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: (tea)
After my month of posting every day about books, I seem to have completely vanished from the internet, and Dreamwidth in particular. This was mainly due to illness, brought on by intense stress about the political crisis in the UK and the impending Brexit catastrophe. More about that below.

But first, I'll talk about nice things.

I spent last weekend in Germany for the wedding of one of Matthias's cousins. The cousin (and indeed that whole part of the family) live in Iserlohn, and the wedding and reception were all in that part of the world. Matthias and I flew in to Dortmund on Friday afternoon and were collected by his parents, who drove us to the hotel where we were all staying (and which would also be the reception venue). We all had dinner on the Friday night in the hotel with another aunt and uncle. The wedding itself was on midday on the Saturday, in a castle on the top of a hill, and sadly I didn't get any photos of the ceremony itself, but trust me when I say the setting was very picturesque. We then returned back to the reception for what ended up being an entire day of being fed. The reception meal at German weddings (at least in my experience) is always dinner, but as it was about 2pm at that point and no one had had lunch, we were given open bread roll sandwiches as canapes with our sparkling wine. This was then followed by coffee and a variety of cakes at 3pm, and finally the huge buffet dinner in the evening. There was also apparently a midnight snack of cheeses and fruit, but I was certainly not hungry enough by that point to investigate!

There was a DJ playing (as always) the cheesiest collection of both German and English-language music, and I danced for hours. We finally staggered up to bed around 1am. Now normally I would be able to sleep fine, even with the DJ still going several floors below, but because my body's been in panic mode pretty much for the past three weeks, my sleeping abilities are wrecked, and I ended up not being able to sleep at all that night, even though the DJ finished up around 2.30 and then it was deathly quiet. Luckily I didn't need to do anything on the Sunday beyond being driven to the airport (with a detour to a nearby lake which we walked around in the sunsine).

On Monday I went down to London after work to go to a panel discussion at the Piccadilly Waterstones between Samantha Shannon, Zen Cho, Tasha Suri, and Zoe Marriott, moderated by their fellow author Katherine Webber. It was a fun talk — all, with the exception of Marriott (who was a bit rambly) were great speakers, and although it didn't really tell me anything new about their books, it was great to see them in conversation, bouncing ideas off each other and gushing over one another's books.

From the heights to the depths: the ghastly, stressful political, economic, social and psychological catastrophe that is Brexit. For several weeks, I was feverishly following every moment: Twitter open with various commentators live-tweeting sessions in the House of Commons, the Guardian's frenzied politics livefeed open in the next tab over. This did serious damage to both my mental and physical health (I couldn't sleep, I had panic attacks that lasted all night, I had nightmares, the lack of sleep gave me a cold, at one point I literally vomited from stress at work), and in the end I had to stop. I had been following every moment because I was afraid something terrible would happen and I would miss trying to stop it. On Wednesday last week, after a particularly bad night of panic attacks, I realised that I had to just completely switch off everything. So no Twitter, no news — I can't even go to news websites to look up articles on something else, in case I see anything Brexit-related. I've been living in a sort of cone of silence for over a week now, and it's helping, mostly.

I do know that the EU allowed Britain a longer extension, because Matthias told me this morning, meaning that the country will still be in the EU tomorrow, and I will still be an EU citizen for now. I'm assuming we'll have to hold EU parliamentary elections now, although even that was unclear (but surely the EU would be mad to offer an extension to October without making the EU parliamentary elections a condition?). But the panicked uncertainty was too much for me, so I think I'll have to maintain my distance.

I see also that Scott Morrison has finally called an election, so that will be another thing to vote for in May. I'm hoping desperately that all the polls are right and we're going to get a change of government (although the prospect of Bill Shorten being rewarded for essentially not being Scott Morrison is pretty depressing; I met Shorten at a dinner party before he was an MP and I was not impressed). I'm imagining that the campaign will be dismal and ugly.

So that's been my life for the past couple of weeks. I've been listening to a lot of M83. Carry on, carry on/ and after us the flood indeed.
dolorosa_12: (dolorosa)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 30: Would save if my house burned down

To be honest the first things I'd be trying to save would be the passports, citizenship certificates, and various pieces of documentation that indicate that my husband and I are UK citizens, given the UK government's attitude to migrants.

