dolorosa_12: (newspaper)
First up, nominations have now opened for [community profile] waybackexchange, so if you're thinking of participating, you have until 20th February to get your nominations in. I've already used up all my nomination slots, but if anyone has any free, please do drop me a comment here (or a DM) as I have at least one other fandom I'd love to get nominated.

[personal profile] ladytharen has created a great new comm for Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, so if you're interested, please do think about joining!


Join Here!
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This week's books )

This week's TV )

Other weekend stuff )
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Firstly, and most importantly, [personal profile] firstaudrina is hosting a multifandom friending meme. If you're interested in participating, follow the link below:

multifandom friending meme

A few people have added me as a result of the meme, and rather than doing an entirely new introduction post, I'll point you towards my most recent one, done in January after my post-reveals Yuletide friending meme. Feel free to ask me anything about stuff I brought up in that post.

I'd also like to put in another plug for [community profile] waybackexchange, a fic and art exchange for fandoms older than ten years. Nominations will open in a couple of days' time, and in the meantime, the mod is going through a review period where you can make the case for borderline canons (such as works older than ten years which have been adapted more recently, or canons with various continuities, such as comics). Given most of my favourite canons are old, this is definitely the exchange for me, and I'm looking forward to taking part!

A few links to things I found interesting )

What I've been up to this weekend )

You might have noticed that after my flurry of posting about books read in January, my reading has slowed to a crawl. I can't say I've read anything that's blown my mind: I read a theological history of Judaism in the centuries on either side of the BCE/CE dividing line, as well as early Christianity. While many of its specifics were new to me, its overall argument was not (to sum up: Judaism was in a great deal of flux during this time, and Christianity, when it emerged, was in no means contrary to Judaism at that point because at that time there were several competing understandings of what Judaism was, and basically religions are fluid, evolving things that change to address the concerns of the times), so it didn't exactly blow my mind. I guess it would do if you had a much more rigid understanding of religion, maybe? The other book I've read so far this month, The Pale Queen's Courtyard by Marcin Wrona, is historical-ish fantasy set in an alternative version of ancient Babylon, with fake fantasy Babylonians, Persians and I guess Egyptians. Matthias and I have been on the lookout for books set in this region (not so much Egypt, as it's fairly well served), but there seems to be a real dearth. I found this novel frustrating: flimsy characterisation, cartoonish female characters, and an anachronistic understanding of religion which the author admits in his afterword he added for a sense of conflict. Basically his 'Persian' characters try to impose their religion on others and stamp out the worship of a particular goddess, but in pre-monotheistic times (and even afterwards), peoples might decide to worship a single god, or that other nations' gods were weak or evil, but they generally accepted that other pantheons existed. As I say, the book was frustrating.

I'll wrap this post up here, as it's a bit of a mishmash, but as always, I'm keen to hear what you're reading, watching, cooking and so on. How have your weekends been? And, new people adding me from the friending meme, feel free to ask me anything about stuff raised in my intro post.
dolorosa_12: (dolorosa)
When you last left me after my discovery of K.J. Charles's books, I had read The Magpie Lord and the follow-up short story, 'Interlude with Tattoos'. I followed this up almost immediately by finishing the series, reading A Case of Possession, 'A Case of Spirits', Flight of Magpies and 'Feast of Stephen' in quick succession. They confirmed for me that Charles is above all a generous and compassionate writer whose characters are — villains and antagonists aside — fundamentally decent people trying to do good. And sometimes it's just relaxing and restorative to read things along those lines. Most of the people commenting in my previous post about K.J. Charles recommended Band Sinister and Jackdaw to read next, and I'm sure I'll get onto them at some point.

Other than the three books that I reviewed on my reviews blog, the only other book read in January that I've not mentioned yet was The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a book by Katherine Paterson that had been on my to-read list for years. Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, although unlike most people I did not discover her through Bridge to Terebithia, but rather Of Nightingales That Weep, her gorgeous, tragic, bittersweet historical fiction set during the time of the Genpei War. So although I did eventually read her contemporary US fiction, I was always much more taken with her historical fiction set in Japan and China. Hence wanting to read The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, which I had not actually realised was a picture book. However, that is what it is — a gorgeous, fairytale of a story with beautiful illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon in the style of Japanese woodblock prints.

It's February, and that means it's time for [community profile] halfamoon again. Every year I think I should participate — I'm mostly only interested in fanworks about female characters, I certainly only write fanfic about female characters, but every year it seems to sweep past me without me being able to get involved. Part of the problem is that I can't just sit down and write fic immediately on the basis of a prompt — it takes me a bit longer than a single day to get inspired, and so everything feels too rushed. But if you like female characters and are faster at producing fanworks than I am, I highly recommend checking it out.

One challenge that I'm definitely going to get involved in is [community profile] waybackexchange, an exchange for works in fandoms that are at least ten years old (i.e. it's been at least ten years since any new installment of canon). There are more details about eligibility in the comm, and I hope that all of you who, like me, are mainly fannish about old stuff, nominate and write for this exchange!

How are your weekends shaping up?
dolorosa_12: (mucha moet)
Three of the books I was most anticipating for 2019 were published in three consecutive weeks in January, so I've been having a fantastic time reading this month! All of them were utterly fabulous, and exactly what I hoped for — so they're going to be a hard act to follow. The books are The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (the final book in her Winternight Trilogy, historical fantasy that weaves mythology with the events of fourteenth-century Russia), The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty (the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, a series about the political tensions in a djinn kingdom from the point of view of a girl who began her life as a scammer in the streets of Cairo during the Napoleonic wars), and The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (the first in a series of heist novels whose characters live in a magical version of Belle Époque Paris and essentially steal back the antiquities looted by colonial powers).

