The second book of Narnia is perhaps the most famous: Lucy Pevensie walks through a wardrobe and finds herself in a mysterious land, shrouded in snow, and she and her three siblings get drawn into a deathly struggle against the Witch — that same Witch who entered Narnia at its very beginning in The Magician’s Nephew. In many ways this is a favourite, even if it totally lies about Turkish delight being tasty, and despite the heavy-handedness of the allegory.
This time, I couldn’t help but notice the little details that delight me: the titles of the books in Mr Tumnus’ cave, Mrs Beaver wanting to take her sewing machine on the run, the descriptions of the onrush of spring after winter is defeated. I do cringe a little at the bit about Father Christmas, though — it totally breaks the mood for me, though most of Lewis’ other mixing and matching of legend and mythology doesn’t bother me.
In the end, of course, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, who is really a stupid human boy who has barely grown up… and actually, the allegory here works really well for me. Religion is a complicated subject for many, and I don’t really want to get into the personal stuff here, but the way it demonstrates the story of the crucifixion (and of why Jesus died) is really well done, in my books. It’s not just about Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund, necessary to the prophecy as he is: as a child, that’s all I really saw (despite understanding the allegory), but this time it made me think of the fact that Christianity says Jesus sacrificed himself for everyone, petty and childish and ignorant about the world as we are.
I don’t like to pick Narnia apart too much, because in terms of worldbuilding and consistency and so on, it doesn’t bear much picking at. But that part worked for me, this time in particular.
It’s sort of surprising how quickly these books are over, reading them as an adult. They took up such a large chunk of my imagination as a kid, it felt like they were huge. But there are still worlds to be found here, even as an adult.
This got recced at some point when someone on Twitter was asking for romances set in bookstores, and it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I figured I might as well. I don’t think I had a good look at the plot, because if I had I might’ve run away screaming… Alfie Carter is a mechanic, and he spends his off time listening to audiobooks and talking about how awesome Jane Austen was with ‘LLB’, his online boyfriend. Leo runs a second-hand bookshop and spends half his time talking to his online boyfriend, ‘Camaro89’. Alfie and Leo hate each other after Leo’s less than graceful putdown of Alfie not long after arriving in town… and obviously LLB is Leo, and Camaro89 is Alfie, and realities are gonna collide at some point.
To my infinite pain, the whole thing is a series of miscommunications and lack of communication; Relationship Advice Dalek (“COMM-UNI-CATE! COMM-UNI-CATE!”) was out in a big way for reading this entire thing. But… it feels kind of nice to read about totally normal stuff right now, and this stupid situation has normal idiot humans all over it.
For my money, Leo’s putdowns of Alfie feel like too much, though. If you put those aside, it’s cute, but the putdowns are hurtful and mean-spirited, and they make Leo not a person I want to hang out with. Obviously as LLB he comes to see the better parts of Alfie, and when they start dating offline it makes sense… but geez, Alfie, Leo wasn’t just being a bit of an asshole, he was being a lot of an asshole! And that never really gets explained enough for me to feel quite right about liking Leo.
Laying that aside, it’s cute, and the epilogue is extra cute. I don’t buy Leo’s character, though, and it makes me a little bit wary to try Malcolm’s other romances, based on the synopses of those. Sounds like a lot of potential for stupid miscommunications and asshole characters. I guess I’ll try one sometime, and see how it goes!
It’s been a while, I think, but often when I’m feeling crap, I come back to the Narnia books. I always saw the Christian allegory when I was a kid, so I never had the moment of betrayal that a lot of other people seem to talk about; I always kind of took them as they were, and went off with the bits that suited me.
The Magician’s Nephew follows the start of Narnia, its creation myth, but it starts smaller than that with a little boy and a little girl in London, when “Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road” (I’ve always loved that opening, somehow). Polly and Digory become friends very quickly, partly because there’s nothing much else to do. It starts with childish play when they try to get through to the deserted house further down the row, by climbing through the connected attics — but it becomes a little more serious when they accidentally find themselves in Digory’s uncle’s study, and he gives Polly a ring… which immediately makes her vanish away to another world.
