you're buying cheap books online you take what's there. A nice, clean copy, anyway.

Memory was an easy read, but not a very satisfying one. It starts with Miles waking up, then goes into detailed flashback, and nothing much happens for about the first half of the book. When it finally gets going, it's interesting enough, and succeeded in fooling me as to the identity of the villain. But it reads more like a book for fans--perhaps not unreasonable when it's the tenth in a series. During the denouement I just kept wishing it would end.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

H is for Hawk cover

This was a much-recommended book when it first came out, and certainly piqued my interest. When I saw the hardback on sale at 99p in a charity shop, I grabbed it.

Books that receive this much praise are often a disappointment, but I adored H is for Hawk. It's passionate, devastating, and, ultimately, hopeful. After her father's death, Helen Mcdonald is locked into a grieving process without apparent end. An experienced falconer, she branches out into goshawks, which have a bad reputation, and acquires a young bird she calls Mabel. The book follows Mabel's training, known as 'manning' as well as Mcdonald's slow emergence from her state of grief. At no point does Mcdonald hold back on the emotions of her grief, and of her repeated sense at failure in manning Mabel, even though she has a friend who assures her she's doing fine.

Interspersed with this narrative is a commentary on T.H. White (of The Sword in the Stone fame) and his trials and tribulations in failing to man a goshawk he called Gos. Mcdonald takes us through White's own book, The Goshawk, and alternatively weeps and rages over his failings and the bird's suffering.

Not for the faint-hearted, and to be treated carefully by those experiencing their own grief.

Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter.

Heroes and Villains cover

Heroes and Villains is a post-apocalyptic novel, of which women seem to have written far more examples than I realised before I began reading through the Mistressworks list. And yes, this is another Mistressworks book. It's also short, but makes up for that by being very dense with description and the evocation of the post-disaster landscape.

The book follows the story of Marianne, born and raised in a heavily-protected university environment, who longs for the freedom and wildness offered by the bike gangs who frequently raid the settlement. When she sees a young raider injured and gone into hiding, she sets out to rescue him. Her naive wish for adventure lands her in the middle of the gang's temporary base, and married to the young man she tried to save, and who has raped her.

Carter never shies away from stories other writers might hesitate to consider, and here we are obliged to see Marianne coping with her new husband, and enjoying sex with him despite an unpromising beginning. She's living in a dream where he is the only bulwark against the other raiders and their rough lifestyle and unhealthy environment. At the same time, she has to deal with another exile from the universities that dot the landscape--her husband's gay mentor, who keeps trying to kill him.

It's an uncomfortable and uncomforting book that refuses to conform to a mainstream view of women and their relationships with men. Suppose you did marry your rapist--and suppose you were attracted to him because of his potential for violence, because of his wild beauty, and because he's everything you're not supposed to want? These are the places we dare not look.

Such a book should probably be loaded with trigger warnings.

Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan.

Queen City Jazz cover

One of the best SF writers you've never heard of, Goonan, here creates an astonishingly dense hard SF novel that explores a future of nanotech and the use of DNA for information storage. It's difficult to believe this book was first published in 1994, as the science is bang up to date.

It's not exactly a post-apocalyptic novel, for the world--well, Ohio--hasn't been destroyed so much as radically changed. People live in isolated communities, fearful of the nano-plagues that drive the infected to build rafts and sail down to New Orleans, where the conditions are unknown and unknowable.

Verity lives in a tiny community that worships a cult figure and by which she was adopted after being certified plague-free. Yet she has two curious bumps on her head, purpose unknown, which worry both her family and her. Verity longs to explore beyond her small world and to remember what she learns from the library's immersive couches, but her opportunity comes at a price. When a member of her community kills both her best friend and her dog, she must travel to Cincinnati in search of a way to bring them back to life.

(There are definite similarities up to this point with Heroes and Villains, see above)

Verity's trip to Cincinnati is fraught with danger and strange encounters, but it's when she penetrates the heart of the city that the story really begins. For Cincinnati's residents are caught in a cycle of impersonating artists and acting out stories that begins when the giant Bees awake from hibernation and continues remorselessly until winter returns.

Further, Verity discovers that she (and many other Verities both past and future) has been created for the purpose of finding a way to end this cycle, and return control of their own lives to Cincinnati's people. But is she up to the task? And what will she become?