I reviewed all three books over on my reviews blog, and as always would love to talk with you about them in the comments either here or there.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
It's been snowing in much of the UK this weekend, although not in Cambridge. However, it has been freezing here — witness the frost as I walked in to the market this morning. I've just returned from a walk to and from Grantchester, and although it was around 2pm when I was out, much of the frost on the ground has not thawed at all.

Other than walking around in frosty landscapes, I've spent a lot of the weekend out — on Friday night Matthias and I went out to one of our favourite wine shops/bars for a few drinks and food truck dinner, and on Saturday it was my former academic department's annual black tie dinner. The number of current students/postdocs/lecturers I know in the department shrinks every year, but most of the time alumni come back for the dinner, so there's always a good handful of people I know to catch up with at the dinner.

My remaining spare time this weekend has been spent reading. As well as Roshani Chokshi's glorious The Gilded Wolves, which I finished on Friday and will probably review more extensively later, I devoured K.J. Charles's The Magpie Lord while lying in a pool of sunshine on the couch this morning. I know a lot of people in my circle are fans of Charles (if my Goodreads feed is anything to go by), and enough people whose reading tastes I trust seemed to have read some or all of her work, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a sweet, undemanding m/m romance novel, a great blend of mystery, historical fiction and fantasy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt to me as if it could be an interlude within the universe of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — the way magic worked felt similar, as did the scaffolding of myth and folklore, although it lacked the literary-ness (and playful re- and deconstruction of the conventions of nineteenth-century novels). And it was just restful to read about fundamentally good and decent people being generous and brave, you know? As a bonus, the ebook also included a short story, 'Interlude with Tattoos', set in the same world, which temporarily fed my hunger for this series — although I suspect I will be buying the next two books in the series as soon as I've finished this blog post!

Other books I've read recently include Katherine Arden's The Winter of the Witch, which again I plan to review more extensively later, The Mermaids in the Basement by Marina Warner (a short story collection in the vein of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, in which biblical tales, stories from Greek myth and so on are given a second-wave feminist twist), and The Prince of Darkness, the fourth in Sharon K. Penman's Justin de Quincy stories (historical mysteries in which the protagonist is a private detective of sorts working for Eleanor of Aquitaine). Both these latter two books had been on my 'to read' list for a very long time, so I'm glad to have finally read them.

What has everyone else been reading this week?
dolorosa_12: (sellotape)
I normally work full-time, but I'm on leave today due to having a few leftover days of annual leave to use up before the end of January. I generally tend to keep a handful of the previous year's days of leave in reserve, because the return to work after Christmas is always draining (visiting my in-laws in Germany, while enjoyable, is not exactly restful, due to the travel and the whirlwind of social events, so I tend to return after the Christmas break feeling almost as tired as I did when it started), and the winter darkness itself is draining. The few days of leftover leave in January, therefore, are a chance to recharge, and just get stuff done: it's amazing how much more I'm able to get done on weekends when I know they're going to be three days, rather than two!

What that meant, over the past three days, for me, was cleaning/housework (cleaning the bathroom, wet- and dry-dusting of all the window frames, skirting boards and hard surfaces, cleaning the fridge, and the usual weekend grocery shopping in the market and laundry), exercise (running with Matthias tonight, and, blissfully, starting the day with a long yoga session which I'd normally not have time to do before work), blogging here at Dreamwidth and responding to the remainder of comments on my various Yuletide fics, and, above all, reading.

I've read five books so far this year, most of which took place over the course of this three-day weekend. Two of the books were Christmas or birthday gifts from Matthias: The Vampire: a New History by Nick Groom, which is an academic book about the development of vampire mythology and literary representations of vampires between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries (everything leading up to Dracula, basically), and N.K. Jemisin's collection of short stories, How Long 'til Black Future Month?, of which I had only read 'The City Born Great' before. The former book was a Christmas present, and the latter a birthday present (I'm born in late December).

The Jemisin short stories were, for the most part, excellent: I generally felt those set in secondary worlds (one was set in the universe of her Dreamblood duology and one in the world of The Fifth Season) were weaker than those set in fantastical versions of various cities in the US. Those latter stories ranged in setting from modern New York to a steampunk alternate history New Orleans in which technological innovation gave Haitian revolutionaries the ability not only to overthrow those who had enslaved them but also thrive and prosper (in stark contrast to what happened to Haiti in reality) and undertake clandestine operations to improve the lot of slaves and free black people elsewhere in the region, with some excellent interludes in the Jim Crow-era US South (a woman's bargain with transplanted European fairy folk aids the civil rights movement), a side trip to Italy, and a return to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These stories are in some ways a love letter to the cities in which they take place, but even more a love letter to black history, culture and communities that have flourished in those cities and regions in spite of everything.

Other than those two gift books, I read Jade City by Fonda Lee, the first in a trilogy about warring families of gangsters in a fantasy East Asian city (it seemed most like Hong Kong to me, but Lee has said that it's an amalgam, rather than directly inspired by a single place). Lee herself has a martial arts background, and it definitely shows — alongside the obvious wuxia influences. I felt it started a bit slowly, but once it got going, it was rivetting, particularly the complex network of obligations, family and marriage ties that underpinned her imagined society. Underneath all the magical jade, deadly intoxicating substances, and shoot-outs in casinos and cafes, Jade City remains a deeply human story, about flawed people, and the lonely cost of power.

