Almost belated, but we’re still calling this Wednesday…
What are you currently reading?
I’m still partway through Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Marlon James). I don’t love it, but I’m appreciating it more now that I’ve got used to the narration. I don’t think it’ll ever be a favourite, and it doesn’t much inspire me to read more Marlon James, I’ll admit. So much violence and death… but mostly the narrative style just doesn’t work for me.
I’m also still reading Murderous Contagion (Mary Dobson). I think I’d have loved it a few years ago, and it’s more meh now because I’ve read so much on various different diseases since. There’s not much new to me here.
What have you recently finished reading?
Leviathan Wakes (James S.A. Corey), which I just reviewed. It’s really compulsive, though some of the more horror-leaning bits are aaaalmost too much for me.
What will you be reading next?
I happen to know that I’ll be starting on How to Tame a Fox (Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut), for the Clear Your Shit Readathon prompt of “a book with an animal in it”. Had to sneak non-fiction in somehow!
The opening of Leviathan Wakes is just pure horror. Julie Mao has been trapped in a storage locker for days, during a takeover of her ship. When her need for food, water and other relief overcomes her caution, she bursts out… to find the ship empty and almost dead. She works her way to engineering to find —
Well, I won’t spoil that moment for you, even though it’s at the start of the book. The horror aspect recedes for quite a while, leaving more generic (but fun) space opera and a touch of noir. One side of the narrative follows James Holden and his tiny remnant crew after the destruction of their ship, the Canterbury, as they acquire a new ship (the Rocinante) and attempt to find (and hurt) whoever blew up the Cant.
The other side follows Miller, a halfway-decent cop who is melting down a bit after being ditched by his wife, and who fixates on a job he’s asked to do — to find Julie Mao, daughter of a rather famous family, and ship her back home. The two sides converge, of course, juxtaposing Holden’s righteousness against Miller’s almost amoral tendencies and making both of them look like assholes in the process. (Though in most ways I’m on Holden’s side, and Miller’s just kinda really creepy sometimes.)
The horror comes back in the middle, for sure, and threads through the rest. There are some epic fight scenes, some great character moments, some horrible revelations… and for my money, it all comes together really well. It’s pretty breathless, for me; for all that’s ~550 pages long, I didn’t often put it down. It was a reread for me, and it stood up to the memory. I’m looking forward to rereading Caliban’s War, too.
I was hoping for something that was totally disconnected from current events, something like stepping back into the bubble that was my BA/MA at Cardiff University… and I got it. This is a history of houses in British literature, what houses might have inspired the authors and what the houses meant to them — and what, perhaps, they were trying to say with their fiction. It gets a bit infodumpy, which may or may not bother you: the books it mentions are comprehensively spoilered, which may or may not spoil the stories for you. (For me, no; it probably enhances them most of the time.)
It is, consequently, not a book about the history of houses, per se. Some of that creeps in, of course. Some of the books and stories are more focused on houses than others, and some books felt included here as an afterthought — but it’s nice to have some signposting to other relevant reading, should I care.
I don’t, really; I wanted this for my wide-but-shallow knowledge acquired by pleasure reading, and so it was an end in itself, something that demanded very little of me. As far as I can tell, the theories and arguments about the influence of certain houses on certain writers (and the intent of the writers in shaping their stories) were well-argued and plausible. Richardson writes clearly and made me interested in books and authors I’ve not read yet, and makes some interesting points.
Fly By Night is a heck of a lot of fun, and though I’d say it’s perfect for a pre-teen or young teenage reader… there’s a lot to attract the adult reader too. Hardinge’s created a strange world, a bit aslant from our own, and through it rampages Mosca, a young girl who has run away from her home village; Saracen, a goose that she took with her; Eponymous Clem, the smooth-talking stranger she decided to join… and a host of other characters of various stripes. I have to admit that, primed by Untitled Goose Game, I was on Saracen’s side in all of this. In any given scene, at any given stopping point, my main concern was where is Saracen???
(People who watched me live-tweeting my binge of this book can attest to that. Several tweets demanding to know where the goose was.)
Part of the reason I was on Saracen’s side is that things get a bit twisty. Who do you trust? By the last hundred pages, I only trusted Saracen. There’s so much going on: old religious iconoclasms, political upheaval, guildsmen of different factions, censorship of the written word, secret schools in alleyways, floating coffeehouses which are free of some of the censorship and rules that apply in the city… And I haven’t touched on a lot of the other stuff. There’s highwaymen! Daring escapes! Shocking revelations! It’s a madcap world and the narration tumbles through it joyfully.
The book almost ends on this note: “I don’t want a happy ending, I want more story.”
