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: (emily)
This has been a week of lovely things, capped off with a wonderful, restful Sunday of cooking, housework, and reading.

After years of asking, I finally got a standing desk at work, and the effect has been miraculous. The difference between how I feel after a day's work at the standing desk and a day's work sitting down is palpable and welcome: for the first time in my working life, I finished the day without back pain, without sore wrists and hands and shoulders, without headaches, and without feeling exhausted. I know the evidence is inconclusive about the benefits of standing desks, but for me, at least, they seem to work.

Matthias' parents left yesterday after nine days visiting us in Cambridge. We don't have room for them to stay with us (while I'm happy to offer up the uncomfortable sofabed in the living room to friends, I would feel terrible offering it to my sixtysomething parents-in-law), so they normally rent a holiday house and hang out with us during evenings and weekends. We had time on Saturday to go out for a bit, and elected to go to Kettle's Yard, a historic house previously owned by an art collector, with a gallery attached. The house has been kept in its former state, with the collector's art on the walls and lots of interesting little nooks and crannies. Entry is completely free to both the house and the gallery. You're allowed to sit on any of the chairs, and stay as long as the house is open, so it's common to see students, writers and artists just hanging out there and working - there's wifi, warmth, and comfy spaces to sit, so as long as you don't mind visitors wandering around, it's a nice space. For some reason I'd never been before, despite having lived in Cambridge for over nine years. I took a few photos, which you can see here and here, and will definitely visit again.

Today I had to brave the cold not once but twice, in order to go to both the food market, and the library after it had opened. On top of these errands, I spent most of the morning cooking (leek, tomato and potato soup to take to work for lunch), cleaning various bits of the house, and doing laundry, but I'm looking forward to a more relaxing afternoon, sitting in my wing chair, drinking tea, nibbling chocolate, reading my book (the sixth and final book of the Lymond Chronicles, about which I have very mixed feelings), and watching the snow melt.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Matthias and I decided to go out on a little bit of an adventure today. We're limited in Cambridge by where we can reach by public transport and/or walking, and a lot of the villages surrounding the city are not served by buses at all (or only served by one bus that goes into Cambridge in the morning, and another that returns in the evening, which is obviously no good to us at all). However, Hemingford Grey - the site of one really good pub with excellent food - is reachable, even on Sundays, so we decided to make the trek out there for Sunday lunch. This involved catching a bus to St Ives, walking for about half an hour (although we made the walk last for an hour by continuing along the towpath beside the river), and then settling down for a really fantastic meal. We returned to Cambridge via Swavesey, as Matthias wanted to stop for a drink in the pub there (which was also pretty nice), and got home just as it was getting dark. It was a nice way to spend the day. I've put a little photoset up on Instagram, which shows the pretty fields, river, trees and flowers we walked through.

This week also involved seeing three films: Pride (which the university was screening specially as part of LGBT History Month), Black Panther, and I, Tonya. I enjoyed them all immensely.

Pride was just so joyous and defiant, at once an upbeat romantic comedy and a pointedly political call to arms. I had been feeling really worn down by the state of the world, so it was nice to watch something that was about two very different groups of downtrodden, despised and dispossessed people (LGBT people, and striking miners) making common cause and taking on a powerful enemy with unlimited resources with little more than handpainted signs, collecting tins, and the determination of those with moral right on their side.

Black Panther was a glorious, timely addition to the clunking juggernaut that is the MCU. I adored all the female characters, I adored the music and the costumes, and I loved that it didn't hold back in its critiques of colonialism and US (in particular) antiblack racism. We saw the film in IMAX (although not in 3D), and it was well worth it.

Given we've frequently had the Winter Olympics playing in the background at home, I, Tonya was highly thematically relevant. (I wonder if its release was timed to coincide with the Olympics?) I had a vague idea of the historical events on which it was based, but as an Australian (we don't really do winter sports) and as an ex gymnast (that is, someone whose quota of over-the-top performatively feminine acrobatics set to music was already filled) I wasn't really aware of them at the time they were happening. The film is really well written and well acted, blackly comedic while also underscoring how truly messed up competitive elite sport can be, particularly sports which, like figure skating, involve image (i.e. performance of a particular kind of femininity) and long hours of training from a very young age. I hope it picks up some acting Oscars, because it truly deserves them.