A long and intense read that requires effort on the part of the reader, Queen City Jazz is also chock-full of references, most of which I probably didn't get. It would definitely reward insiders more.

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler.

Sister Noon cover

My niece gifted me this book when she went home, stating clearly that she didn't recommend it. We'd both loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but this book wasn't nearly as loveable, for reasons that remain obscure.

On the face of it, it's a Fantasy version of a tale familiar to those who've read books about the travails of poor, middle-class women attempting to present a genteel face to the world. Lizzie Hayes raises funds for a home for abandoned and illegitimate children, and even though she's only the treasurer, she keeps being called upon to make important decisions concerning the admission of children and their welfare. This inevitably brings her into conflict with the matron, who seems to be the only other person active in the running of the home.

But Lizzie's problems multiply when she meets Mrs Pleasant (who appears in the novel in several different guises) and learns, through Mrs Pleasant's nominal employer, that her own father may have murdered a young woman.

It's hard to know what in this novel is true, and what is an identity woven out of mystery and dreams. That's fine, but it's also hard to know if it's Lizzie's story, or Mrs Pleasant's in any of her multiple identities, or that of Jenny, the small orphan girl Lizzie is drawn to without much liking her.

Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a book; it just doesn't work for me. That may be the case here.

The Universe Against Her by James H. Schmitz.

The Universe Against Her cover

Many, many years ago, I read this book--or part of it--and it's stuck with me ever since. Stuck with me in the sense that I could remember Tick-Tock (but not her name) and some of the story, but neither author nor title. Finally I decided to cast my query onto the waters of the internet, and see what the tide brought me, and SF guru David Langford identified the book immediately.

The parts I remember are as good as I remember, but, to be honest, the book isn't all that good. It especially went downhill for me after the departure from the story of Tick-Tock, the giant, alien, telepathic cat, from the story. But it was lovely to know what book it was, and to read it again.

Telzey Amerbdon travels to the planet Jontarou to visit her aunt with her pet, Tick-Tock, who she found as a kitten and who appears to have a telepathic link with her. Unfortunately, the visit is a plot by the spiteful aunt to separate Telzey from her pet, who is apparently the last in a species of cats that once inhabited Jontarou. As those cats are now extinct, Tick-Tock must be impounded in the hope she can be used to repopulate the species.

But, as Telzey discovers, the cats are far from extinct--and they're very angry.

(end of part one)
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The acquisition of books is a never-ending process. It seems.

Many years ago, when I was a member of a writers' board called Backspace, one of the members was Sara Gruen, and there was a lot of chatter about her book Water for Elephants. It never struck me as a book I wanted to read, but when I saw a copy on sale on the Co-op's charity table the other day, I picked it up. Only 50p, so what the heck.

Water for Elephants cover

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

As I say, doesn't really sound like my kind of thing. But we'll see.

50p, remember.

I also bought a book by Philip Reeve that I thought was on my wishlist, but it was one I'd already read. I gave it to other half for their school library, so it wasn't a total waste. Only 50p, again.

In pursuance of my goal of reading, or at least attempting to read, all the books on Ian Sales' SF Mistressworks list, I bought another four books from Awesome Books, of which three have arrived.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Memory cover

This turned out to be a hardback, which is nice in some ways, but a tad annoying in others, as I find them more difficult to read. Their corners dig into my hands. Yes, I have supersoft hands, thanks not to Fairy Liquid, but to a regimen of moisturising to keep my eczema at bay.

Mind you, no book has caused me as much pain as the paperback of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was so large and heavy it made my hands and wrists ache.

Anyway, back to Memory. Remember that? (Yuk Yuk)

Forced to abandon his undercover role as leader of the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles Vorkosigan persuades Emperor Gregor to appoint him Imperial Auditor so he can penetrate Barrayar’s intelligence and security operations (ImpSec).

This is the tenth book in the Vorkosigan saga, and to be honest I'm not quite sure why Ian picked it for the list. I think I've read a book in this series before, and didn't become an instant fan. Still, I'm willing to give it a try.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

(The title of this book always makes me want to start singing, "Union, Union, Union City Blues." But I digress.)

Polar City Blues cover

A handsome paperback this one, with a good cover.