I've also been trying to make a dent in my 'to read' list on Goodreads. Towards the end of last year I went through the whole list and looked up how easy it would be to track down the already published books at various libraries, or secondhand, and ordered a bunch of secondhand books. These are just starting to trickle in, and I read one such book, The Singing Stone by O.R. Melling, this morning. This was one of my most adored books when I was a teenager — I borrowed it repeatedly from the public library, and wrote futurefic about the characters, and so on — but I never owned a copy and hadn't read it for at least fifteen years. Given its subject matter (a fantasy retelling of various medieval Irish texts) I was concerned it wouldn't hold up (my background as a researcher of medieval Irish literature means most 'Celtic' fantasy is painful to read), but I shouldn't have worried. It did have a lot of the familiar 'Celtic' fantasy clichés, but its interweaving of myriad different texts (Lebor Gabála Érenn, which is one of the texts I focused on in my PhD, Scél Tuáin meic Chairill, and Cath Maige Tuired were the ones I recognised) was deft, and it mostly held up. It did that irritating thing of completely ignoring the fact that these, like all medieval Irish texts, were composed in ecclesiastical establishments, and have a huge Christian component, instead pretending that they were the work of pre-Christian times, but since basically everyone apart from medievalists thinks 'Celtic' literature is like this, I can't criticise Melling too much (and indeed, the story she was trying to tell wouldn't work if she didn't misrepresent these texts in this manner). In any case, it was a nice little moment of nostalgia, reading one of the books that no doubt subtly influenced me in my decision to pursue medieval Irish as a major in undergrad (although I had to laugh at the main character learning Old Irish to a level of proficiency that she was able to converse in it after a single year of study).

The final book I've read so far is Night Vine, the second in Felicia Davin's Gardener's Hand trilogy, but I'll leave off saying anything about it now as I want to write a longer review of the whole trilogy when I've read it.

The other thing I did this weekend was finally start filling some of the many new icon slots I have since I was kindly given six months of paid time here on Dreamwidth by a very generous friend. I've only ever had a free account here (and on LJ previously), so I'd been used to dealing with a maximum of just fifteen icon slots — hardly enough to convey the full range of emotions or subjects I want to convey when I'm posting or commenting! The one hundred I get with the paid account seems like an astonishing luxury, and I still haven't filled them all, but it's nice to finally be able to use some of the various icons I've been carrying around with me since I first went online more than ten years ago. I'm still very much looking for icons to convey the subjects of (paper) journalling, fountain pens, cooking, and coffee, so if anyone has any recommendations for places to look for these, or favourite icon making communities that focus on non-fannish icons, I would greatly appreciate it, as I am utterly incapable when it comes to anything involving the creation of images.

How have your weekends been? What have people been reading?
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
My weekend has been a bit of a mix in terms of activity. I spent quite a bit of time working on various Yuletide treats. So far I've got the main assignment and two treats pretty much finished, and one final treat that needs a bit more work. I would like to be able to manage a fourth treat, but I don't think it's doable in the time remaining, as I generally find it too draining to write after work during the week.

On Saturday I met up with [personal profile] nymeth for coffee, and we talked books, libraries, and migrant life. We met in a new-to-me cafe, which is always astonishing to me, as I always think I've tried every single independent cafe in Cambridge.

Today was mostly spent shopping in town. I normally avoid central Cambridge on weekends, particularly Sunday afternoons, as it gets really crowded with tourists and shoppers, but this couldn't be avoided. Matthias was collecting various new items of clothing that he'd ordered online and had sent to the shops, and we needed a few bits and pieces for the kitchen, and this was probably the last chance to sort all this out before the new year. We did take the chance to have Vietnamese food for lunch, and stop off for some beer (him) and mulled wine (me) at the temporary winter beer garden organised by one of our favourite Cambridge businesses, [instagram.com profile] thirstycamb. They had a fire pit!

Other than these various outings, I've spent the weekend watching my Tumblr queue to import to Wordpress (it's still queueing, but having poked around in their forums, it seems that it's taking about five days for the imports to start, due to volume, so I'm not particularly worried), and finishing off a couple of books. Thornfruit, by Felicia Davin, had intriguing worldbuilding, and a great central f/f relationship between a wild, confused teenage girl with mindreading powers and the ability to wound with direct touch, and another teenage girl who yearns for something more than her family's farm and market stall. They also live on a tidally-locked planet (their city is in perpetual sunlight, other regions in perpetual darkness), which I thought was really cool. It's the first of a trilogy, and I'll likely buy the other two to read when I'm in Germany over Christmas. The second book, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, was a loose Beowulf retelling where instead of a lone warrior fighting monsters, we have a band of dispossessed teenage girls seeking heroism and glory. It's an interesting exploration of female anger, monstrosity, and otherness, but I felt it was a concept that really screamed for at least one f/f relationship, and was weakened by this lack.

I'm now baking some salmon in the oven, and planning to spend the remainder of the weekend watching TV with Matthias. What have the rest of you been up to?

I'm also going to close this post with a fabulous fan art rec, which I saw linked at some point on my reading page and have had open in a tab ever since. It's an absolutely gorgeous work, depicting Esme Shelby from Peaky Blinders, leading a deathly, supernatural horse, and I love it to bits.