But if these things were already safe, my decision would in many ways still be an extremely difficult one. Almost all of the books I've mentioned over the past twenty-nine days of this meme are deeply loved favourites, so formative that they feel like part of the foundation of me. They're in the bones of the stories that make me myself. How could I possibly choose between them? And in this hypothetical fire, I couldn't carry them all — at least not in their physical form.

But of course I would be carrying them with me, whether they were saved from a fire or not. And that's kind of the point.
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: (the humans are dead)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 23: Made to read at school

I have always hated this framing, as if being required to read books for class was somehow way more unreasonable than being required to, for example, learn quadratic equations for maths class, or learn organic chemistry for science. Sure, some parts of compulsory education were boring, or poorly taught — including some of my English classes — but that didn't mean they were a grave injustice.

That little rant aside, I'm going to talk about The Beast of Heaven by Victor Kelleher for this day of the meme. We read this in Year 8 advanced English class (so when I was thirteen), and it was one of my favourite and most formative things read for school. Kelleher is mostly known as a YA author (one of his YA dystopian novels, Taronga, was commonly taught in secondary school in the '90s when I was a school student, and indeed we studied it as well), but The Beast of Heaven is dystopian fiction aimed at an adult readership. It is at once incredibly '80s, and incredibly Australian — a pair of sentient computers wake up, and continue an argument they've been programmed to have, about whether humanity deserves to continue to exist, with one computer programmed to argue in favour of humanity's ongoing survival and the other that it would be the best thing for all concerned if the massive nuclear weapons it controls would be set off and wipe humanity off the map. Against the backdrop of this argument is a group of what we think are the last human survivors on Earth, eking out an impoverished existence in a blasted, post-apocalypic desert landscape. The twist, if you've read a lot of dystopian SF, is probably fairly obvious, although it absolutely blew my thirteen-year-old mind, and the book as a whole made me think in a more structured way about Australian dystopian literature as a subgenre distinct from its literary cousins in other countries. It wasn't the first book by Kelleher that I read, but it was the one that really made me sit up and take notice of him as an author, and I think his body of work is incredible. I've always felt a sense of regret that he's not really known outside of Australia.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (medieval)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 22: Out of print

One of my favourite books when I was a teenager was The Singing Stone by Canadian author O.R. Melling. It's a portal fantasy in which Canadian student (and orphan with mysterious origins) Kay goes on a trip to Ireland to discover the secrets behind her origins, and ends up sucked into the past when climbing around some standing stones. She tumbles into a world of magic and intrigue, hovering on the brink of invasion and war, and has to go on a quest to find several magical objects, helped by an amnesiac girl, Aherne, and several other misfits.

Melling packs the book with just about every medieval Irish text that fit the story she's trying to tell — there's a blending of the stories of Lebor Gabála Érenn and Cath Maige Tuired (a mythological history of Ireland that depicts it as being settled by waves of successive invasions, and the story of a battle between various supernatural beings respectively), and Tuán meic Chairill shows up at one point as well. Of course when I was reading the book as a teenager all these stories were new to me, but rereading it in my thirties after having majored in undergrad, and done an MPhil and PhD in medieval Irish literature (Lebor Gabála was one of the texts I researched for my PhD, in fact), I see the book with different eyes. I had to laugh at the heroine, Kay, learning Old Irish to a level of proficiency that she was able to travel back in time and engage in conversation with people — and this after only one year of study!

The book is long out of print (I think it was first published in the 1980s), but I borrowed it repeatedly from the public library when I was a teenager, and I think it was one of the many formative stories that pushed me towards studying what I studied in university, such that I forgive it for its hackneyed tropes about pre-Christian Ireland in a way that I wouldn't if I read it for the first time now.

The other days )

I have to apologise again for leaving many people's comments unanswered. I will get to them eventually, but the uncertainty and stress about Brexit has pushed me right over the edge. I'm having panic attacks every night when I try to sleep, and so I'm going around in a kind of exhausted fog. I need to preserve all my energy for work. I will try to set aside some time on Sunday to answer people's comments on past posts.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 11: Secondhand bookshop gem

Nineteen Varieties of Gazelle, by Naomi Shihab Nye. This one is special to me because I was browsing secondhand bookshops with [personal profile] nymeth, and had planned to leave without buying anything, and as we left the shop, she handed me over this collection of Nye's poetry. It was such a kind and generous thing to do, on what had already been a really nice afternoon wandering around the bookshops — and the book itself is pretty good too!