Polar City: capital of Hagar, one of a handful of worlds on which the tiny, human-dominated Republic sits, uneasily squeezed between the powerful Interstellar Confederation and the enormous Coreward Alliance.

I have to say, I hoped it would be a city in Antarctica, so there's a slight measure of disappointment here.

The quote from Locus on the back doesn't inspire me, either: "There's cops, there's drugrunners, there's whores and pimps...." Uh. Good? How...original.

I probably need to go into this book with a more optimistic mindset than it's given me reason for so far.

Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan.

I observed recently on Twitter that there are a lot of SFFnal books with "City" in the title. Someone should look into that someday.

Queen City Jazz cover

In Verity's world, nanotech plagues decimated the population after an initial renaissance of utopian nanotech cities. Growing up on an isolated farm, she finds her happy life changing course when Blaze, the only young man in the community, and Verity's best friend, is shot.


I felt obliged to insert a comma into that description. You may guess where, if you like.

That's it for the Mistressworks books for now. There's plenty to come, however--it's a long list.

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler.

My niece from America came to visit us recently (I think her parents were there as well) and gave me this book once she'd finished reading it. "I don't recommend it," she said, which isn't a great recommendation, but hey, a book is a book.

Sister Noon cover

I see I had no idea where to shelve this book, so it went in "General Fiction". Maybe I'll have a better idea once I've read it.

I have read other KJF books and enjoyed them, particularly Sarah Canary and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but then there was The Jane Austen Book Club, so.... We'll see.

Lizzie Hayes, a member of the San Francisco elite, is a seemingly docile, middle-aged spinster praised for her volunteer work with the Ladies Relief and Protection Society Home, or "The Brown Ark". All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions.

Pointing From the Grave by Samantha Weinberg.

Pointing From the Grave cover

A charity shop find, this one, picked up for "future reference". Maybe one day I will write the crime novel I've got all these research materials for.

Pointing from the Grave is not only a riveting true-crime story but also a fascinating history of the development of DNA research and its role in forensics, taking the reader on a virtual history of DNA with hard science presented in a very accessible and exciting way. It is also an unforgettable story about an unforgettable woman.

That's all the ones I can find for now. Books appear from every crevice, so there's undoubtedly more.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
This one was the Girl who saved the king of Sweden, which is rather funny in an absurd sort of way.

Although it bogs down in the middle, and the story doesn't progress, but the end is satisfactorily satisfying, and funny in places. It's very good for reading on the bus, or probably any travel reading.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I went to the podiatrist's with my Dad on Tuesday, and the hospital housing said podiatry has a small tea shop that sells secondhand books. Books of course have a magnetic attraction for both me and Dad. Nothing immediately suggested itself for buying, but when I looked under the most obvious shelf, among the jigsaws I found a copy of The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen, marked at 60p. Although someone had attached a sticky label to write the price on, the first stroke of 6 was actually on the book's cover.

The Tearling books have had some traction on Twitter, so I decided to buy this one and give it a try. What's one more book?

Queen of the Tearling cover image

Handsome cover, is it not?

Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret after her mother – a monarch as vain as she was foolish – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard - each pledged to defend the queen to the death - arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding...

So onto the pile it goes.

Before it became apparent that my mad money was hostage to the diesel needed to get OH to and from work, I ordered four more books from Ian Sales' Mistressworks list. Most of these books are out of print, and difficult to find on the high street, so it's easiest to get them from a mass secondhand retailer like Awesome Books. Four books cost me just under £11 with free postage.

As I've mostly been buying books from the start of the wishlist, I decided to buy some from the end for a change. So instead of G's and H's I've ended up with S W and V.

Alphabetically, they are:

Star Rider by Doris Piserchia, published by The Women's Press in 1987 (first published 1974).

Star Rider cover image

The Women's Press published a small but distinctive imprint of SF by women and Ian Sales has compiled a non-definitive list here.

Jaks claim humans as their ancestors, but have developed, along with their mounts, the power to jump through dimensions and skip across the spaces between the stars. There are other inhabitants of the galaxy and they have their eyes on one young jak: the dreens want to imprison her in motherhood; the varks grin and stay inscrutable. But Jade of the Galaxy has a razor sharp mind and a faithful mount called Hinx. Where will she skip to? Who will she take with her?

Sounds a bit like what all the cool kids are now calling YA. Let's hope Hinx doesn't turn out to be a jinx.