All in all, it's been a pretty good week.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
The weekend has been a good mix of social and hermity stuff, and I think I managed to strike exactly the right balance between the two. On Saturday we had four of our friends over -- [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse, her husband E, and our friends V and P. Last year, another friend had given Matthias and me a jeroboam of champagne as an engagement gift. Now, as much as we'd like to, the two of us are incapable of drinking three litres of champagne in one sitting, so the bottle had sat undrunk in our house for a year and a half. We finally decided that we'd have an afternoon party with champagne and snacks to celebrate various successes in our friendship group: Matthias has just started a new job, E recently got a new job (actually working as a library assistant in the library where Matthias is now working), as did [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse, V recently won a very prestigious translation award in Iceland (she translates Icelandic books into English), and I'd recently started a new and challenging secondment.

We had been intending to have the party outside in our courtyard, but it ended up pouring with rain, so instead we sat in the living room, eating, drinking the champagne, and generally having a good time. Given that most of my Cambridge friends are people I met while we were all MPhil/PhD students together, people tend to move on once they've finished their degrees, so I'm glad that at least these four are still around. Afternoon snacks turned into dinner, and we ended up getting really delicious takeaway from the south Indian restaurant down the road, which I hadn't eaten at for ages and really enjoyed.

Today I woke up good and early and made my usual trip to the markets in central Cambridge. It was a really beautiful misty morning, and everything looked gorgeous. I love this kind of weather, so cold and stark and still. Once I'd got back from the market, Matthias and I went out for brunch, and then stopped by the food fair (which happens about four times a year in one of the parks in the centre of town) to pick up stuff like olive oil, vinegar and other sauces.

I've spent the afternoon finishing off Ruin of Angels, the sixth book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, which was absolutely wonderful, as all the books in the series are. I realised about midway through that about 95 per cent of the characters with speaking roles were female, whiich pleased me immmensely. The world of the series is just so clever and inventive, and has this unbelievably lived-in feel, and a sense of place that's stronger than pretty much any other fantasy series I've read.

I'm now just hanging around online while tonight's roast dinner bakes in the oven. It's proper autumn here in Cambridge now, which is my favourite time of the year. There's an icy undertone to the air, the trees are at their most beautiful, and my nesting tendencies go into complete overdrive. This weekend's been a good start!
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Day Twenty-One: Favourite female character screwed over by canon

Kendra (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The thing that frustrates me most about Kendra is that of all the show's wonderful recurring tertiary characters, she's the only one who feels as if she was just written to give Buffy character development and feelings. Buffy is generally excellent in terms of recurring characters - even if they only appear in three or four episodes, they feel fully human, with understandable motives, fears and developed personalities.

But Kendra is something of a blank slate. She has only two obvious personality traits: her fondness for the rules, and her lack of social ties. In other words, she is only remarkable in the ways in which she differs from rule-bending, social butterfly Buffy, and she serves to illustrate that Buffy is right in her choices. Kendra's rule-following makes Buffy look intelligently flexible and adaptable, while Kendra's apparent disconnection from other human beings makes Buffy look warm and protected by the support of her friends and boyfriend.

Now, Buffy is the protagonist, so other characters are always going to be used to move her plot forward and help her develop as a character, but Kendra is the only character who gives the impression that that's her sole purpose. And there's no reason why she had to be written in this way. Faith, the slayer who follows Kendra, is also written as a foil to Buffy, but the show also manages to show us why she is the way she is, and why she makes the choices she does.

As it is, Kendra shows up for a couple of episodes, makes Buffy feel inadequate before reinforcing the rightness of Buffy's choices, and then dies in order to illustrate the seriousness of what Buffy faces in the season finale. It's a profoundly unsatisfactory character arc - if arc is even the right word - and I can't help but feel that the character was a wasted opportunity.

The other days )

Also, I have been thoroughly enjoying the late autumn weather here in Cambridge, so have a few photos of yesterday's frost.

Photos behind the cut )

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