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 10: Reminds me of someone I love

Most of the books I own remind me of someone I love, either because they were gifts from my mother (and I sort of feel that my love of reading was indirectly a gift from her, because she read aloud to me so much when I was a child, and encouraged me to be a reader), or from my husband, or I bought them on the recommendation of someone I love.

However, what I will go with today is The Girls in the Velvet Frame by Adele Geras. I mentioned this book in passing on an earlier day of the meme, but didn't go into much detail. It's the story of a family consisting of a widowed mother and her five daughters (ranging in age from thirteen to three), living in genteel poverty in Jerusalem in around 1918. There's also a flamboyant, outrageous unmarried aunt (whose stories of her misspent youth travelling around Europe both entrance and outrage her conservative Jewish relatives), and various neighbours in their block of flats who also feature as almost de facto family members; over the course of the book Rifka, the oldest daughter, begins working in a bakery and starts courting the young son of family friends, as part of a tentative future arranged marriage. Hovering just outside the pages is the missing oldest child of the family — the only son, who emigrated to New York seeking a better life, and who has essentially dropped off the map. He hasn't written, he hasn't sent money as promised, and it's a great source of worry and grief to his mother and sisters. The search for Isaac (the brother), is a subplot that meanders through the novel, involving the velvet framed photograph of the title, the community effort of Jewish migrants to New York, and the persistence and ingenuity of the five sisters. But the book's true focus is on the incidental stories of everyday life — sneaking out to feeding the neighbours' rabbits, tables laid with Eastern European cakes and tea, keeping up appearances in the face of poverty, snacking on sugared almonds at their aunt Mimi's house — and it is beautiful because of it.

Why it reminds me of someone I love — when I am neither Jewish, living in the early twentieth centuries, nor having ever experienced that kind of poverty — is its emphasis on the relationships between mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts (men are almost incidental, plot devices rather than characters, which is honestly often what my childhood felt like), and its insistence in putting the stories of women and girls front and centre. My mother isn't very like the mother in the story (although one of my aunts is quite like the aunt, something I recognised even when I first read the book as a seven-year-old), and I grew up with one younger sister, not four (although in adulthood I did end up with four younger sisters — the youngest three were born to my stepmother when I was seventeen, twenty-two, and twenty-nine respectively). But the book has always reminded me of my family, and the family dynamic of my maternal relatives — supportive to the point of bossy interference, in and out of each other's houses without warning or invitation, but happiest in each other's company in spite of everything. It was the first book I read that prioritised the kinds of relationships that were important to me when I was growing up, and showed that stories often treated as marginal, boring, or unimportant were worth being told.

The other days )
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: (ada shelby)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 8: Have more than one copy

Since Matthias and I moved in together and amalgamated our libraries, technically I have two copies of a lot of things (most notably, perhaps, pretty much every Discworld book), but I'll go with The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman here.

When I got married a year-and-a-half ago, my sraffie friends (people I'd met through a fansite for Pullman's His Dark Materials series) gave us a joint present of a crate filled with books, each one representing a story that was important to the individual giver, and each with a message written inside for us. The crate they came in was decorated as if it had previously stored Tokay from Jordan College, the fictional Oxford college in which His Dark Materials begins. And wonderful [twitter.com profile] thelxiepia, my sister by choice, the best friend I made through those sites, and one of my bridesmaids, gave me The Tiger in the Well.

She did this in full knowledge that I already had a copy of the book, a battered version first bought from what I now know was the Waterstones in Gower St, when I was fourteen and on a trip to Europe and New York with my mother and sister. But it was a book for which the two of us shared a deep love — our favourite in Pullman's Sally Lockhart series, and one we'd discussed avidly at various points over the years. It was the perfect gift, and I'm glad I now have two copies as a result.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (seal)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 6: The one I always give as a gift

I always give Alison Lester's picture book, Magic Beach, as a gift to new babies. (It's not really at the right level for a newborn, but it's something they would be able to grow into and appreciate as a toddler.)