This book had a small faded sticker on the back from Ryman, now removed.

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein, published by Pan in their Fantasy imprint.

This book is described on the back as Science Fiction/Fantasy, so I'm wondering if it really belongs in a Science Fiction list. Maybe reading it will provide clarification.

The Steerswoman cover image

The jewel was opalescent, its blue and purple tones shifting with the play of light on its silver-veined surface. The face was perfectly smooth, far smoother than a jeweller could have cut it. In all her travels, Rowan had seen only a few like it--and she was sure they were no natural creations.

The blurb goes on to mention wizards. Sounds a bit Fantasyish to me.

Vast by Linda Nagata, published by Gollancz.

Vast cover image

Aboard Null Boundary, a giant starship thousands of years old, four survivors of an ancient alien war are making a desperate journey.

On the back of this book was a small sticker from Oxfam reading, obscurely, 13.

Now that sounds a lot more like Science Fiction to me.

The Wave and the Flame by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, also published by Gollancz.

The Wave and the Flame cover image

They came to the planet in search of wealth--and found a mystery as old as time....

No stickers on this one, and, going by the spine, it's never been read.

There's another book on its way, but we'll talk about that another time.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Gently at a Gallop, by Alan Hunter
From Doon With Death, by Ruth Rendell

I'm putting them together as they're similar books. Short police procedural/crime novels that were published in 1971 & 1964. They both rely for their resolution on something that, was at the time, somewhat unthinkable, and therefore works as a twist. When it is thinkable, after all I've encountered it before, the endings become predictable and even a little dull as you watch the investigators went their way to the "obvious" solution, while still hoping there might be another twist. The Gently book in particular was particularly slow in this respect, also there were a lot of things that... I'll call them lumps in the plot. Things that suggested something was not as it should be but were not followed up on. Not so much red herrings as a feeling the author wasn't sure where the story was going, or changed the end, and didn't go back to smooth out the loose threads.

I'm not sure about reading these books. They're the literary equivalent of an episode of a police drama TV series. Someone dies, the regular characters investigate with little/no side plots, the problem is resolved and everyone goes back to whatever they were doing; and they do that well but I tend to think if I'm reading a book I want something other than what I can get on TV.

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, by Ruth Rendell.

This is more of a... actually not sure what to call it. I'd say psychological suspense but that is something different. Someone dies and as a result, lives are change. However, it's obvious from the start who will die and by whom, and the murder occurs about half way through. The book looks at the lives of various characters who were affected by the (soon to be) dead guy and what happened to them. Even though I didn't really care for the characters much, a shortcoming on the part of the reader I suspect, I was happy when they came to a happy end and sad when they didn't. I wanted to like the book, but nothing happened and slowly. Although, I think overall, I did enjoy reading it.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Bleeding Land, by Giles Kristian

One of the requirements (not by me) for this category was a book that wasn't pro-Royalist. This left us with a choice of... one book.

Now, I realise a reason for reading historical fiction is to get immersed in another time and place, and therefore it is to be expected that there will be lots of setting the scene stuff, but you know, it is possible to have too much. The opening chapters seem to be just setting the scene and starting on the road to establishing the characters' motives.

It doesn't help that the POV is... awkward in places. It's a loose POV, switching every few paragraphs between two or three main characters, and at other times, mostly in the descriptive stuff, there's an more omniscient narrator, which is fine. Not my preferred approach but it works, except there are insertions that force what should be narrator's comments into the POV of one of the main characters, so "Tom had heard" or "Tom knew that" or such. It feels like the author is trying to make the POV tighter but instead it is jarring and draws attention to the info dumps.

Still, I read through to chapter 4, then on the bus trip home, I picked it up to resume reading and accidentally read some later pages, which weren't very appealing. I flicked few more pages and, basically, decided gorish/ghoulish/whatever to read anymore.

It is book one of a trilogy (but I'm not sure the last book has been written yet) and a large part of it seems to be manuevering the characters into their positions for the rest of the story. I'm not really that interested. It apparently picks up and is better, if a bit violent, in the second half, but I have given up.

