Reading notes, week 38

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Currently reading: The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey. Can’t remember any of this but I know I’ve read it before.

Next up: There are two more Alpennia books on the reread pile. Or I might continue with the Family Spies books if I can’t get enough of Mercedes Lackey. Or I may look for an Agatha Christie I don’t know completely by heart. (It’s a pity that I do know Cat Among the Pigeons by heart, because that’s really the one I want right now.) Also I have a handful of new boarding-school books.

September 22: Closer to the Chest by Mercedes Lackey. #3 of the Herald Spy trilogy. In which there are nunneries. Very comfortable book until now: only small bits of plottiness until at least 30%, no Large Overarching Thing. — A Large Overarching Thing after all! Which makes it turn into Gaudy Night in Valdemar. Not that I mind. The villain (and his sidekick) did it.

September 19: Closer to the Heart, the second Herald Spy book. In which they get married, not once but twice! (There seems to be plot, too, and reviewers are divided on whether or not it’s okay plot, but I read books for the characters anyway) Back to an annoying amount of eye dialect, but at least after all those earlier books I can read it without having to sound it out. — Eek, forgot all about the horrible scene in which Amily, who has Animal Mindspeech, can hear the mind of a man who is probably meant to be nonspeaking autistic because he “thinks like an animal”. She’s perfectly friendly and respectful and treats him like the human being he is! It’s just the explanation that makes me cringe. And now, also, Kirball. In the middle of a weapons-smuggle investigation. Really, Mercedes Lackey, do you have to cram everything into one book? (And isn’t it a bit … weak … to have Mags kidnapped AGAIN?)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 37

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September 17: Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey. By way of comfort reading. — Goodness, I didn’t remember it was Romeo and Juliet meets Red Wedding! At that point I didn’t even care about most of the people any more (the protagonists, the silly-goose girl, and the tough clever lady, yes; all the feuding nobles, no). At least the silly-goose girl was spared from being shamed and fostered to the tough clever lady, and someone managed to rescue the innocent little dog. The only thing I really don’t get is why the crown princess is wearing mourning dress at the end: none of the people who died were from her family (fortunately)!

Rather spectacular DNF: The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff. Picked it up on recommendation from a friend who assured me it had no vampires (the main reason that I haven’t read anything by Tanya Huff until now). The body count is high, and the means of achieving that body count often more gruesome than I like. One protagonist is likeable, but met another at 7% and he’s a thoroughly unpleasant person. After a spot of torture (by that unpleasant person’s even more unpleasant siblings) I’m putting it aside for now. May try again when I’m less fragile from real life.

Index of reading notes is here.

The dream engine embarrasses me

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By making me show up at a doctor’s office wearing only a (shortish) T-shirt. It was probably some kind of specialist or therapist, because I’d had to go all the way to Maastricht for it. (We currently have a house-guest who lives in Maastricht, so the exact choice of place may be from that.) I could retrace the steps that had made me leave the house in my bare bottom, but that didn’t help much, nor did it explain why I didn’t notice until I was in the waiting room – it would have taken me two and a half hours by train to get to Maastricht, let alone the walk from the station to the practitioner. I went back to the station and found a vast expanse of building sand in front of it, with only a narrow walkway to get to the entrance (which is quite a normal situation for stations in the Netherlands). Once there, I was with friends/acquaintances who apparently lived or at least stayed at the station. When I said “I’ll have to go to the Hema to buy some pants” one of them said “Oh, I’ll open it up for you” because he happened to be the manager of the in-station Hema store. (There are indeed Hema stores at some large stations, and this station actually has one, I looked it up.)

It was a large Hema store for a station, but they had only one pair of pants even approaching my size, in shiny grey nylon. But that didn’t matter, because I was fully dressed again, and could even feel my ordinary cotton Hema pants under my skirt. I browsed the store a bit more and found very pretty masks, some with poetry on them, but they all badly needed washing so I didn’t buy one.

I must have stayed with my friends for lunch, though I did go into town later (with some language confusion of “into town” versus “into the town centre”). We had an impromptu sing-along of folk(ish) songs that the store manager’s mother, who was one of the people present, was going to sing at a concert. I contributed the refrain of “The Housewife’s Lament” translated into Dutch, because she had translated all the verses but couldn’t get a grip on the refrain. The refrain is actually the only part of the song that I have translated (in waking life) and when I sang it she loved it. Also another Peggy Seeger song in Dutch translation, and something in Finnish that was easy to sing along with, and something medieval.

Also, the green bag was there that I used to have in waking life, and loved, and wore out completely, and had to throw away, so I folded the dream-bag up and put it in the bag I was carrying, vice versa would have been awkward because the green bag was much smaller.

