Blood and Circuses didn’t quite satisfy the hunger for rereading Phryne’s adventures, since it’s atypical in some ways. I joked on Litsy that I was rereading the series for the delicious dresses and beautiful food (with the adjectives that way round!) — and there’s certainly a good helping of that here, along with the first appearance of Phryne’s Chinese lover, Lin Chung. I can’t speak for how accurate or respectful his portrayal is; Greenwood is certainly sympathetic to the Chinese people living in Melbourne at the time, but there’s a fair amount of exoticisation going on there (as there is with Phryne herself, of course, but still).
Never having really known a serious actor personally, I find the way Greenwood portrays them bewilderingly malicious at times. I mean, Sir Bernard isn’t so bad, and Mollie Webb, but there’s so much spite, vanity and callousness flying around… particularly in the person of the beautiful Leila Esperance.
In any case, it’s a pretty fun one, and especially entertaining to see Greenwood portray a Welshman (even one who’s such a cad).
Greetings, everyone! My wife has now fixed the issue where I wasn’t getting notification emails, and I got inbox zero again for the first time in a few months, so I’m back!
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, which is of course a reread for me. But it’s the first time I’m reading the beautiful version illustrated by Charles Vess. Funnily enough, I’m finding that I know it so well, I can identity individual words that have been changed/corrected (some for the better, others for the worst) in the new text.
Non-fiction: A World Beneath the Sands, by Toby Wilkinson, which is a history of Egyptologists rather a history of Egypt itself, although of course the two are inevitably interlinked. I’m not far into it yet. I’m also reading A Life in Miniature, by Nicola Lisle, which is about dolls’ houses. It’s… very descriptive, delving into the exact furnishings of specific dolls’ houses. Not sure if I will stick with it.
What have you recently finished reading?
A reread of Blood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood — I felt like spending some time with Phryne Fisher, though this is kind of unrepresentative given it follows a case where she joins a circus to figure out what’s happening!
I also finished The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, by Aliette de Bodard, which reminded me that I really want to track down more of the Xuya stories and read more in that universe.
What will you be reading next?
Big shrug, as ever. I’m tempted by A Lady’s Guide to Murder and Mayhem, by Manda Collins; sounds like it should be fluffy fun.
Blood and Circuses is, of course, a reread for me — the book in which Phryne Fisher joins the circus to work out a mystery, at the pleading (and goading) of her carnie friends… while at the same time, a horrible murder has taken place which Jack Robinson must investigate. It’s always interesting to see Phryne out of her element, because that’s when she has to be her most resourceful, and the circus is a whole new world for her.
There’s also Lizard Elsie, and her adventures with Miss Parkes and Constable Harris, which keep things entertaining (to say the least).
It always feels like it takes a while to heat up, and then suddenly flies by once Phryne’s there in the circus. It’s surprising to realise how fast it goes. I always enjoy this one, and I’m particularly entertained (as ever!) by the scene in which the clown and the carnie have to cuddle Phryne to help her get over her shock…
The Green Mill Murder is one of the books of this series which really sticks in my head, mostly because of the descriptions of the flight over the mountains, and then the silence and space of the mountains. That part is so vividly imagined — including Phryne’s dislike of it — that it can’t help but stick in my head… that and the sheer awfulness of both Charles and Mrs Freeman. The mystery itself feels a little unfair… I knew how it was done and still couldn’t piece it together until Phryne, like magic, pulled it out of the hat. I don’t always mind that, myself, but it does rankle with some mystery readers, so it’s worth knowing.
Ostensibly the main mystery of the book is the murder which happens in its opening page, when one of the dancers in a marathon dancing session suddenly collapses, and seems to have been killed with a very slim knife. Something’s changed about the corpse when Phryne next looks at it, but she can’t put her finger on what… and in the meantime her date has vanished off to be copiously sick. Or just vanished: the policeman who goes to look for him finds no trace.