If you like immersive historical fiction that gives you plenty of room to dwell on happenings and has, I assume, lots of highly detailed battle scenes, you might like this.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The Middle Ages used to be a period in which I was very interested--my History "A" Level covered 1066 to Magna Carta, and we also did a special study of King John. Over the years I have somewhat lost touch with the subject, and although I buy books on it occasionally, I'm much more interested n the Romans these days.

My only real connection with Medieval Historical Fiction is my collection of Cadfaels, painstakingly completed through visits to charity shops and secondhand bookshops. I can see it from where I'm typing. So many Cadfaels have I in fact read that they weren't eligible for the challenge. So we went hunting through various online places in order to find something that appealed to, and was available to, us both.

This took some time.

After we'd settled on The Greatest Knight, and both obtained copies, it took time for our reading schedules to align so we could begin reading more-or-less at the same time. [livejournal.com profile] monissaw was reading Lindsay Davis and I was deep into Body of Glass. But finally the moment arrived.

The book opens with a series of dreams that convey backstory. This was not what I considered a hopeful start. Dreams and backstory. All that was missing was a mirror, but, as [livejournal.com profile] monissaw pointed out, full-length mirrors weren't available way back then. Inconsiderate, really.

Sadly, the book never got better. [livejournal.com profile] monissaw has given her own reasons why she didn't find it engaging, but, for me, the problem was the lack of conflict. Obviously with a historical subject you're somewhat constrained by the history, but there isn't any need to write a hagiography unless that's your intention. It felt as if Chadwick's admiration for her subject had overridden the need to write an exciting story.

Protagonist William Marshall is poor and a little concerned that his mentor and fief lord will cast him off as he simply has too many knights hanging off his sleeves. Nor can anything be expected from William's family. So, what does he do? Distinguishes himself in battle, of course. But oops! he's forgotten to take prisoners for ransom. Well, no matter, he can ride off and make himself a fortune in tournaments instead.

He's left with a dodgy horse but no matter! he can fix the horse's problem instantly.

There's no immediacy of threat in any of this, and no obstacle, apparently, that William can't bound over with feet to spare. So there's nothing in it for this reader. I want to see a character driven up a tree and then watch rocks being thrown at them. Provided I care about the character, of course.

The setting is fine, although sometimes period-accurate words like "destrier" seem uncomfortable on the page. There's just nothing driving the story, and so no reason for the reading to continue.

I got partway into chapter four before [livejournal.com profile] monissaw and I agreed we could stop.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
This is the modified list. Anything to be added or removed?

Literary Fiction: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

Children's: Liar & Spy

Young Adult: Sea Hearts

Chick Lit: Can You Keep A Secret

Comedy

Historical
--Classical: The Emperor's Spy
--Middle Ages: The Greatest Knight
--English Civil War: The Bleeding Land
--Colonial Australia: The Gentleman's Garden
--Victorian England: The Street Philosopher
--Interbellum: The Dig
--World War II

Horror

Mystery
--Amateur Detective
--Cozy
--Courtroom Drama
--Espionage
--Heists and Capers
--Historical
--Medical
--Police Procedural
--Private Detective
--Psychological Suspense

Romance
--Contemporary
--Ethnic/multicultural
--Historical Romance
--Inspirational Romance
--Paranormal Romance
--Regency Romance
--Romantic Suspense

Thriller
--Medical Thriller
--Techno Thriller
--Suspense
--Conspiracy
--Crime
--Police Procedural

Western
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The History: Medieval book took a while to choose, as we couldn't find one that looked like we'd want to read. Finally we decided The Greatest Knight, by Elizabeth Chadwick looked like a good compromise. Then I had to wait for a copy to come available at the library, then finish the book I was already reading, and by the TGK had to go back to the library because someone else wanted, so I bought a cheap copy and waited for that to arrive. Gah.

And after all that... it starts with the MC asleep, dreaming, about himself as a child. Yeah. So the first three chapters are episodes in the life of the MC. Maybe the whole book is like that, or maybe it gets more of a connected narrative, I don't know because I stopped reading after the third chapter. If I want episodic life histories, I'll read a biography, and that way I can skip the lists of what they eating and other lovely created descriptions that did nothing to evoke a sense of the place to me. The only thing it evoked was the feeling that the author had done a lot of research and wanted to include all these lovely details. (Historical fiction usually makes me feel like that, this is why I Don't Like It.)