I always rather enjoyed the little character studies of Uncle Andrew — his silliness, and greed, and overall cleverness-that-is-also-stupidity. He’s just rather delightfully mediocre, the delight being in the way he doesn’t know that and yet the reader can see it so clearly. I also enjoy the idea of Charn, the oppressive breathlessness of the time the children spend exploring it, and just imagining coming out into the long room full of images of people… It helps that my edition still has the same black-and-white sketch illustrations my childhood copies did.
In the end there’s a lot of magic in this book, a breathless wonder at creation and at Aslan’s love for it, but there’s also a lot of humanity in Digory’s struggles, in his stupid fights with Polly, and yes, in Uncle Andrew. It was still worth coming back to, for me, though this rating is no doubt half nostalgia.
I liked Miranda in Milan more than I expected from the reviews I saw around before I read it — I was curious, but not wildly interested, and mostly just picked it up now because I’m reading a lot of short fiction because that’s what’s working for my brain. And it turns out… I really liked it. I started reading it and figured I’d have to stop halfway through for work; halfway through, I damned work and carried on until I was finished.
It’s a semi-retelling, semi-sequel to The Tempest; a retelling because it plays with some of the facts and embellishes them, a sequel because it’s set after the play. It follows Miranda after she and Prospero return to Milan. The servants whisper about her, and she’s forced to wear a black veil to hide her face, but luckily a young Moroccan servant is happy to talk to her and explain things to her. They quickly become close, and this develops (fairly quickly) into a romantic relationship. I’m a little nonplussed by reviews feeling it came out of nowhere; I didn’t actually remember this was f/f, and was hoping for the romance to happen from the first hints of it.
It’s probably a good thing I read Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban quite a while now, because the prose would suffer in comparison! As it is, I found it worked well for me: I wouldn’t say it’s going to stick in my head for beauty, but it succeeded in conjuring an atmosphere for me.
It all resolves a little simply and in the way I kind of expected, and I do appreciate the criticism that Prospero has no complexity and is basically a big evil bogeyman — though I also appreciated the way Miranda had to go over her memories and figure out where the lies and gaps were. It’s a little realistic hint of an abusive relationship that rang very true. Agata could have been just completely horrible, too, so I enjoyed that we got to see another side of her and understand a little of her bitterness and fear.
All in all, it worked really well for me; I thoroughly enjoyed it.
There’s a lot to like about Cinnamon Blade: Cinnamon Blade herself is a cat burglar turned superhero who also happens to be Jewish and bisexual, and her background — and that of her more religiously observant best friend — are baked into the story in little ways. Her relationship with Soledad, a woman she has ended up rescuing again and again, is passionate and at the same time dorky and cute.
Unfortunately, I think maybe I just don’t quite get on with Shira Glassman’s writing, which just doesn’t do much for me… and I definitely didn’t work well with the jump-start the romance got, heading straight off into mildly kinky (public) sex and more or less staying there, with superhero interludes. I wanted more of the other stuff — Blade’s relationship with the team, for instance, because the little we got to see of Captain Werewolf (the aforementioned more religiously observant best friend) was pretty cool.
It has its moments, and it wasn’t a bad way to beguile a half hour, but not quite my thing either.
Fiction: I’m still in the midst of rereading The Steerswoman (Rosemary Kirstein) for Wife Book Club. (Which is literally just me and my wife, but Wife Book Club sounds cute and funny.) I’ve also recently started The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Alix E. Harrow), which so far is lovely and keeping my attention quite well for something that I know will take me time.
I’m also partway through Laura Lam’s Goldilocks, which I should pick up for a few more chapters today. It’s on my Kindle, though, so I mostly read it on bath days.
Non-fiction: I’ve started reading Digging up Armageddon (Eric H. Cline), which is about archaeological work at the site of Megiddo. So far he’s going into all the drama about the dig headed by James Henry Breasted. It’s not uninteresting, but… I want the archaeology, not the drama about the archaeology.