I find the main mystery oddly forgettable, though, despite the power of Nerine’s voice and Tintagel’s alleged charms. I didn’t really see it myself, for Tintagel’s case, though of course Phryne is susceptible to a pretty face… it’s just that he’s also a bit of an amoral bastard, and that always colours my reading of his character. In any case, the bit that sticks in my head is Vic Freeman and his lonely hut. Or not lonely, really, given he has a horse (actually a donkey or mule, I think? I am too lazy to get up and check), a dog, and a wombat (who proves instrumental). The rest of it is full of awful people, but Vic is just happy to be alone, to have some silence and healing away from the city.
It’s an enjoyable read, but sometimes feels a little lopsided to me, because of the bits of the plot I prefer.
It’s Tuesday again already? Gah. So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By”. This one’s always tricky because sometimes you can read just one series by an author and it swamps the handful of one-shots by authors you like more. What’s more, I think my stats might be messed up by all the rereads. So I’m going to ignore the actual statistics here and go with the authors I think I’ve read the most of.
Ursula Le Guin. She was pretty prolific! She’s got to feature on the list somewhere. I read Earthsea as a teenager and gradually moved through most of her science fiction and then her non-fiction essays… and no matter what she writes, it’s all so good. There are more memorable and less memorable forays (a lot of people discount or didn’t like Lavinia or the Gifts trilogy) but… in general, I’ve found something to enjoy in everything she wrote.
K.J. Charles. Charles takes up a pretty good chunk of my shelf, and of course I don’t have all of them in paperback. I’m going to be willing to try just about anything she writes, and I’m a little sad I only have a handful to go. (Being Proper English, Rag and Bone, Slippery Creatures… and maybe some shorter stories? The Price of Meat and A Queer Trade, at least, and of course the crossover with Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin.)
Kerry Greenwood. On the strength of the Phryne Fisher series alone, she’s probably pretty high on my list.
Carola Dunn. Same, only with the Daisy Dalrymple books — plus one of her romance trilogies. She’s hugely prolific and I really need to decide on a few more of her romances to read, because I really liked Miss Jacobson’s Journey et al.
Dorothy L. Sayers. She’s got to be up there in the list, given I’ve read all the Peter Wimsey books, the short stories, and The Documents in the Case…
Marie Brennan. I actually haven’t read all her books yet, but I’ve read one or two of the Onyx Court books, and all the Isabella Trent books, a couple of novellas and at least two short story collections. I’m willing to try just about anything with her name on it.
Guy Gavriel Kay. He’s got a fair few books out and I’ve even read all but two of them, so I think he must be a contender here! I actually got hooked on his oldest books (The Fionavar Tapestry), but he’s got a beautiful way with words. Just… don’t put him in charge of who pairs up with who.
N.K. Jemisin. I might not actually have read more of her works than some other authors, but she deserves a place on this list for intentions. I’m behind, but I will read everything she’s written and everything she’s going to write, most likely.
Mary Robinette Kowal. At this point I’m just eyeing up my shelves and going “oh, that’s a sizeable chunk of books and I’ve read most of them”… But after not entirely loving Shades of Milk and Honey, I was entirely converted, loved that whole series, loved The Calculating Stars, greatly enjoyed a short story collection… Pretty solid pick here, I think.
Jacqueline Carey. From my first introduction to Kushiel’s Dart, I’ve loved Carey’s work, and I’ve eaten up all her Kushiel universe books… plus most of her others as well. I’m a little behind, as always, but always gonna love her lush prose.
I’ve no idea how that actually matches up to the numbers on Goodreads, but I haven’t been great about tracking that lately anyway! I think this is a pretty representative idea, anyway.
Who do you read most of? Do your shelves get dominated by never-ending detective series, or do you spread out your reading?
Ten years of Top Ten Tuesday! Wow. This week I’m turning to an old one… that I probably did before, knowing my interests. Here are the ten books I wish I could experience again with fresh eyes. I’m mindful that the suck fairy may have visited books I loved when I was less mature, so I’ve steered away from childhood favourites.