It’s been a long time since I read this book, but I remembered every word and every one of C. Walter Hodges’ illustrations with the same sort of childhood sharpness that Marcus has in his memories of the olive-wood bird and the summer day he spent carving it. I think it was one of the first books I read on my own, and I read it absolutely to pieces. It’s funny reading it now and noting the things I didn’t understand originally, the details of Roman British life and stuff about Esca’s relationship to being a slave, and Tribune Placidus being a snob…
The Eagle of the Ninth follows Marcus, a young centurion who is injured partway through his first command at a smallish fort. His heroism saves his men, but cuts him off from the soldier’s life he expected to lead, the life his father led before him. His uncle takes him in, but he’s pretty lost — even once his leg heals, even with the friendship of Esca (a British ex-gladiator he buys) and Cottia (a British girl raised by a want-to-be Roman family next door), and even with the companionship of the wolf cub Esca brings him. In the end, though, he gets a chance to find out what happened to his father, who marched away with the Ninth Legion and never returned, and most of the book follows his travels through Scotland searching for the lost eagle of his father’s legion, with Esca at his side.
It’s weird reading this now with an eye to Esca’s relationship with Marcus and how tainted that is by Esca’s slavery. Sutcliff does deal with it somewhat, but… as a kid, I never really thought about how awful it was for Marcus to be able to buy a person, and to buy Esca’s loyalty like that. And I never noticed how young Cottia was, either. Yikes. But knowing that Sutcliff spent much of her life convalescent, there’s also a new poignancy to Marcus’ struggle with his injury.
Some of the details of Roman Britain as we understand it have changed since Sutcliff wrote this book, I believe, but her research was meticulous. Roman Britain wasn’t set dressing for a story that could happen anywhere; it’s beautifully woven right into history, imagining a story around a wingless Roman eagle that was found in Silchester. She reached for scents, sounds, authentic details, and brought the Roman world to life in many of her books, and especially here.
Though I read it as a child, I think it has universal appeal. There are things about the characters that I understand so much better now as an adult, and the detail of the worldbuilding that was immersive when I was a child is still impressive.
Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians, Laurel Beckley
Received to review via Netgalley
Accused of leaking a manuscript she was supposed to edit, Evie gets exiled from her normal job as an editor to work as a librarian distributing literature via literally riding from homestead to homestead on a pack-horse, far from her usual home. Oh, and her girlfriend is the one who betrayed her, she barely knows how to ride a horse, and the place she’s going is full of privation and coal dust. Charming!
This is a very short book, but there’s a lot going on with the world-building (explicitly queer-positive: kids transition to a chosen gender as well as to adulthood, same-gender relationships are common or perhaps even the default; there’s some magic of various types, quite poorly defined; there’s some kind of law requiring literacy, hence the pack-horse librarians)… and yet there’s not a lot of detail on any of that. It feels like a side-novella in a known universe or something like that, though as far as I know that isn’t the case.
I found it a bit oddly paced, with instaluv into the bargain and a really obvious “twist”. It feels like a lot of elements were included to pad things out but didn’t actually get wrapped up. The romance is cute, but we barely know the love interest, who gets introduced pretty late. There were a lot of elements I found interesting, but overall it was kinda meh, I’m afraid!
Elliott is recovering from an awful betrayal, holed up in a small house not far from where his brother lives, and buying books in place of therapy. After a good deal of prodding and some awful interviews as he tries to get back into academia, Elliott decides to share some of his books by building a Little Free Library. And hey, it’s a cliché, but books can bring people together, and so it proves for Elliott — not all the connections he forms are deep and lasting, but it gives him a connection to the community which he was lacking, and starts to wake him up a bit.
Simon is a police officer, or was, before he was shot in the knee. He meets Elliott while walking for physiotherapy, and has something of an awakening as he gets to know Elliott, and browses the books in his library, which include books on queer history. Although he’s in the closet to his family, and Elliott’s planning on moving to wherever he can get a job, the two of them decide to try to make something of it.
The Little Library is, overall, really sweet. Neither Elliott nor Simon are totally perfect, but they are doing their best, and though they have miscommunications and mismatched needs at times, they work through it like adults. We see both of them in their family relationships as well, and there’s no clear-cut awfulness or greatness — just people being people, not always good to each other, but in the end being a family and making things work. The drama isn’t big huge world-ending stuff, and they don’t treat it that way; these are very definitely adult men, figuring things out, making their way through things.
I enjoyed it a lot, and thought Simon was terribly sweet. They make for a good pair, each offering something to the relationship and to each other, and it was fun to watch it happen.
I’ve been meaning to read this forever, and in fact I originally had an advance copy of this. As often happens when I get a much-anticipated book as an advance copy, I actually bought it as soon as it came out, since it didn’t feel fair to read the ARC anymore. So… Mexican Gothic follows Noemí Taboada, a girl from a rich Mexican family, living in the city and hoping to go on to study more, enjoying her life as a socialite. Her cousin recently married, but it seems that something odd has happened to her — she sent home an almost incoherent letter, raving about the awful things happening to her — and Noemí’s father decides to send her to see what’s happening.