Chovihani (0 words) by motetus
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Peaky Blinders (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Esme Shelby
Additional Tags: Art, Digital Art, Fanart, Extra Treat, Horses, ToT: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat 2016, Supernatural Elements, Trick Or Treat Prompts Challenge
Summary:

Esme has a gift for taming horses.

dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I'm home sick with a cold, which unfortunately means I'll miss this year's annual Christmas party for Cambridge library staff, which is always a free event held in one of the local bookshops. However, it does mean I can do a quick catch up post on some of the books and short stories I've read recently, all of which I enjoyed, but don't feel warrant a full review over on my reviews blog. All are fantasy novels or short stories.

First up is The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, an Eastern European fantasy novel in the vein of the Winternight trilogy, and Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Like the latter Novik work, it focuses in particular on the experience of shtetl-dwelling Eastern European Jewish communities, following the adventures of two sisters who are the inheritors of shape-shifting powers from the two branches of their family. Liba, the oldest, can transform into a bear like her father, while her younger sister Laya can shapeshift into swan form like her mother. Rossner blends Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' with a tale of suspicion and survival, and the sense of close-knit community — supportive of its own on the one hand, judgemental and interfering on the other — is beautifully drawn. I also loved the porous nature of the boundary between the human and supernatural worlds, and the relationship between the two sisters is simply wonderful.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan moves us from Eastern Europe to East Asia in terms of its inspirations (the author herself describes it as simply 'Asian-inspired'). This book is set in a strictly hierarchical society, with three castes (the demonic Moon caste ruling over the partially demonic Steel and fully human Paper castes), an imperial court seething with intrigue, and simmering rebellions breaking out all over a vast empire. All this is presided over by the Demon King, a thoroughly nasty individual who, among other things, takes a tribute of sorts in the form of a group of Paper teenagers to be his concubines. While this is supposed to be a great honour, in reality it's an act of violence and dispossession, and the majority of these girls — including the protagonist, Lei — do not go willingly. However, all is not as it seems in the court of the Demon King, and from the midst of a group of what appears to be the most disempowered individuals — the 'Paper Girl' concubines — a revolution is brewing. I have a personal preference for stories about girls and women who suffer trauma, have their agency taken away from them, and carve out spaces of survival and hope in the ruins, so this was always going to appeal to me, and the fact that it features a f/f love story (with a happy ending!) was just icing on the cake to me. However, it probably goes without saying that a premise like Ngan's is going to depict and address sexual violence, and although this is mostly done in a fade-to-black kind of way, if that's something you'd prefer not to read I would advise you to give this book a miss.

The next book, Sarah Tolcser's Song of the Current, is a much more lighthearted affair. Its characters and plot are, in my opinion, pretty standard fantasy fare (a lost royal heir on the run, a tomboyish lower class girl swept up in political intrigue, pirates causing problems, and scheming grand vizier types seeking power for themselves), but its setting is marvellous. Its heroine, Caroline Oresteia, is the daughter of a wherryman — the captain of a river boat — and has spent her life travelling the lakes, rivers and canals, transporting legal, and less than legal, cargos. I loved Tolcser's community of wherrymen (and women), the sense of a life lived on the water, and the legends and folklore and unspoken rules of this world on the margins of land and river. Nothing in the plot surprised me, and indeed I could see most twists coming from a mile away, but it was a gentle, soothing, diverting book and I am keen to read the sequel.

Zen Cho's latest short story, on the other hand, surprised me immensely. The story, 'If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again', is available for free online at the Barnes & Noble website (and can also be freely downloaded to ereaders), and is about a hapless wannabe dragon, an astrophysicist seeking tenure, and the messy, complicated tangle that is life. When I read Cho's works I expect humour, and this story is hilarious, but it's also powerful, devastating, and beautifully hopeful as well, and I had not been expecting that. The story is about the danger of being fixated on and overwhelmed by dreams, and missing the other opportunities that pass us by when we're too singlemindedly focused. As someone who had gone through two career changes before she was thirty (leaving behind the possibility of work in two fields which I had thought of as my 'dream job(s)'), this resonated deeply with me. I highly, highly recommend this short story, and am now even more impatient for the follow up to Sorcerer to the Crown!

Has anyone else been reading anything good recently?
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
By way of a life update, have a few scattered bits and pieces from the past week or so.

It's autumn, at last! Autumn is my favourite season of the year: scarves, gloves, coats and blankets, the cold bite of the air, the smell of the changing, falling leaves, and that indescribable quality of the light. The northern summer just went on and on and on, and I'm so relieved to finally experience some cold weather. It hasn't spread across all of Europe — my mother, sister, and parents-, sister-, brother-in-law and nephew are all in Italy (not together — my sister's at a wedding in Lake Como, my mother is in Verona, after which she and my sister will meet up in Milan, and my in-laws are all on holiday together near Lake Garda), and it's still very summery there, but it is well and truly autumnal in Cambridge, and I am very happy about it.

Apart from a quick foray out to the alumni event for my former academic department (it happens this weekend of September every year, and mainly consists of drinking glasses of wine in the departmental common room, and generally the only people who go are people who still live in Cambridge, such as Matthias and me, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband, and those who are still affiliated with the department as postdocs), I barely left the house, and have spent most of today curled up in my chair reading Naomi Novik's glorious Spinning Silver, which I think I like even more than Uprooted, although I'm only about a third of the way through. Normally I read a lot faster than this, but I've loved it so much I've been deliberately slow in order to savour the magic. Novik's Temeraire books really don't work for me, but I adore her fairytale-inspired fantasy.

Reading-wise I seem to be all about the Eastern European inspired fairytale retellings at the moment; last weekend I devoured the second of Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy books, which are set in a fantastical version of fourteenth-century Russia and seem written to my exact specifications. I posted a review of the first two books in the series here, and highly recommend them.

