dolorosa_12: (matilda)
One of the unfortunate side effects of having a depressive episode for most of March and early April is that my ongoing reading log sort of dropped off the radar. This is a shame, as I've read a lot of great books during that time.

I'm going to leave The True Queen by Zen Cho and Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan for later, longer reviews over on my reviews blog, as they were definitely the high points of my recent reading.

Other than those, I read a little bit of short fiction - 'Old Media' by Annalee Newitz (featuring characters from her book Autonomous trying to navigate relationships and consent in a world inhabited by robots and indentured people; meandering and character-driven, but a bit lacking in substance), 'Rag and Bone' by Priya Sharma (creepy horror story set in an alternate nineteenth-century Liverpool where the rich can use the poor for body parts), and 'Miranda in Milan' by Katharine Duckett (what happens to Miranda when she leaves the island after the events of The Tempest; The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I was very much looking forward to this, and I was not disappointed). The first two works are free to read on Tor.com, while the second is a novella, and not free.

In terms of novels, my library holds on The Wicked King by Holly Black and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor finally came through. Taylor is very hit and miss with me. I think she writes fabulous, atmospheric settings, but her writing style usually doesn't work for me, and I think her stories generally lack in substance. I mean, her usual theme is that kindness, imagination and love will save the world, which is unobjectionable, but, as I say, I usually feel that all her effort goes into setting and the general feel of intricate weird quirkiness, and this was definitely my impression from Muse of Nightmares. On the other hand, I adored The Wicked King. Holly Black is a very iddy, indulgent writer, and thankfully her id and mine tend to align. I love what she's doing in this newest iteration of her fairyland setting — she plunders the best bits of European folklore about the otherworld, emphasising in particular the lore that fairies can't tell lies. I love that her fairy characters regard human beings and their ability to lie with fear and horror, and how truth, lies, and circumlocution (and all the other tricks that beings who can only speak the truth employ to avoid speaking truths they don't want spoken) become weaponised. The plot gallops on at a mile a minute, and the twist at the end was fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

Sadly, the final book I've read in this recent burst of reading, Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear, was a big disappointment. I've enjoyed Bear's books set in her Karen Memory universe, and particularly appreciated how character-driven they were, so I had expected her space opera to take a similar approach. Instead I found flat characters, lots of engineering/physics info-dumping, and a story that felt like a trial to read. It picked up a bit after the first twenty per cent or so, but convinced me that I am best sticking to Elizabeth Bear's steampunk, unfortunately.

Which recently read books have you enjoyed?
dolorosa_12: (queen presh)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 24: Hooked me into reading

Honestly, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I loved books and reading long before I was able to read myself. My mother always read picture books aloud to me, and, after she was born, my sister and me. Usually she would read us four picture books per night, with each of us picking two, and although I can still name a lot of the old favourites, the first book, the first story that made me really care about stories, is lost in the mists of time. I couldn't tell you the first book I was able to read by myself either aloud or in my head — I imagine it was one of the rather boring books we borrowed from school to teach ourselves to read by practicing at home with our parents — and I don't even think I can remember the first book I really, really fell in love with.

I can remember the first book that made me realise I didn't have to interpret the narrative in the way an author intended. It was Galax Arena by Gillian Rubinstein, and I disliked the protagonist, wished she wasn't the point of view character, and instead became obsessed with one of the antagonists and imagined a whole secondary story going on around her, in which the book's protagonist was only a bit player. The idea that I could read a book in this way was like a lightbulb going off, and I suppose it was the first moment I understood transformative fandom, although of course, being a ten-year-old, I didn't name it as such!

The other days )

I've only finished one book since I last updated this haphazard reading log of mine: Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw, the second in her series of books about Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead and other supernatural beings. It was, like the preceding book, great fun, packed with allusions to various pieces of gothic fiction, and poked gentle fun at so many portentous vampire clichés. I loved it.
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 17: Future classic

I don't really know how to predict this. 'Classic' is such a loaded term, and, as anyone who has studied literature could tell you, the literary canon is not a fixed thing — it changes over time, different countries/cultures/groups of readers have different canons, canonicity is not the same thing as popularity, and sometimes what it takes for something to stick in the cultural zeitgeist is just really, really good publicity.

I suspect N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is likely to feature in the curricula of a lot of university speculative fiction literature courses in the future, if it's not there already, though.