What have you recently finished reading?
Fiction: Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You (Scotto Moore), which had a concept that interested me and just didn’t really reach me. It felt like it went all-out too soon and I didn’t get the tasty build-up I’d got on board for. I know it’s a novella, but still. The full review is on my blog already!
Non-fiction: The Rules of Contagion (Adam Kucharski), which was written at a rather opportune moment but is not really all about diseases — more about how disease-modelling can be used to shed light on other things that spread, like behaviours and computer viruses. Again, full review already up!
What will you be reading next?
I really don’t know. I’m really picky at the moment, even though I’m overall feeling better. As ever, I follow the Wimsey family motto: As my Whimsy takes me. I might even finish my reread of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, the better to reach Strong Poison et al.
This book started out promisingly for me: a music blogger finds a new track on Bandcamp by a band that seems to have come out of nowhere. Once he listens to it, it’s life-changing: it’s the best song he’s ever heard, a full-body experience of bliss. And there’s going to be 10 more tracks, one released each day…
It’s likely that it’s best to know as little as possible about this one before going in, but to some extent I found that people saying that made me expect more of a mystery than there actually was. I was hoping for more buildup, more mystery; instead, this book is way more in your face than that. And that’s where it kind of lost me: I didn’t want it to come straight out and tell me what it was going to be so soon. I felt like the concept of this music was good enough it needed to be strung out for a good long while, teasing the reader.
The places it goes are fun, but it wasn’t what I thought I was settling in for, and it felt a bit too… well, like I said: it felt in-your-face. It said the quiet bit out loud. Consequently, it kind of lost me and I didn’t buy in for the rest of the ride.
The Rules of Contagion is slightly out of my wheelhouse, being less about infectious disease and more about the principles underlying all kinds of contagion. Certainly, there are many examples taken from infectious disease, and it’s a rather on-the-nose choice to read in the current climate (for posterity: I write this review in the midst of the UK’s lockdown to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2)… but a good amount of it is discussing other ways of “going viral”: computer viruses, internet memes, and even failure in the financial sector.
I found it reasonably clear and easy to understand, and luckily the math content is pretty light and more theoretical than anything. I did feel sort of like it got stranded in the weeds, though: I wasn’t sure where it was going, and as a consequence, I wasn’t sure whether we got there or not.
In the end, it sort of felt like I was being told a series of cool anecdotes and snippets from research, without them being entirely related to each other. There’s no ur-theory of contagion here, just a ramble connecting some various strands of contagion theory together. That’s not uninteresting, but it feels a little unsatisfying!
Knit One, Girl Two is a short, low-stakes f/f romance. Clara’s into dyeing yarn, but she’s looking for inspiration for a new set of colours. She finds that inspiration in paintings by Danielle, a fellow Jewish woman, and Danielle is just as excited as she is by the chance to collaborate. They bond through the shared endeavour, which goes big time thanks to Danielle’s famous uncle, and a shared fandom. The only conflict in the novella is something that’s going on for Danielle, leaving her unable to paint and unhappy.
One thing I enjoyed a lot was how Clara dealt with hearing that something was going on for Danielle, via a rumour. She knows she can look it up… but she doesn’t, and instead sends a message to Danielle explaining that she knows something is happening, but she doesn’t want to pry. It’s a really cool and respectful way to go about it, which helped smooth over something I’d have found rather awkward.
The writing is fairly simple and matter-of-fact; the dialogue and descriptions didn’t really take off for me. It’s a cute story, and I’m so glad it’s out there providing f/f representation, Jewish romance, and low-stakes happiness… but I’m afraid it probably won’t stick with me. It’s a good companion for half an hour of reading, especially because it is low-stakes: things happen which you can care about, in the way you care about your friend’s latest drama or your sister’s work issues… but it tugs lightly on the heartstrings, rather than playing one of Paganini’s Caprices.