Matthias and I binge watched the entire first season of Killing Eve, which I adored. The whole lot is on iPlayer if other UK people want to watch. The plot and premise is frankly ridiculous, but if you accept that it's taking place in a sort of melodramatic, soap operatic reality, it's very enjoyable. The two lead actresses are great, the soundtrack is excellent, and there's a lot of gorgeous scenery porn in various picturesque European cities. After all our travelling this summer, it's been good to be back at home and just spend some time binge watching TV. I'm not sure what we'll move on to next — possibly the second season of Luke Cage, which should give you some idea of how behind we are in terms of TV series!

The weekend is drawing to a close, and the last few hours of it will be spent cooking a cosy and delicious Polish goulash, watching the last episode of Bodyguard (which I've liked, but not loved as much as Line of Duty, partly because the acting and writing in the latter is just a bit sharper), and reading more of Spinning Silver. I feel like I need a third day off to be fully refreshed after the work week (huge amounts of teaching and lots of wrangling of confused new medical students) I've just had, but alas it is not to be.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Summer is well and truly in its final days for the year here in Cambridge. The air has a distinctly autumnal feeling, blackberries are appearing in the hedgerows, and, best of all, it has started to rain again. The next two weekends are going to be very packed for me: next weekend I'll be in Italy for the wedding of two of my friends, and the following weekend my mother will be visiting (for those of you keeping count, that is indeed two trips she's made to Europe in the one northern summer. Oh, to be a wealthy baby boomer with loads of long service leave!). Luckily, this weekend lasts for three days due to the public holiday on Monday, and it's been nice to just nest at home and get lots done. This can probably be broken into three main categories:

Housework

  • I cleaned all the internal and external windows. (By internal windows I mean the ridiculous glass panels that are above every doorframe inside our house.)

  • I did two loads of laundry, which, given it rained on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday is something of an achievement.

  • I cleaned the fridge.

  • I cooked a massive vegetable soup to eat throughout the week, as well as all the weekend meals.

  • I planted garlic in the garden.


  • Stuff outside the house

  • Our friend B was visiting from Thursday to Saturday. He lives in Poland, but had come to Cambridge to use the university library to finish up his PhD corrections, so we didn't see him all that much. However, on the Friday night, he, Matthias and I went out to Thirsty, one of my favourite wine/beer sellers/bar, for drinks and food truck dinner.

  • I've just come back from a walk out to Grantchester. It's overcast, but not too cold, and all of Cambridge seems to have had the same idea. Matthias is working on an assignment for his librarianship MA, so I thought it best to get out of his hair for a bit.


  • Reading/Netflixing

  • I finished off a nonfiction book, Thunder At Twilight by Frederic Morton, which is about the history, politics and culture of Vienna in the year between the summer of 1913 and the outbreak of World War I. This is obviously a really fascinating time period, but I found the book somewhat frustrating due to the author's stylistic choices — namely, to use an almost novelistic tone and style, imagining what the historical figures were eating, drinking, saying or feeling at moments when he couldn't possibly have known that. If I'm reading historical fiction, I obviously have no problem with authors filling in the blanks in this manner, but I found it jarring in a work of nonfiction.

  • I read two novellas: 'The Black God's Drums' by P. Djèlí Clark, and 'Coral Bones' by Foz Meadows. Both were excellent, although I felt the former suffered from the constraints of its short length: the actual plot was slight, and it would have been fantastic as a novel, because its excellent setting (a steampunk nineteenth-century New Orleans in an alternative North America in which New Orleans was the site of a successful slave rebellion, the US Civil War ended in a truce, meaning the Confederacy still exists, and the Haitian slave rebellion was a success) and characters would really have benefited from being fleshed out into something novel-length. Hopefully Clark will write more in this setting. 'Coral Bones' — which imagines what happened to Miranda after the events of The Tempest (the answer: fairies, journeys, and an exploration of gender) is actually the first piece of fiction by Meadows that really works for me, and I highly recommend it.

  • Matthias and I also binge-watched most of the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon. Neither of us have read the books from which it was adapted, so I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is, but as a television series in its own right it's pretty good. It explores pretty standard cyberpunk themes of immortality, cloning, humanity, bodies, how these interact and intersect, and how inequality affects all these things, in a pretty standard Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk setting (rain, smog, grimy neon night markets, flying cars, and super rich people living elevated lives in skyscrapers above the clouds), but since I like all these things, and enjoy the cast (honestly, it should be watched for Dichen Lachman alone), I don't mind the rather derivative themes and setting. It does have the sadly standard sexualised violence of a lot of Western cyberpunk, so do bear that in mind if you're making the decision to watch this based on my recommendation.


  • I'm now sitting here fretting about the [community profile] fic_corner exchange. I finished up my assignment in good time, and I had thought this might be a rare exchange where my own request actually matched to an offer, but having checked Ao3, I can see that that's not the case, and I seem doomed to continue my exchange experience as one of life's perennial pinch-hit recipients. I suppose it can't be helped, given the fandoms-of-one I tend to request.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    This weekend I managed to find exactly the right balance between social events with friends and hibernating at home, and between doing various bits of housework and finding time to read, rest and relax. It was great!