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Everyone knows I loved this one, I think! I wish I could read it again and then compare notes with myself. Did I love the same characters? Did I suspect the same characters? What different things would I focus on, being a different person now than I was then? Honestly, that goes for all of these, though: I’d love to know how things would stack up if I could experience them anew from where I’m standing now. The Goblin Emperor is a special favourite, though.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This book has been around for 10 years now, and had 12 reprintings! Whoooa. I remember the first time I read it, it was so compulsive — I had to know what happened, how everything was going to work out, why things we’re happening… I’d love to have that experience again.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mother made me wait to read this until I was eleven, to try and ensure I was mature enough to understand some of the subtleties. I know I didn’t get it all, and my readings of it more recently have been layered with those early impressions, and also with studying it. I’d love to be able to read it for the first time with all the stuff I know now about mythology and Tolkien’s intentions.
The whole Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I’ve read all of the Phryne books now, some of them twice, and I’d love to be able to recapture the first time reading them and falling in love with the characters. Some of it’s getting a little too familiar now!
Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. It was just so sweet and funny and I laughed so much. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy reading it knowing what happens… but I’d love to recapture that breathless ack, how are they going to deal with this?!
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I’m not sure I can take rereading it in full knowledge of where it’s going, but I remember being so blown away by it.
Fledgling, by Octavia Butler. I feel like I’m better equipped to handle Butler and where her work was coming from now, but I know this book had a lot of impact on me because it was uncomfortable to read. I don’t know if it’s lost that uncomfortableness now… but I don’t feel like it should. I’d like to get uncomfortable all over again, as an older and wiser adult.
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The first time I read this book I didn’t love it, and that feels like a waste now. I’d also love to know if it’s something you have to read again to love, or if I was just a crankypants that day.
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Same! I ended up loving both these series, and yet… did not love the book first time through. I was just drawn back by something to give them another try. I’d love to give them another first try and see what happens!
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I feel like this one actually gains from rereading, because I felt like I understood it better on a second read, when I’d absorbed more of the world… but also I remember the way it completely grabbed hold of my brain the first time. I’d like to have a clear schedule and a rainy day, and just… give it a second first try.
Some of these are probably obvious choices, but… it’s not just books I like to reread (actually, I’ve struggled to reread The Sparrow). It’s about recapturing that first impression, and I’ve no idea if I would love all these books the same way if one could do that… but I’d love to find out.
So if I’m ever found with a lost memory… you know what to sit me down with! What would you want to re-experience for the first time?
Death at Victoria Dock opens with the death of a young man, shot at as Phryne drives past on a cold night. After he breathes his last in her arms, she obviously can’t let it rest — she decides that she must know why he was killed, and avenge him if she can. At the same time, she takes up the totally unrelated case of a missing young girl, meaning this book features the contrasting locations of an Anglican convent and a revolutionary hideout! It’s all pretty high-stakes, with kidnappings and shootings, and Bert and Cec wandering around armed.
It also features the first appearance of Hugh Collins. I did find the Catholic/Protestant drama in the show (what I’ve watched of it) contrived and a little annoying (I know it’s for the drama, but argh, they’re so sweetly uncomplicated in the books, and it’s nice), so it’s nice that he and Dot are both Catholic and all in all quite steady and without drama (although maybe they get it all out here with Dot’s kidnapping and the daring rescue).
As always, it’s an easy read; fairly light (though there is drama and death), and full of Phryne’s ingenuity and practical approach to all matters of life, death and in between.
Aaand straight on to the third book. This introduces two more steadfast characters, Ruth and Jane, along with a new adventure for Phryne featuring chloroform on a train, hypnotism used to pull young girls away from their families to be raped and abused, and a young girl with a strange gap in her memory… It opens on the train, with Phryne waking to the smell of chloroform and desperately shooting a hole in the window to get fresh air in. She ends up taking under her wing a woman who was badly burned on her face by the chloroform, and agreeing to investigate the murder of her mother.