This book is an Australian children's classic, with absolutely gorgeous illustrations. It alternates between one page spread about mundane beachside activities (swimming, building sandcastles, paddling in rockpools and so on) and one page where the ordinary activity has become magical, and it's very reminiscent of my own childhood, where the first week of every summer holiday was spent 'down the coast' (Broulee, on the south coast of New South Wales, one of the many seaside towns to which Canberrans decamped during their summer holidays), visits to my mother's family in Sydney would always be accompanied by long hours spent in the ocean (even in winter), and most of my childhood holiday memories consist of bobbing around like a cork at various beaches, accompanied by a pack of kids — relatives, or the children of family friends. When I was a child and read Magic Beach for the first time, I always visualised the eponymous beach as Broulee.

So I give this book, with all those memories behind it, not because I expect the children in question to have similar experiences (indeed, most of the babies I've given it to, such as my cousin's daughter, who lives in Seoul, or my friends' son, who lives in Anglesey) are likely never to swim in the ocean. What I'm giving them, I think, is that sense of freedom, and space, and movement, which makes everyday life seem magical.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
I've already mentioned this on Twitter, but I thought it worth posting about here too. I will be going to this author event in London with Samantha Shannon, Zen Cho, Tasha Suri and Zoe Marriott, and would really love to have some company.

I often go to signings, 'in conversation', or similar events, but I almost always end up going on my own, because most of my friends who like the same authors live on the opposite side of the country (or the world), and while I don't mind being on my own, it is a little lonely.

So this post is basically me asking awkwardly if anyone who is either already going to the event, or who thinks it sounds fun and wants to book a ticket would like to meet up in the Waterstones and hang out during the panel.

If this is you, send me a message and we can sort out the details. I would really love to meet up (and if you're like me and get really stressed out about whether people you've interacted with online consider you enough of a friend to want to meet 'in real life,' if we mutually subscribe to each other's journals here and have interacted, you definitely fall into the category of 'people I'd be happy to meet up with at an author event'), and I think the panel is going to be really great. So...get in touch!
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: (matilda)
I came across this book meme a while ago, and had been waiting until I had a clear month or so to complete it. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, so feel free to steal it and do the meme yourself if you'd like.

Day one is a tough one: favourite book from childhood.

Now, depending on how old I was when you asked me this question, the answer would change quite a bit. I am a fairly loyal reader, and even in childhood I tended to have long stretches of time where a particular book was my favourite — and these can roughly be set out as follows:

Books behind the cut )

As I said before, I can talk about favourite childhood books forever, and would love to hear about yours, or discuss any of my favourites, in the comments.

The other days )
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: (ada shelby)
I'm at home today, because this evening (too early to be able to get there after finishing work), I am going to be fulfilling a lifelong ambition and seeing Massive Attack live in concert! And not just any concert — an anniversary show focusing on the music from their Mezzanine album. Seeing my favourite band of all time perform the songs from my favourite album of all time is just so amazing. Fifteen-year-old Ronni would be astonished at her good fortune!

As a result of being home, I've been trundling back through my reading page, and come bearing links.

First up, if you, like me, recently watched Russian Doll and loved it, [personal profile] rachelmanija has set up a discussion post here. Spoilers are allowed in the comments.

I really shouldn't sign up for multiple exchanges simultaneously, but the new [community profile] peakyblindersficexchange sounds right up my alley. I love the show, and definitely think we need more fic for this fandom. If you're interested in participating, the various deadlines are there in the Dreamwidth account. It seems to use OR matching, and matches on relationships rather than characters, and my impression is that if you don't see your chosen relationship(s) in the tagset you can request that they be added. Assignments are a 500-word minimum.

If you, like me, adore the 'absolute unit' meme (basically, square sheep), you will also adore [personal profile] bironic's latest fanvid. I've embedded the Ao3 link below.

Squares Are Everywhere (90 words) by bironic
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: "Absolute unit" livestock meme
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: cows - Character, Sheep - Character, Pigs - Character
Additional Tags: Memes, Humor, archival images, Art, Video, Embedded Video, Fanvids
Series: Part 58 of vids by bironic
Summary:

"In awe at the size of this lad. Absolute unit." Or: improbably shaped livestock.



This feels peak millennial, but I discovered this poem, 'The Ex-Girlfriends Are Back From the Wilderness' by Hera Lindsay Bird via Florence Welch's Instagram account, and I kind of love it. like too much Persephone and not enough underworld…/wearing nothing but an arts degree. I feel seen.

I hope you're all having wonderful Fridays.
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: 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?

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