    After work on Friday I joined Matthias, [profile] ienthuse, her husband, and two of our other friends for the reopening of Thirsty, a wine/beer/spirits seller whose shop also doubles as a small bar. They closed for a month to renovate and expand the bar area, and Friday was their first night open. It was extremely busy and crowded, but we were able to get a table. It was a bit loud to be able to talk properly (I can never hear in bars or restaurants, and generally don't even attempt to have proper conversations), but it was nice to see everyone. One of our friends has just got a new postdoc which would see him leaving the UK — he's Italian, and he and his (British) wife have been trying to leave since the EU referendum result, making them the sixth and seventh people I know who have chosen to leave the country specifically because of Brexit — so my happiness at his new job was tempered with sadness at Brexit chasing so many of my friends out of the country. I suppose it will be nice to visit them in Vienna, at least.

    Our night out at Thirsty also marked the beginning of what would be a weekend of foodtrucks: [twitter.com profile] GuerrillaKitch were out Thirsty, and we followed that up with pizzas from Neapolitan Street Food at a tiny Cambridge brewery on Saturday. It was rainy and freezing, but Calverleys (the brewery) was still packed, though quieter than Thirsty and thus possible to actually have a conversation. I was there with the same friends as on Friday night. We moved on to another nearby pub to watch the rugby (which I don't care about, but Matthias and our friends do), after which we had curry for dinner and then headed home in the rain.

    Today I've stuck much closer to home, cooking meals for the first few days of next week, pickling vegetables, and reading. I read two short stories in the latest issue of Lightspeed, 'Four-Point Affective Calibration' by Bogi Takács, and 'The Quiet Like a Homecoming' by Cassandra Khaw. Although they're very different stories, they both had this undercurrent of anger running through them — a righteous fury at injustice and dispossession and cruelties done to their narrators — which turned them into something of a linked pair.

    I also read Robin McKinley's Chalice, which I would describe as a very, very McKinley book, with a lot of her tropes (a bookish, competent heroine overwhelmed with the enormity of the task at hand who focuses on her vocation — in this case, beekeeping — as a way to ground herself and give shape to her interactions with other people; a practical, earthy magic system; a monstrous main male character) and weaknesses (everything ambles along at a leisurely, dreamlike pace, and then rushes towards a hasty, inconclusive conclusion), and, like all her work, is essentially a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, but it was diverting enough for a grey Sunday afternoon.
    dolorosa_12: (sokka)
  • Matthias and I went to London to see Cirque du Soleil's show Ovo. I'm glad we went - I had a wonderful time, and there were a couple of great acts - but overall it was not their best work. I've been watching Cirque shows since I was three years old, so I possibly have overly high standards. It was kind of fun to watch it while sitting near lots of families with small children, because seeing the acts through the children's astonished eyes reminded me of how wonderful it was to see Cirque shows for the very first time.

  • I've been reading my way through Frances Hardinge's body of work: so far I've read A Face Like Glass, Gullstruck Island, The Lie Tree, A Skinful of Shadows, and Cuckoo Song, and I've been absolutely blown away. They're such intricate, clever books, and so hopeful and healing, all concerned with the dispossessed and powerless, giving them their power back.

  • Never someone to say no to excessively rules-based stationery, I've gone completely overboard with bullet journalling. I used a bullet journal last year, but in the most basic way (the method outlined in the video on the bullet journal website). This year, I've gone beyond that with complicated habit tracking spreads, a set-up requiring multiple coloured pencils, glue, old origami paper, and a lot of fiddling around. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it (when I was in high school I had a system of organisation for my exercise books that required different coloured underlining for each day of the week, a complicated way of ruling up every page, and stern opinions as to which kinds of pens I could use for note-taking, so it was probably inevitable that I fell into the post-school iteration in the form of bullet journalling), but I do sometimes dip into the wild world of bullet journal vlogging/blogging and boggle at the excessive, overpriced stationery and the immense amount of work it seems to involve.

  • I found these two articles about the Salem witch hunt (and also The Crucible, and the modern twisting of the term 'witch hunt') really interesting to read in parallel. The first, by Sarah Monette, is here. The second, by Maria Dahvana Headley, is here, and I came across it via [personal profile] umadoshi.
  • dolorosa_12: (sokka)
    I had a couple of days of leave left to carry over from the last calendar year, and they had to be used up by the end of January, so I took one today. This was mostly so I could spend my time waiting around for a delivery from IKEA -- two armchairs to replace the ageing, super uncomfortable sofabed that Matthias and I had been using as a living room couch for the past five years (and which we inherited when we took over the lease of our current house; in other words, it was already old when we got it). I was very impressed with how the delivery was handled -- rather than just being given a whole day as a timeslot, IKEA texted me in advance to say that it would be delivered between 8am and 12pm, then texted me again on the morning to send me tracking details (so I could see where the delivery driver was), as well as phoning me to tell me the chairs would be arriving in the hour. I was so astonished at this level of service, as although I had cleared the whole day for the delivery, this level of specificity meant I could plan around when I expected them to arrive.

    Matthias and I don't have a car (I don't know how to drive, and we need to drive so rarely that it's never been worth it), but fortunately our friends [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband do have a car, and are generally happy to drive us when necessary, so they were roped in to collecting the old sofabed and driving it to the tip. This kind of exchange really makes me happy: as a migrant, I don't have family I can call on to help, and it's always meant a lot to me that my friends and I help each other out in these concrete ways (Matthias and I helped [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband move into their current house, Matthias has translated German articles for them for their research, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse drove me to every wedding dress fitting last year, and so on).

    I was very dubious of my ability to put the chairs together (I am NOT technically minded), but I managed it, and this was the result! A vast improvement, as I'm sure everyone who's visited my house would agree.