I'm sure it's a very good book if you like fictionalised account of famous people with lots of visual details. I don't, and this seems to be what Medieval History book seem to be about, or war, or both. This is why it took us so long to find one to read :)
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Books are getting expensive. Very expensive. £9.99 for a paperback novel? Ouch.

I only bought one book today at that price, and I paid for it with my stampy card from Waterstones. Obviously I don't get a full stampy card all that often--you have to buy £100s worth of books to fill one, and that's only if you buy them £10 at a time. Although if you're nice to the bookseller they'll sometimes stamp your card twice if you've spent more than £10 but not quite £20.

£9.99 for a paperback. Sheesh.

Today's books:

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel;
Joseph Priestley by A.D. Orange (a Shire Lifelines book);
S.S. Great Britain (a small guidebook published for the SS Great Britain Society);
Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet we Made by Gaia Vince
and
Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland.

The Anthropocene was in the clearance box in Waterstones at half price. I was torn between it and an interesting-looking book about autism. Planet won.

Then we went and had pizza. A self-indulgent day. We need one occasionally.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Mad money time came round again so I bought another four books off Ian Sales' Mistressworks list:

Leviathan's Deep by Jayge Carr;
Lost Futures by Lisa Tuttle;
Body of Glass (aka He, She and It) by Marge Piercy and
Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter.

Slowly but surely whittling it down--but what shall I do for a book list when I'm finished?

Also purchased at the charity shops and local bookshops recently:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy;
Villette by Charlotte Bronte;
Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen;
Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain by John Peddie;
The Fabled Coast: Legends & Traditions of Britain and Ireland by Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood, and
World War I in Photographs, edited by J.H.J. Andriessen.

The Kingshill/Westwood book has a list price of £25.00 and looks absolutely brand spanking new. Bizarre.

A good haul, all in all; I'm especially looking forward to the Magellan book.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Some books I found lying around my chair and which therefore I must have bought recently and neglected to take upstairs.

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells.

It's not often one of the charity shops throws up Book 1 in a series. So, yay. If I like it I may actually buy another one new. This has been known to happen.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

This book got a lot of traction when it first came out, but it was out of my price range. At £14 off, it's a steal.

The Phantom Army of Alamein by Rick Stroud.

I actually bought this for Dad, but he doesn't seem to want it, so it can go upstairs and be added to the massive piles blocking the floor.

The Time Team Dig Book by Tim Taylor.

For the pictures. And, no, not the pictures of Tony Robinson. Really, people!

(I am digging these books out from under piles of magazines. I read a lot of magazines, apparently!)

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

For the Mistressworks list. For which I also recently picked up a few others:

The Archivist by Gill Alderman and

Missing Man by Katherine MacLean (ebook).

Also a book by a Mistressworks author:

1610: A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle.

Sometimes I do this when I can't get the actual book; in this case the actual book is (probably) 220 miles away.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett.

Part of the "round-up" of Pratchett books we inexplicably don't already have. Conversely, once we conflated our collection with Dad's, we now have two copies of some books--and, in at least one case, three.

A Million Suns and Shades of Earth by Beth Revis.

These books were sitting on the shelves of the little tea shop at the hospital where Dad sees his podiatrist. They're books two and three of a series. No sign of book one. I was reluctant to buy them without the first book but they were half-price and the covers were soooo good. So. Here we are.

And finally, to prove I don't buy all my books secondhand, these are recent prizes from Waterstones:

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab;

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan and

The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

All of which I am looking forward to so much I almost don't dare read them.

The bookshelves groan, or they would if there were even a smidgeon of space left on them.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I haven't been updating here on what I'm reading because I've been alternating between Terry Pratchett's City Watch sub-series and Lindsey Davies' Falco series (PI in Ancient Rome).

While I finished the last of the Pratchett book's last year, the next-mn line Falco book was a little... slow. It took me a couple of months to finish it. Really. While I like the books in this series set in Rome, the ones where they go travelling are actually quite boring. A lesson in how not to handle info dumps. Fortunately, the next one awaiting me is a Rome one.

Anyway, didn't seem a lot of point to updating a reading project in progress, although half of it is done now. So some general comments on the Pratchett books, actually one. They got better as they went one, which is interesting because they also got more... serious. Darker. However, the writing also improved. Technically, and also in depth. The depth of the writing, the characters, the emotions. And still able to make me laugh out loud.

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