The other days )

Reading over the past few days has consisted of two novels — King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo (I really missed the Dregs, and the Ketterdam setting — Ravkan political manoeuvring has always been my least favourite element of Bardugo's Grishaverse, as I'm in it for found families, migrants and exiles, and heists), and The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf (I devoured this historical novel, set in 1969 Malaysia during a time of race riots sparked by election results and the country's simmering problems boiling over, and it left me feeling quite weepy, in that it emphasises small acts of kindness, community building and solidarity in the face of violence and destruction) — and two pieces of free short fiction. These were 'Circus Girl, the Hunter, and Mirror Boy' by JY Yang (which, like all Yang's writing, didn't quite work for me), and 'The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun' by Aliette de Bodard (another excellent piece of space opera from de Bodard). Matthias and I also managed to watch Captain Marvel earlier this week, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 9: Film or TV tie-in

You know, I don't think I have ever owned, or even read, a book in this category. I've read lots of books that went in the other direction (i.e. were adapted for film or television), but not tie-ins. So rather than rack my brains trying to think of a book that I know doesn't exist, why don't those of you who do read tie-ins use the comments to tell me about your favourites?

The other days )

Matthias and I are heading out later today to catch up with two of our friends who are visiting from Vienna. They're just two among the many people I know who have left the UK because of Brexit. It will be good to see them (we're all going out for a curry at a new restaurant), but I'm sad about the circumstances.

I don't have much to catch up on in terms of reading. I finished P. Djèlí Clarke's novella 'The Haunting of Tramcar 015' (another story set in an alternate, steampunk Egypt when djinn and other supernatural beings live openly among the human population), which was excellent, although as with all of Clarke's work, it left me wishing that it had been expanded to novel length. I also read 'Lullaby for a Lost World,' a creepy, gothic short story by Aliette de Bodard (freely available on the Tor.com website should you want to read it), and have begun reading God's War by Kameron Hurley. I'm nearly finished it, but it's left me with the conclusion that Hurley's writing is just not for me. It's grimdark in a specific way that I find really repellent, and I particularly dislike that she writes societies where women are uniformly violent, cruel, and exploitative (I do know that this is kind of her thing, so I wasn't unaware of this element going in). This is the second book of hers I've read, and I think it's probably time to stop trying her writing.
dolorosa_12: (quidam)
Thirty Day Book Meme, Day 3: One with a blue cover.

I love that this is a prompt. My librarian heart is laughing and laughing.

Over the years I've no doubt read many books with blue covers, but I went with The Bone Season, the first in Samantha Shannon's wonderful dystopian series, because it's one of my favourites, and because its cover, inspired by the sundial in Seven Dials in London, is gorgeous. I reviewed the book some time ago, so rather than rehashing it again, I'll link to that review. The one-sentence summary is that it's a dystopian novel, whose heroine is captured from London (where she leads a double life as a government official's daughter by day and a member of a criminal clairvoyant syndicate by night) and taken to a prison camp in Oxford, where she learns about the terrifying supernatural powers really running things behind the scenes. I love the book for its setting — particularly the bits that take place in my favourite parts of London — its wonderful heroine (who is, I feel, realistically terrified by the situations in which she finds herself, and makes more morally grey compromises than I feel most dystopian YA heroines normally do), and the central romance (although your mileage may vary on this, as it's very Stockholm Syndrome-y with a massive power imbalance, but what can I say? the id wants what it wants).

The other days )

By a strange coincidence, I posted a review of another Samantha Shannon book today, her standalone epic fantasy The Priory of the Orange Tree. This is a very different beast to the Bone Season series — it's a sweeping epic fantasy, inspired by Elizabethan England and Tokugawa Japan, about the uses and misuses of history, with dragons. You can read my review here.

Other books I've finished or started this weekend are Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (a dizzying blend of various African myths and histories, a straightforward quest story about people with supernatural powers hunting for a lost child, but very tough going due to the meandering, nested style of labyrinthine stories within stories, suddenly starts to have a plot about fifty per cent of the way in, and extraordinarily bleak in its worldview), My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigerian noir novel about an older sister who finds herself repeatedly responsible for cleaning up the bodies of men killed by her younger sister; it's also about the double edged sword that beauty can become — at once a weapon, and something that can be wielded against you), and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (another foray into his alternate, steampunk Cairo where djinn and other supernatural beings roam the streets).