    Once the chairs were constructed, I spent the rest of the day powering through Malka Older's Null States, the follow up to Infomocracy. These books take place in a world where most citizens practice 'microdemocracy', voting in 100,000-person 'centenals' every ten years. Governments are not bound by physical geography, and different governments might be formed of centenals in Geneva, Jakarta, and Djibouti, for example -- and these locations might change hands to another government in the next electoral cycle (at which point inhabitants who preferred the old government may move to another of its centenals). For this reason, people feel almost no ties to geography, ethnicity or heritage, but rather to ideas, values, and beliefs about how society should be governed. Of course, not all people in Older's imagined future are happy about this state of affairs, and her series is full of tense political shenanigans, told at breakneck speed. It's a highly readable thriller that makes you want to keep turning the pages and read each book in one sitting, although if I had one quibble it would be that the prose is servicable, rather than beautiful or particularly memorable; the books discuss complicated and interesting ideas, but in the language of an airport novel. In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying it so far, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes their science fiction packed with political wonkery.

    Now I'm just hanging around at home waiting for Matthias to finish work. It's been wonderful to have a day off where I can just hang around at home. If only four-day working weeks were the norm!
    dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
    I don't usually do Reading Wednesday, but while flailing at [personal profile] naye on Twitter about The Will to Battle, the third in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, I realised I had thoughts about the book, and wanted to discuss them with others in a more permanent, longform location.

    So, anyway, scattered, spoilery thoughts ahead! Don't expect a coherent review or plot summary - these are just a few bullet points of things that really stood out to me.

    Into the light at the end of the world )

    Anyway, feel free to jump into the comments and discuss anything you want about this book. [personal profile] naye and [personal profile] merit, I know you've both read it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    The three things in this post's title sit rather incongruously next to each other, but together make up this weekend. I spent most of yesterday in Bedford, where Matthias had to travel to take his 'Life in the UK' test, a prerequisite for a successful application for British citizenship by naturalisation. Matthias will be applying for this in the near future, and this test is simply one of the administrative hoops through which he is required to jump. It involves answering a series of simplistic and somewhat silly questions about British history, culture and politics. Although he had studied, and passed every practice test without difficulty, we were more concerned that his proof of address (a printed bank statement) wasn't going to be accepted by the test administrators, as at least one person we know had been turned away for the rather silly reason of not having his name printed on each page of his bank statement. Thankfully, Matthias was not turned away at the door, and the test was so easy that he completed it in three minutes. He was informed that he had passed then and there, and so his naturalisation application can go ahead. For various bureaucratic reasons he will not be able to apply until early next year, but it's nice to have this out of the way good and early.

    After the test, we met up with some friends who live in Bedford for beer (or, in my case, gin) and curry, which struck me as a very British way to celebrate Matthias' impending Britishness.

    Today the two of us met up with [personal profile] naye and [personal profile] doctorskuld and went to a food fair. There were a lot of free samples, and Matthias and I came away with sausages, various types of cheese, and a small collection of vinegars and sauces. We opted not to eat lunch at the food fair and headed over to a hipsterish cafe with antique bikes hanging from the ceiling, and a menu in which half the items consisted of avocado on toast. I don't like avocado, but luckily the other half of the menu was filled with things I like, so there was no danger of going hungry.

    I've just written a review of some of my recent reading. It's a review of books by Shira Glassman, Becky Chambers, and Kate Elliott, and can be found at my Wordpress blog. I highly recommend all three books.

    Yuletide is fast approaching. My nominations have all been approved (there was never any danger of that — I'm highly unlikely to nominate borderline fandoms, but it's nice to have the confirmation), so I guess I'd better get on to writing my letter and thinking about what fandoms to offer myself!

    I hope everyone else has been having wonderful weekends.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    I only read one book in the past week, An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows. It's a YA portal fantasy in which Australian teenager Saffron Coulter finds herself transported to another world, and becomes caught up in its complex, dangerous political machinations. Her otherworldly adventures are no fun romp, but rather come at a heavy cost, both physically and emotionally. Meadows does a good job of showing why existence in an other world would be appealing to someone like Saffron, while also challenging some of the underlying assumptions of portal fantasies (namely, that characters are able to travel back and forth between worlds without cost, worry, or any real impact on their lives back on Earth). Saffron was a refreshingly thoughtful character (in that she spent a lot of time seriously thinking about the underlying default assumptions that drove her reactions to things), although teenage!me would have found her impossible to relate to for various reasons (in fact, although I enjoyed the book as an adult, I realised that as a teenager I would have really disliked it), and she, along with most of the other characters in the book, were some form of LGBT+, living in a world where that was the norm, which was also nice to read about.

    It feels really nitpicky to go into my main issue with the book, which is its need for a serious edit. But it was riddled with typographical and layout errors (missing line breaks, no spaces between transitions from one character's point of view to another, missing quotation marks, and quotation marks or full stops with no spaces between them and the following characters). I've spotted the odd typographical error in quite a few professionally published books, but I've never before read a professionally published book with the sheer number of obvious errors - such that I wonder if An Accident of Stars was even copyedited at all! A second, and subtler problem (but for me just as distracting) was the incongruity between the story's unapologetically Australian setting, and the Americanisms in the dialogue (or Saffron's interior monologue) that wouldn't be used by anyone in Australia. I'm not talking about US spelling conventions - a book published in the US is always going to have those - it's more things like 'a half-dozen' (instead of 'half a dozen', which is how we would say it in Australia) or 'an alum [of such-and-such a school]' (a phrase I've never heard used in Australia - we would probably say 'a graduate of...' or 'one of the alumni of...'). I'm a former subeditor, so this kind of stuff really sticks out to me, and after a while it becomes all I notice, so it may not be such an issue for other people. I do hope the publisher sorts out the typographical issues in future editions, although I think it would be overly optimistic to expect them to make the language more Australian.

