Tag: Robin McKinley

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted November 19, 2014 by in General / 4 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Tooth & Claw, by Jo Walton. I had this vague impression of not being a big fan of it, but I think it must’ve caught me at a bad time originally, because actually, I love it. Ah, the benefits of rereading. I can’t help giggling every time I see a review complaining about the cannibalism, too… “Oh no, these dragons don’t act enough like humans!”

What are you currently reading?
Reread of The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley) — I’ve been needing familiar things. I need to finish The Just City (Jo Walton); it’s on my bedside table, but I haven’t wanted to be venturesome the last couple weeks. Not a good brain-week, this.

What will you read next?
I’ll finish up The Just City (Jo Walton) and Shadows (Robin McKinley), and then I want to get round to rereading Heart’s Blood (Juliet Marillier), before I lose the thread of my Beauty and the Beast themed reading.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted November 4, 2014 by in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books I’d Like to Reread”, which is a topic just made for me — the first one in a while I think I could talk for ages about — because I love rereading. Honourable mentions in advance to Chalice and The Hobbit, both of which I already reread recently! And I’m just going to leave it unsaid that I want to reread The Dark is Rising books, since I do that every year.

  1. Seaward, Susan Cooper. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while. Heck, by the time this post goes live, I might’ve got round to it already. It’s beautifully written, a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, and I love the characters a lot. I read it right through the day I got it, I think, at Christmas a couple of years ago. And then I made my partner read it, and my mother, and… everyone else I could get my hands on, really.
  2. The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay. I think this might be the next book in my chronological-by-publishing-date reread of GGK’s work. I think it’s my mother’s favourite of GGK’s books, and my partner loves it too; I remember liking it, though it wasn’t my favourite, but it’s one of the few I’ve only read once so far (along with Under Heaven, which is too new for me to have reread yet).
  3. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. This is another I might’ve got round to already by the time this post goes live, because I’m tearing a streak through Robin McKinley’s work lately. Sunshine is one of my favourites; the world-building, the characters and their relationships, all the talk about food… And also, vampires done right, so that they’re genuinely fucking freaky, even Our Hero.
  4. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey. And pretty much everything by Carey, actually. I love the richness of her writing, and the intrigues of the court in Terre D’Ange. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the sex and BDSM in the book, I’d recommend it to everyone, because the actual world-building is really cool. But I’m aware it’s not something everyone can be comfortable with.
  5. The Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff. I could swear I’ve already talked about wanting to reread this somewhere on the blog, but I can’t find it. I did start a reread recently, but then got interrupted. I’m particularly curious because just before I first read this, my partner and I were working on an original world/plot that was very, very similar in many ways. And I’m looking forward to the relationship between the three main characters, and the way the situation turns out for them all. It’s sweet, feel-good stuff.
  6. The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. I’ve always loved the way Cornwell handles the legends. Okay, some of his characters really don’t fit with the legends, and I do like the legends, but at the same time he has one of the most likeable versions of Galahad, and a really interesting take on the magic/reality stuff where the narrator can view it as magic and we can dismiss it as trickery, or maybe not quite.
  7. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. And the rest of the series. It’s easy to read, fun, and does interesting things with the character, the world, etc. I’m less a fan of the most recent book, but I’m still going to try rereading it.
  8. The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin. The whole series, really, but this one is my favourite. It marks a separation from the world of the first book, which is fairly conventional fantasy, and begins to shape a place for women and a different view of the world that’s more in line with Le Guin’s own beliefs. And she’s so good at writing the small clear moments of quiet that really shine (Ged’s hand and the thistle).
  9. Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb. It’s been a long time, and I miss Fitz, Nighteyes and Verity. (My mother never liked Verity nearly as much as I do, but I find him one of the most genuine characters of the lot — not subtle, not perfect for his job, but doing what he can and making good despite the difficulty.) And there’s a new Fool trilogy now, which I even got an ARC for originally, so I want to reread everything to get back up to speed for it.
  10. Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. I remember these being good books, using a less typically Western fantasy setting, with a lot of Russian influence and I think later Asian? I remember finding it very different, at any rate, and I do like Zettel’s work. So, soooon. I hope.

Any of these your own special favourite? Let me know! I comment back to everyone who comments here, both on my post and on your own if you’ve done one.