It's been a pretty miserable, cold weekend, which I guess is what explains all the media consumption — as well as all the books, I watched BlacKkKlansman with Matthias (which I think was robbed in terms of the number of Oscars it ultimately won — it was excellent), along with various episodes of TV shows. It's been raining on and off, and, to be honest, leaving the house was not a particularly attractive prospect!
dolorosa_12: (startorial)
Massive Attack was everything I could have hoped for and more. I'm not, generally, someone who gets overwhelmed with the experience of live music, but there are rare exceptions, and this was one of them. I didn't quite realise how emotional it would make me, to see the album that I've loved so much since I was a teenager, in awe at its wordplay and dark bass and vocals both soaring and cthonic, brought to life. To hear those words, that have been at once formative foundation and the armour in which I've wrapped myself for more than twenty years, sung aloud. I was lost the minute I walked out into the Tube station and saw this (as I said to Matthias, it's moments like this that I love London, that ridiculous city). And then they sang my favourite song of all time: not just my favourite Massive Attack song, but my favourite song by any artist. I've heard Robert Del Naja whisper-growl we can unwind/ all these half flaws, and it's making up for two decades of concert regrets.

(Two links that probably sum up the concert very well — a review of the show, and an interview with the band.)

We stayed overnight in London after the concert — leaving the O2 to dense, atmospheric fog which somehow felt perfectly in keeping with the mood evoked by the music, and which was still around on Saturday morning, shrouding the post-apocalyptic wasteland which is Canning Town at 7am with a vaguely Luther-ish air. After a quick breakfast in one of my favourite Bloomsbury cafes (oh, London coffee), we wandered up to the British Museum, joining the thronging crowds on the penultimate day of an exhibition on Ashurbanipal, who was an Assyrian ruler. If the self-aggrandising quotes from his letters are to be believed he seemed rather like a more competent version of the menace currently President of the US — he won the vastest empire through battles, he solved all the complicated mathematic problems, sages and soothsayers contacted him for his predictions of the future, and so on. I was mainly struck by how much material had survived — so many letters and stories and tax records on clay tablets, so many incredible carved decorative stones, and so on. As most of this material comes from very dangerous parts of the world (mainly modern-day Iraq and Syria), there is great concern for its safety, and the final room of the exhibition had a video with interviews with Iraqi archaeologists, who had worked on the exhibition and who had been trained by the British Museum in 'disaster archaeology' (i.e. working in high-risk areas with materials that are under threat), and these archaeologists are currently excavating new sites in the region, with the aim that the materials unearthed will remain in Iraq. They were all very passionate about this work, but it sounds at once very dangerous, and a race against time.

I had grand plans today for writing book reviews, and a letter for [community profile] waybackexchange, but other than a bit of pottering around in the garden (we now should hopefully have home-grown zucchini and radishes in a few months' time) and reading a KJ Charles book in the sun, I've failed dismally to have a productive Sunday.

At least I seem to have got my reading groove back. I read Tara Westover's memoir Educated on the train to and from London, which, given how much of it involves studying at Cambridge (indeed, Westover was a friend of one of my Cambridge friends during her time there), seemed fitting. She's obviously lived a very interesting life — brought up as the daughter of fundamentalist Mormons who spent most of her childhood as Doomsday survivalists, completely neglecting her education, and raising her and her siblings in a wholly abusive environment, self-educating herself to the point that she could go to university, and then ending up a PhD student at Cambridge — and if I wished that she would condemn her parents in stronger terms, that probably says more about me than it does about her.

I also read a handful of Tor.com free short stories — three on the basis of recommendations from [personal profile] eglantiere ('What Mario Scietto Says' by Emmy Laybourne, 'Cold Wind' by Nicola Griffith, and 'The Tallest Doll in New York City' by Maria Dahvana Headley), and one of the basis of a review by Amal El-Mohtar ('A Dead Djinn in Cairo' by P. Djèlí Clark). I liked them all except the Laybourne, which, given that its point-of-view character is a survivalist prepper experiencing an apocalypse, and given what I said above about the Westover book, was never going to work for me. I really find it hard to engage with a narrative that expects me to sympathise with survivalists, or which implies that they were right to prep for the apocalypse.

Matthias and I also found time last night to finish off the fifth season of Luther, which didn't work for me for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I felt the writers lost their sense of the characters, who all behaved in ways which were for me widely out of character. I'm not sure if there'll be another season, and I'm not sure if some of the writing decisions made in this one are salvageable, but in any case I was not particularly impressed.

How has everyone been enjoying their weekends?
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!
| Community Profile


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!

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