Cat cuddling a battered green backpack

That bag. Cat not included.

Reading notes, week 36

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September 11: The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones. (Argh, the reviewer doesn’t get the names right, which is a pet peeve of mine, but the review is otherwise very good.) I’d completely forgotten the gruelling, but ultimately happy ending!

And oodles of new fanfic this week, because I discovered a new favourite writer. They and I must be moving on opposite ends of the same fandoms, because they’ve been writing in fandoms I know (and like) for years and I never stumbled across their stories until now.

Index of reading notes is here.

An Awfully Big Adventure

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Gwen R. Uckelman and Sara L. Uckelman, An Awfully Big Adventure (illustrated by Carolyn Friedemann)

A wonderful short (19 pages) book by Gwen, who was 8 when she wrote it, and her mother Sara. The illustrations are by Gwen’s grandmother Carolyn, so it’s a three-generations collaboration.

What I like about it

Everything. Well, I’ll be more specific.

  • Children have an adventure but their parents aren’t abroad, too busy to notice they have children, or even dead, like in so many other adventure books. They’re around to help and give advice.
  • The parents trust their children, so the children also trust their parents.
  • It’s full of nice people.
  • Nothing really bad happens, but that doesn’t make the adventure less exciting. Even the wicked witch is just away and doesn’t come back.
  • There’s the promise of more adventure at the end.
  • It has a map! (That’s the map on the cover, but it’s at the beginning of the book as well.)

What I don’t like about it

  • It’s too short, I wish there was more! But I don’t mind making up the next adventure myself.

You can buy the book from the link at the beginning of this post. I recommend it for people of all ages who like adventure and fantasy.

Dear DAME writer,

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Hi, I’m sinkauli, and I’m so glad that you’re writing for me! I’m fairly easy to please, but do refer to my Great Likes and Dislikes Master Post.

I don’t insist on all characters in the request: please write one or more as the story requires.

Also, I like Disney films or I wouldn’t be in this exchange, but I don’t need the pervasive heteronormativity, typically-American moralizing tone, or dumbing-down of classic stories that many of them tend to have in greater or lesser degree.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Characters: Toby, Olivia Flaversham, Basil, David Q Dawson. (Also Olivia’s father, who I forgot to nominate.)

Prompts: The movie is already perfect so what I’d like most is post-canon casefic in which Olivia can show her mettle, perhaps as an unofficial assistant. Or some more Basil/Dawson interaction. No sex, please, we’re British firmly in gen territory here. (Which doesn’t mean that Basil and Dawson can’t love each other, because clearly they do.)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Characters: Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, Dolores

Prompts: MORE TOON SHENANIGANS PLEASE. Go wild with the tropes! Pranks and practical jokes are actually okay (though humiliation is still out). Bad things happening to toons that they can and do recover from in a toonish way doesn’t count as horror.

Fantasia (1940)

I entered “Worldbuilding” for characters, but what I’d love for this is one or more additional pieces of music (with a link, if you can’t include it for copyright reasons) and a description of the scene that goes with it. Somewhat like this: Fantasia 2020 (but it doesn’t have to be that detailed or extensive).

I’ve dropped most of my DNWs for this as they’re probably irrelevant. It can be eerie but please keep it fluffy!

Robin Hood (1973)

Character: Lady Cluck (the only one nominated and I’m perfectly okay with that; don’t hesitate to bring in anyone else who wants in, of course)

Prompts: I love down-to-earthness and sensible domesticity. And women being awesome, which Lady Cluck is perfectly capable of.

 

The Great Likes and Dislikes Master Post

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I’ve written so many “dear author” letters for exchanges now, and copied my lists of likes and dislikes from one to the other with minor alterations, that I think it’s time for a master post. I’ll still give “hard” DNWs in signups, of course, otherwise they’re not enforceable. But the fact that you’ve reached this letter probably means that (a) you’re going to write for me and (b) you want to make me happy. So I’ll NOT be brief.

Likes

This is the easy part. Don’t feel yourself limited to things in this list! There are lots of things I like that I’m not listing because if I listed everything in the world that I liked, there would be literally no end. Any of these will make my face light up with joy, though.