That gets her into all kinds of hot water, and into personal peril as well, with a horrible struggle between Phryne and the murderer at the climax of the book. It also brings her two adopted daughters, a cat, and a new lover. The fond amusement of her household is a joy, and as always she’s competent and (mostly) fearless and in control. When she doesn’t know what to do, she fakes it ’til she makes it.
It’s hard to keep describing these books in different ways, because in many ways they’re the same: it’s the cast of characters that makes them a joy. Bert with his secretish heart of gold; Cec with his love of waifs and strays; Mr Butler, with the right cocktail always on hand; Dot, who couldn’t be more different to Phryne, but adores her all the same…
It’s a little found-family, so of course it pulls on my heartstrings.
Apparently, all I feel like reading at the moment is the Phryne Fisher books, all rereads for me — and that’s fine with me. This one is the second, and it features a couple of mysteries at once: the kidnapping of a young girl called Candida, whose father recently won a large sum of money, and the death of a man whose wife asked her to “do something!” about her son’s vague threat to “remove” his father. Red herrings a-plenty, of course, as Phryne plunges in with her usual ruthless practicality. Gain the respect of the angry son by doing a controlled dive in an aeroplane and then walking out along the plane’s wings? Fine. Tie herself to the back of a car? Yep.
As always, she’s fashionable, well-fed, well… made-love-to, and capable of the most amazing feats of derring-do without batting an eyelid. There’s also an interesting little portrait of a man swept up in something criminal more or less against his will; I feel like his story isn’t wholly plausible (if he objects so much to certain aspects of the job, why did he agree at all?), but I enjoyed him and his protection of Candida nonetheless. Sometimes it’s nice to think that people aren’t all bad, and Mike gives us a chance at that.
One of the odd things that I noticed and really enjoyed this time through is also Phryne’s appreciation of Candida’s teddy bear; there’s a whole paragraph which shows she fully understands the importance of the bear. As someone still very much attached to my childhood teddy (or teddies, in fact, though I did have one main friend, Queen of all the others), I appreciated this bit a lot — and it makes one like Phryne all the more, if you have a bear of your own whose judgement you trust.
The first time I read this, it completely got on my every nerve. I don’t know what prompted me to try it again after that, but I’m glad I did, because this is now my fourth reading or so, and it’s a solid favourite. Phryne is a great character; her faults are all strengths as well, or only faults if you happen to disagree with her views, and that can be a little annoying — how can she be so cool and collected and capable of doing everything?
But it’s awesome to imagine, too; she’s refreshingly competent, in contrast to other female detectives set in that period. I can’t help but compare her to Carola Dunn’s detective: I enjoy Daisy Dalrymple a lot, really, but she gets by on coincidence, guileless charm and shameless bias. Phryne is deliberate in everything she does, even if it’s foolhardy, and clear-eyed about people and what they can be like. Daisy’s probably the easier to get along with, but there’s something delicious about Phryne’s pure determination. She expects she’ll get what she wants, so she does.
This first book introduces the characters who will appear again later (Jack, Cec, Bert, Dot…), and solidly sets the stage for Phryne’s love affairs and dalliances with her passion for Sasha (undeceived by his wiles though she is). She’s asked by a friend of her family to look into why their daughter seems so ill, and they hint that her husband must be poisoning her. It seems like a good break from the tedium of Britain, so Phryne agrees and sails off to the land of her birth, Australia. There she gets embroiled not only in the case she’s gone there for, but also in Bert and Cec’s concern over a girl’s botched abortion, the woes of a young housemaid (Dorothy), and the toils of a drug lord.
Near the end, the mystery is rather neatly turned on its head to give the reader a bit of a shock (but if you’re in on it, you get to watch the hints), and then all’s well at the end — all in all, it’s exactly the comfort-read I needed. Phryne’s too good to be true, but that’s the best part.