Noemí goes, partly out of affection for her cousin, partly out of curiosity, and partly to prove herself. She immediately finds that Catalina’s new family are rather odd, with oppressive rules and a rather awful house. And Catalina is ill: tuberculosis, the doctor says, and yet Noemí doesn’t think it seems to fit. When she snatches a moment along with Catalina, her cousin sends her to get a remedy from a local woman, and yet it seems to make her even more ill…
I won’t say too much more about the plot: it settles in to be nicely Gothic and weird. I don’t know if it was because of the books I’ve been reading lately (I shouldn’t name them, in case it’s too much of a spoiler), but I figured a good chunk of the plot out through noticing a recurring motif. I found that I wasn’t as riveted as I’d hoped to be, because it took me time to really connect with Noemí — – her confidence in her own intelligence, beauty and charm was a bit too much toward overconfidence, and though I can’t say that I’d fall in with the traditions of Catalina’s new family(!), it also seemed weird that she was so unwilling to respect simple things that are asked of her as a good guest, like not smoking in the bedroom. (Sure, different era and all, but… being a good guest hasn’t changed that much.) She just seems quite entitled.
However, as we got to see more of Francis, and as Noemí worked things out, it started to work a lot better for me — and the last third/quarter of the book, ish, is pretty nail-biting. Naturally, it doesn’t end in a terribly comfortable way, leaving a few questions and horrible possibilities hanging…
Really enjoyable, all in all, though I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to until later.
This is Kind of An Epic Love Story, Kacen Callender
This book is very much YA, which I expected, so it was a nice choice when I didn’t feel like I had much focus, and it proved to be a really quick read. What drew me to it was that the love interest, Ollie, is deaf and uses sign language, and I read from reviews that the narrative explains the signs a couple of times and then expects you to remember them. I’m not super visual, so I thought that might be tricky, but I definitely wanted to see how it worked out.
The main character and narrator, Nate, isn’t deaf, but he learned some sign from Ollie when they were younger. Ollie moved away — and left their friendship rather broken-off, as it ended with Nate trying to kiss Ollie and Ollie running the heck away — but now he’s back, just as Nate’s broken up with his best friend, Flo. Ollie’s still trying to make a long-distance relationship work, but Nate can’t help but hope they can pick things back up again…
The sign language thing was really well done; even if you’re not great at actually picking up and remembering the signs, the context does tell you what’s happening, without repeatedly translating the same signs over and over. It also avoids translating directly from sign to English, though it supplements the signs it describes by the boys typing messages to each other via their phones.
The teenage web of friendships are all pretty well done, too; I could totally believe in Flo and Nate’s awkwardness with each other, and their slow feeling out of the new boundaries, and I believed in their little group of friends. It’s mostly sort of sketched in, but the sketch works.
I found Nate’s repeated fatalism rather grating, in some ways — every time something doesn’t go his way in some tiny way, he just gives up on it… but that’s kind of the point of the story, so you have to bear with it a bit. I thought Flo and Nate’s friendship was sweet, for all its ups and downs; Ollie’s probably too good for Nate, but maybe Nate’s starting to learn, at the end…
I found myself kinda wrong-footed by the total lack of homophobia anywhere in the book. I don’t know how representative of a teen experience it is now, but my teens were completely swallowed by the homophobia of other kids and people around me. Sure, that’s 12 years ago, and in a conservative sort of school which only let girls start to attend a couple of years before I joined the school… But it felt very weird to read a book where homophobia was just not a problem. I know why some authors prefer to do it — and I’d like to think maybe it is people’s experience now — but it was really pretty odd to be reading a certain sort of YA, expecting it at every turn of the page, and just… not finding it. Not a bad weird! Just weird.
Oops, it’s late! Okay, real quick, here we go, my WWW Wednesday!
What are you currently reading?
Since it’s about to be 5th November (Bonfire Night, in the UK), I decided to pick up the recently reissued The Progress of a Crime, by Julian Symons. It’s in the British Library Crime Classics series, so it was pretty much an auto-buy; I’ve found Symons’ books very readable, though I don’t always find them pleasant — there’s something about the characters he centres that just feels too clever by half, and just generally unpleasant (and that’s not something that has to be the case with crime fiction! there are plenty with pleasant leads).
There are a few other books on the go, but this one is the top of the pile at the moment.
What have you recently finished reading?
The last thing I finished was This is Kind of An Epic Love Story, by Kacen Callender. Very fun as a short read, though very YA in level, meaning it slipped by just a little too easily. That said, the portrayal of sign language and the way Callender avoids over-explaining the sign (or just treating it as “translation” and putting it in full English sentences) is pretty cool.
What will you be readingnext?
I intend to get properly stuck into my reread of James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, for SciFi Month! I also want to start rereading Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold; I’d like to crack on with reading the Vorkosigan series in honour of SciFi Month, too. Finally, I need to read Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians, for the Clear Your Shit Readathon.
As ever, it’s also entirely possible I’ll head off in some other weird and wonderful direction, too.