  • Friendship. Unexpected, uncomplicated friendship is good! Complicated friendship too, I like any story with friendship better than one with only antagonism, but my very favourite stories are about people becoming friends, or people who are already friends, doing something together or turning out to have something in common which neither of them would have planned for. Peter and Harriet combing the beach for clues in Have His Carcase is one of my favourite scenes. Also the scene in which they decipher the code letter.
    Friends-to-lovers is okay but it’s a pity if that’s the whole point of the story.
  • Happy ending. I’m a sucker for happy endings, especially other happy endings than “people getting together as a couple”. It’s okay when people get together as a couple! But that’s not by far the only way to be happy. I like open(ish) endings too when they imply the possibility or expectation of happiness. The ending of The Goblin Emperor is a good example: Maia and Csethiro are likely to end up very happily married, but at the end of the book they are friends and allies and partners, and for now that’s enough.
  • Autistic characters (canon or headcanon; Dairine Callahan comes to mind) who either come to terms with being autistic in the story, or have already figured it out and can handle it. Bonus points if they use their autistic traits to get things done.
  • More generally, disabled characters who work with their disability rather than “overcoming” it.
  • Kidfic. Canon characters’ kids, canon characters when they were kids, canon characters who happen to be kids (Matilda), original canon-compliant child characters. Either POV or secondary characters.
  • Fluff. Domestic fluff, married fluff, established-lovers fluff, friendship fluff. Don’t worry if there seems to be no plot. One of the great strengths of fanfic is that it doesn’t necessarily have to have plot or conflict or any deeper meaning, though it may of course have any or all of those.
  • Discovery and detection. Plain detective work, casefic. Adventures in which people (children, for instance) find out things. People finding out things about themselves when they do something they didn’t know they could do.
  • Learning. Give me a good training montage any day, or let someone teach themself. Achieving mastery by hard work.
  • Competence, intelligence, problem-solving, clever escape, clever (preferably non-violent) thievery.
  • Missing-scene fic, interpolation, pre- and post-canon. (How did these characters get here? What happens after the canon says The End?)
  • Cats, mice, donkeys, mules, elephants, birds (either as characters or supporting). Not “animals” as a category but specifically those.
  • Worldbuilding, with or without characters involved.
  • Fantasy nonfiction. Recipes, guidebooks, gazetteers, encyclopedia entries…

A note about crossovers

I used not to like crossovers at all, mostly because when I first started reading fanfic it was all about “I want to read more about X” and then I didn’t also want to read about Y. But I got better! I love crossovers between fandoms I’ve requested or with adjacent/compatible fandoms, like The Great Mouse Detective with The Rescuers, or Lord Peter Wimsey with Miss Marple, when I’ve only requested one.

The greatest problem with crossovers is that if I know only one of the crossovered fandoms, the point may be completely lost on me, and it might spoil the whole story. I don’t know many of the really popular fandoms (Doctor Who or Supernatural, for instance). I don’t know many films, or any TV that’s been aired after, say, 1975. I don’t know anime or manga except Miyazaki, and not much of that.

To be on the safe side, find my profile (I’m sinkauli on ao3) and check my fandoms list and my gifts. If I write for it or have ever requested it, I’m bound to know it.

Dislikes

A lot harder because I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike everything. (But there’s enough that I do like in the list above that that impression is unlikely.) I’ll try to categorize.

Sex, romance

I don’t dislike sex! But I also don’t want any surprise sex sprung on me so I tend to request gen-only unless in very specific circumstances. I’m very picky. I’ve read some smutty stories that I liked but they were mostly joyful consent and vanilla sex. (Note that vanilla is a spice, a subtle and intense one, it doesn’t mean “bland”.) I’m not listing dislikes of particular kinks because, to be honest, for most things people request or put in their likes or DNWs I don’t even know what the words mean. I’ve looked up some kinks and almost invariably shuddered.

  • Rape, non-con. This is one of my hard DNWs. I consider it excluded when I exclude all sex, even though rape is usually not about sex but about power. I also dislike powerplay, hate-sex, and sex between people who are vastly disparate in age, power or experience.
  • Fellatio. (Makes me gag, even when it’s just words.) *deletes a sentence that’s all too explicit*
  • Casual sex without friendship. Includes PWP, I think. Casual sex in general, even between friends, is mostly a no-no.
  • Seduction for any other reason than that one person is in love with the other and is trying to get it across to them elegantly.
  • Love triangles. A fully explicit and consensual triangle falls under “polyamory” and see next bullet point.
  • Adultery, infidelity. This includes contradicting, ignoring or breaking up a canonical pairing for the sake of a ship.
    Polyamory is okay but I don’t really prefer it.
  • Incest. I don’t care what Boromir and Faramir were up to in their shared bedroom when they were boys.

Interpersonal stuff

  • Enemies-to-lovers. Even if it’s enemies-to-friends and then friends-to-lovers. Reconciling with your enemy: okay. Cautious friendship between former enemies: okay. Hopping into bed with someone who was once your enemy: nope.
  • Bigotry of any kind, unless fighting against it is a plot point. That includes homophobia, TERFness and other transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, ageism and anything I’ve forgotten.
  • Pranks, practical jokes, humiliating people for the sake of it. Hard DNW.