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Review – Rose Daughter

Posted October 23, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Rose Daughter by Robin McKinleyRose Daughter, Robin McKinley

Definitely not my favourite of McKinley’s works — I thought I’d like it more than Beauty, and in one sense I do, in that something that bothers me about the ending of Beauty is addressed here and a different sort of ending written. I like the world, the sisters, the domestic stuff that (as usual) McKinley shines with. I liked the castle and Beauty’s work there, and the way other little bits of fairytale lore come in (like her experiential seven days spent in the Beast’s castle versus seven months for her sisters). It’s also notable that the way Beauty and the Beast relate to each other is very similar to in Beauty; the differences are more in a more complicated setup with slightly different inputs producing a slightly different trajectory.

My main complaint the first time I read this was that the greenwitch at the end has far too much explaining to do, in quite a short span of pages, and that remains problematic to me. Some things needed a bit more opening out, foreshadowing, something, to prevent a long stretch of infodump via dialogue.

Still enjoyable, though, and the writing is gorgeous, of course.

Rating: 4/5

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Readathon stack!

Posted October 17, 2014 by in General / 6 Comments

Readathon time! It doesn’t seem like it’s been long since the last readathon, but here we are again with the event coming up on Saturday-Sunday of this weekend. Naturally I’ve been working on my stack and trying to decide what to read. For once, I’m actually at my partner’s flat in Belgium for the readathon, which means a) I’ll probably be up for the whole thing because I have chronic insomnia here, and b) I only brought my ereader with me, no dead tree books. On the other hand, I have comics to borrow and a whole stack of library books too, so it’s not as though I’m short of reading material.

To reread:
-Robin McKinley, Rose Daughter.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Shards of Honour.
-Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne.
Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave.

New:
Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park.
Keri Hulme, The Bone People.
-Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways.
Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos.

To finish: 
-James Morrow, This is the Way The World Ends.

Comics:
-Loki: Agent of Asgard.
-Thor.
-Winter Soldier.

Anyone else I know doing it?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted October 15, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Beauty and Chalice by Robin McKinley, both rereads. I love those books so much. It’s funny to think that I didn’t like Chalice thaaaat much the first time I read it, but it stayed on my mind and now I think it’s probably earned the title of “Comfort Read.”

What are you currently reading?
A huge mess, as usual, but mainly at the moment I’m reading Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley’s other Beauty and the Beast retelling, and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park — I can’t believe I’ve never read Jurassic Park before. It’s actually better than I was led to believe? And the science is none too bad considering when it was written.

What will you read next?
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, probably, and then The Bone People, by Keri Hulme. I’ve got both of them out of the library here, so I need to get on with it. I need to read some of my partner’s comics, too — Thor, Winter Soldier, Loki: Agent of Asgard.

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Review – Beauty

Posted October 15, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beauty by Robin McKinleyBeauty, Robin McKinley

I think I’ll blame my partner’s Disney song playlist for making me want to (re)read a bunch of Beauty and the Beast retellings. The obvious place to start (for me, anyway) is with Robin McKinley’s two attempts at telling the story, Beauty and Rose Daughter. Beauty is perhaps the less delicate of the two, being suited to a younger audience in terms of complexity, language, etc, but it still makes a good story. You come to care for the little family, and learn to care for the Beast; the mysteries of the Beast’s castle are genuinely interesting, though how confining someone to a castle which contains a library full of all the books ever written and yet to be written is a punishment, I’m not entirely certain.

(You can see why I empathise with this version of Beauty, who loves her books and her studies, who reads and rereads Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.)

As usual, then, I found this a charming read, and I liked the little references to domesticity that are nearly inevitable with McKinley — the sisters’ rough hands as they learn their new work, their learning curve. And as usual, the thing I disliked most was that Beauty had to be made to match her name, in some magical transformation that made little sense — the goodness of her is in her inner beauty, and why on earth she needs to have dancing amber eyes, I couldn’t say. I liked that Beauty started out plain. I would rather she come to some happy acceptance of that than get a wish to be beautiful — that doesn’t solve anything.