    I also read 'Your Orisons May Be Recorded', a short story by Laurie Penny which imagines angels and demons working in a vast, celestial call centre, and is the story about angels, demons, and their interactions with (and feelings about) humans that I've always been searching for. It's free on Tor.com, and is utterly brilliant.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    I've been reading a lot of great stuff, so I thought I'd put together a brief post. I'm trying to get over a recent block in terms of writing on Dreamwidth/LJ, where I feel that posts here have to be substantial and significant, and if they don't meet this arbitrary bar I should just throw a few words together on Tumblr. I need to stop worrying about whether my thought fragments are important enough to go on Dreamwidth/LJ and just post them!

    I read An Alphabet of Embers, an anthology of short fiction edited by Rose Lemberg. The highlights for me were Kari Sperring's story 'Some Silver Wheel', and 'Everything Under One Roof', Zen Cho's contribution. However, the whole collection was wonderful, and I strongly encourage you to read this review in Strange Horizons, which gives a good overview of every work in the anthology. I would echo the reviewer, Karen Burnham's, sentiments:

    I have also never seen an anthology so beautifully orchestrated, with tones and themes following each other beautifully like the movements of a symphony, encompassing a huge range of human (and non-human) experience and feeling while always maintaining a coherent sense of the whole. As such, while the individual stories sometimes seem too much like embers (flashing brightly but fading from memory quickly), the anthology as a whole leaves a lasting impression of weight, survival, and beauty.


    On the advice of [livejournal.com profile] losseniaiel, I've started reading the Vorkosigan saga. I'm reading it somewhat out of publication order, starting instead with Shards of Honour and Barrayar, which I understand is roughly at the start of the series' chronology. While they're a little bit dated in some ways, I absolutely adore Cordelia as a character, and love stories about culture clashes, characters from very different backgrounds being forced to work together, and pragmatic women who exercise power in subtle, indirect ways, so as you can imagine, I'm having a great time with these books. I'm a bit limited in what I read next in the series as I'm not prepared to buy them and my local library doesn't own any copies of Bujold's books, so I'm reliant on whatever [livejournal.com profile] losseniaiel can lend me. I do look forward to reading more in this series when I can, though.

    On Monday night I read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, apart from one rather distracting problem. The book is a spin off of sorts from her earlier book Fangirl, in which the main character wrote fanfic of a Harry Potter-esque British children's series - Carry On is Rowell's attempt at that fanfic. As published original fiction attempting to evoke the conventions of fanfic, Carry On is excellent, and those who read a reasonable amount of fanfic (like me) will find a lot of recognisable and enjoyable fanfic tropes. Rowell's affection for the medium shines through, and I appreciated that aspect of the book a lot. However, it suffered from a common problem: Americans trying to write work set in Britain, and getting the dialogue hopelessly wrong. A lot of the supposed Britishisms were just off (I'm not even British and I noticed it), and there were scatterings of American slang and phrases that really stuck out to me. I was able to get over this by pretending the whole book was a piece of fanfic for a British canon, written by an American teenager - which indeed may have been the effect Rowell was aiming for - but it was really distracting.

    I haven't decided what novel I'm going to read next, but I did enjoy 'An Ocean the Colour of Bruises', a new short story by Isabel Yap at Uncanny Magazine.

    What have you all been reading?
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    This has been a lovely, relaxing weekend. I spent Saturday morning Skyping with my mum, and finishing off an exchange fic assignment that had been hanging over my head and worrying me. In the afternoon, I met up with a friend for coffee. We'd originally planned to hang out in one of the parks by the river, but I'd looked at the weather on Friday and feared it might rain. In any event, the promised rain never came, so we followed the coffee with a walk along the river, talking books, life, and libraries (she is also a librarian, although she works in public libraries rather than academic libraries like me). She had generously lent me her copy of The Raven King, and it was nice to be able to discuss that book - and the whole Raven Cycle series - with someone else, as I'd read it so much later than everyone that I'd missed most of the conversation on Tumblr and elsewhere online. (If anyone else wants to discuss it in the comments, that would be most welcome!)

    I got home in time to potter around the garden for an hour or so, repotting things and digging up the inevitable weeds. Since finishing my PhD, I've had more energy to pay attention to stuff like the garden, the furnishings and decorations in the house and so on, and it's really nice to see all my plants grow, and the garden start to take shape. I'm at the point of being able to eat herbs from my own garden, and that is wonderful.

    Today has been even more relaxing - I've spent most of my time reading, either curled up on the couch, or out in the garden. I'm reading my way through the Chrestomanci books, as Diana Wynne Jones was an author who completely passed me by during my childhood, and I've always felt the lack. I've read three of the Chrestomanci books, and have enjoyed them so far, although I think I prefer the Howl trilogy slightly.

    Now I'm just pottering around on the internet, and starting to think about dinner. Two days are never quite enough, but at least I've made good use of them.

    On another note, the fundraiser for Mia and Cy is still going. We're very close to making the target, and it would be wonderful for them to wake up on Monday and find that the target had been reached. If you want to donate, you can do so here. Please do also keep sharing it widely. If you have any questions, get in touch with me.
    dolorosa_12: (Default)
    I realise it's Thursday, but I've got a review up of a trio of YA books: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, all of which can be loosely linked by a theme of divided cities.

    The review is up on Wordpress, and feel free to comment here or there.

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    dolorosa_12: (Default)
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