Disability, body issues

  • Pathological/medical view of autism or other neurodivergence, portraying it as something that needs to be fixed rather than as a characteristic of the person.
  • Disability as punishment, teaching-a-lesson or inspiration porn. Just let disabled people be people!
  • Discussions of disordered eating or weight (it’s completely okay if someone’s body type is part of the description, like mentioning that the person has dark skin or blue eyes or wears glasses or uses a wheelchair, but no fat-shaming or other judgmental language about weight please).
  • Gluttony, gross drunkenness (tipsy/merry is okay, maudlin is not), vomiting (whether from illness or overindulgence).
  • Body horror, torture, mutilation, gore, cannibalism.
  • Monstrous pregnancy, monster birth. Hard DNW.
  • Mpreg, which is a species of body horror in my book. Such a hard DNW that it will make me throw the virtual book against the virtual wall. (Ordinary pregnancy and childbirth is okay.)

Miscellaneous

  • Horror. Body horror is the worst, but any other horror is also a turnoff.
  • Werewolves, unless very well done. Vampires. (Perhaps this falls under “body horror”.)
  • Unhappy endings, unresolved tragedy.
  • Plague, pandemic, terminal illness. There’s enough of that in the real world that I don’t want to also read about it, not even about overcoming it.
  • Climate catastrophe, extinction, (post)apocalyptic anything. (Ditto, in fact.) Imminent/unavoidable destruction of a whole world or a significant part of it. A random natural disaster is probably okay if it’s not part of a pattern of impending catastrophe. (My 2020 Yuletide writer got that exactly right.)
  • Worldbuilding DNW: extra information about a setting that makes it less pleasant (“… but you didn’t know these sordid details”).

Reading notes, week 34

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August 28: Uptown Local and Other Interventions by Diane Duane. (Now at half price if you want it!) Collection of mostly very good short stories, many of which touch on Switzerland at some point.

August 27: The Family at Red-Roofs by Enid Blyton. I couldn’t remember anything about it except that it was a favourite of mine (in the Dutch translation) when I was a kid. Period-true sexism (the fifteen-year-old boy acknowledges that his seventeen-year-old sister is “only a girl” and he has to be the man of the family when both parents are out of action), and some minor cringes, but it’s mostly kept well.

August 26: Bastion by Mercedes Lackey. Last in the Collegium Chronicles. Gratuitous travel (why are all those people going away together? seems like a RPG contrivance) and I could do without the Sleepgivers plot, so added up it seems like I could do without the whole book, but there are some good scenes in there and also a sympathetic (though completely alien) character.

August 25: A whole bunch of miscellaneous fanfic on account of going down several rabbit holes at once.

August 23: An Awfully Big Adventure by Gwen R. Uckelman and Sara L. Uckelman, illustrated by Carolyn Friedemann. Wonderful little book which I reviewed here. My only beef is that I paid FIVE TIMES the price of the book in shipping charges and import duties, but I can totally blame Brexit for that (I wish the author got all that money instead of UPS and the tax agency, though).

August 22: Redoubt by Mercedes Lackey. (A reread, but the last time was long ago.) The book turns into something completely different in the middle, and reviewers are divided into those who like the peaceful and joyful first part (as do I) and those who are glad of the “adventure” in the second part. Well, keep your adventure. And the drugged-nightmares-while-kidnapped bit in the middle goes on and on AND ON, and contains exactly so much relevant information that I have to skim it and can’t skip it, grr. I do like the survival scenes that come after it, and the grumpy young priest (who ceases being grumpy when he makes a real friend and gets glasses, yay). And finally it becomes clear what all the sportsball was for!

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 33

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August 19: Changes by Mercedes Lackey. Starts with a really long and detailed sportsball game that almost got me interested (in the sportsball; I’m already interested in the rest). Now dealing with people so distressed by their family that it’s a good thing for the protagonist that he doesn’t have any. This is the book in which Mags starts really being a spy! (Also it’s the book in which almost all the really exciting action happens in the last 10%. Someone gets kidnapped at 91% ffs!)

August 15: Jolene by Mercedes Lackey, newish Elemental Masters book. A very good one, and refreshing after all the Sherlock Holmes fanfic. My only objection is that it has even more annoying eye dialect (more of it AND more annoying) than the Collegium Chronicles. No rampant nastiness. The main antagonist isn’t evil (just not human) and can be dealt with. (One evil person, two evil corporations. At least the evil person is dealt with too, summarily.)

Index of reading notes is here.