If I’m remembering the key difference between this and Rose Daughter rightly, too, it’s a little awful that the Beast vanishes and changes so much too, leaving Beauty faced with a man she doesn’t know, who doesn’t even know his own name. He’s the same person, but then, you can’t really say he is when everything’s so different and suddenly the Beast she loved is a handsome prince, with very little explanation. It would, perhaps, be better if Beauty instantly recognised him instead of feeling so confused — at least then there would be a sense of continuity, of the importance of knowing what someone is like rather than what they look like.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Chalice

Posted October 14, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Chalice by Robin McKinleyChalice, Robin McKinley

For a book that I originally gave three stars, and found somewhat… disappointing, it probably seems weird that I’ve come back to it for a second time. But actually, I’ve grown very fond of it. I love the fact that it isn’t just a generic medieval Europe, but something that has some of those aspects while having rules, rituals, histories and roles of its own. And yet at the same time, it’s still rooted in the earth: in the common elements, in water and milk and honey, in the straightforward clear sight of a beekeeper called to higher things.

Mirasol makes a great character: neither so knowledgeable about the world she lives in that worldbuilding ends up being ‘as you know, Bob’, but not so ignorant that she’s completely at sea. We come into the story when she’s starting to find some purchase, starting to figure out what she needs to do, but even by the end of the story, she’s not all-powerful, so special she can fix everything. I like that a lot: the down-to-earthness of her; the fact that she turns to books for the knowledge she needs and just reads desperately, almost indiscriminately; the fact that she is so overwhelmed, unready and untrained, and yet does what she has to do.

I also like the sense of strain and work that comes through. It’s not effortless for Mirasol and the Master to save their land; it comes slowly, in fits and starts, as they adjust to each other and to the circumstances. The last section is one long hard slog for Mirasol, and she isn’t even sure she’s doing the right thing, only that she knows she has to do something.

I think I can still understand why people find it disappointing or unsatisfying — there’s so much unsaid about the world, so much more that could be done with it, and Mirasol’s story is only beginning here. And yet Chalice is whole in and of itself, a standalone fantasy story in a world that feels bigger than the story, which is exactly the kind of thing I like.

Despite the fantasy setting, it’s not really something to read for the sense of magic. One comparison that comes to mind now is Lifelode (Jo Walton) — the importance of the domestic in that.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted October 7, 2014 by in General / 24 Comments

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels”. I thought this one would be easy, initially, since characters are really important to me when I read, but it’s actually tougher than I thought.

  1. Pretty much anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. Even where his writing was less polished, more derivative, I fell completely in love with the characters. He’s one of the few authors who can reliably make me cry.
  2. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Sure, there’s a lot of plot too, but Fitz’s voice is the most important aspect of the story, and you just want to reach in and bang his head against something to force the sense in, sometimes.
  3. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Not only is it vampires-done-right, but it’s first person narration, and everything Sunshine is as a character shapes the way the plot turns out.
  4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. If you count the circus as a character almost on its own (I do), then yeah, this one definitely counts.
  5. Seaward, Susan Cooper. I need to reread this soon. I loved it so much, and despite the shortness of the book, Cooper built up a relationship between the two main characters that I genuinely loved and wanted to follow.
  6. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers. Actually, as far as being character-driven goes, you’re best reading the whole series chronologically, to get a feel for the way everything fits together, for the way the characters develop. I don’t even think I’d necessarily say I’d start with this one. But it’s the one that really made me understand Lord Peter.
  7. Chime, Franny BillingsleyTo say much about this would be to spoil it. A brief excerpt from my review: “Briony isn’t an easy narrator, and she isn’t reliable either, as she constantly tells us. The narrative isn’t a straightforward quest, it’s a maze, it’s full of funhouse mirrors.”
  8. Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier. This is the book where me and Marillier really clicked — I tried some before this one, and wasn’t impressed. But I got really involved with this, with the characters and their problems.
  9. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. The narration is brilliant, the way it all slowly comes together, and I love what Jemisin does with her main character, and with the characters of the gods around her. Particularly when it comes to the child-god, Sieh, who has to act in accord with his nature, or he suffers.
  10. Among Others, Jo Walton. I strongly connected with this because I connected with Mori. Watching her grow up and begin to understand her world better over the course of the novel is a delight.

Wow, that actually took a lot of thought. Veeeery keen to see other people’s picks for this one!

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Auto-read list

Posted November 11, 2013 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

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Reading and rereading

Posted October 19, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 5 Comments

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.

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