Reading notes, week 8

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Currently reading: The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie, because of this Guardian article.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander, in conversion-fixing mode. I seem to remember it better than any of the others in the series.

Next up: Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers and/or Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh.

Nonfiction on hand:

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659 by Geoffrey Parker, a very different take on the Eighty Years War than Dutch kids learn in school. (Or at least used to learn in school when I was in school; I don’t know what history teaching is like now.)

Verhalen van de drakendochter, a biography of Maartje Draak. Biography isn’t my genre but Maartje Draak is a hero of mine, and has been since she received seventeen-year-old me at her house to help with my high-school graduation project (an investigation of King Arthur in Dutch literature) and gave me prints of some of her articles.

Earlier reading notes: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7

 

Reading notes, week 7

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Added a “Next up” section. I won’t list DNFs unless it’s a spectacular DNF with a reason, not just books I abandon because I feel more like reading something else. This is intended to make me persevere with the reading notes without thinking it means I have to either finish or justify not finishing everything I’m reading. Reading isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a performance.

February 15: Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers. (Yes, it took me almost all week; it’s a long slow book and I was deep in a bout of editing as well.) Reread, because I read a couple of lines to spouse and friend after the essay about drinking glasses: ‘These must be the Baker Street Irregulars; the chief thing is that they all have a hole in the top. I am told that Mr Woolworth sells a very good selection of glassware. In the meantime, Miss Twitterton, will you take sherry as a present from Margate or toss off your Haig in a tankard?’ This is, I think, the only Peter/Harriet book in which there’s not a single P/H scene that makes me cringe, if only a little. (Must put Gaudy Night on the virtual pile.) I did cringe at a scene between two secondary characters but one is a villain and the other a fool, so that’s par for the course.

February 9: Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis. New! Shiny! Full of splendid women! Just when I thought it was perhaps a bit more romance and a bit less fantasy than I like, magic started happening. Still the “people don’t communicate” thing that I don’t like about romance but the magic more than makes up for it.

Nonfiction on hand:

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659 by Geoffrey Parker, a very different take on the Eighty Years War than Dutch kids learn in school. (Or at least used to learn in school when I was in school; I don’t know what history teaching is like now.)

Verhalen van de drakendochter, a biography of Maartje Draak. Biography isn’t my genre but Maartje Draak is a hero of mine, and has been since she received seventeen-year-old me at her house to help with my high-school graduation project (an investigation of King Arthur in Dutch literature) and gave me prints of some of her articles.

Earlier reading notes: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6

 

The dream engine sends me back to school

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For the third time in as many months, and I was again late. Though not as late as the teacher. I was the first in the classroom for a religion class in the first period on Wednesday, knowing I was late; then a woman appeared who I thought must be the teacher, but the actual teacher who turned up even later was a small, slight priest (don’t know which denomination, might even have been Orthodox) in a black cassock. I thought I could go for a quick call-of-nature break before the rest arrived, but I got delayed by locks not working because the whole toilet block was being renovated. Then I ended up in an empty classroom where there was a shelf of childhood-favourite books in English translation (among others Turfje of de eerlijke dief, which I’ve got in Dutch and never saw in the original German; apparently the English translation was from the Dutch version because all the names were as I know them from my copy, and the word for boys was ‘jongens’) and sequels to other favourite books written by people I know IRL (hi Emmet!) who aren’t, as far as I know, children’s writers.

When I got back to the classroom at last, the teacher was leaving and telling the class (5 students by now, all adults: two middle-aged women including me, and three young people of indeterminate gender) that one of the other students would be taking over. This was a person in their twenties, wearing clothes in shrieking shades of red and magenta, who I’d seen around the school before and didn’t like much for some reason.

The school had 3 literal levels: all first-year classes on the first floor, all second-year classes on the second, all third-year classes including the one I should have been in on the third. Classrooms were smaller on higher levels; the one I should have been in had room for 10 students at most. [Spouse, when I told him that: “I wonder what happened to the rest of the students, did they go on to other schools or did they get eaten?”]

I also read the new book by Shira Glassman, called Pink Constantinople. Note that this is purely a creation of the dream engine, because I don’t think there’s a Constantinople in the Mangoverse and this was definitely a Perach book, with Queen Shulamit and her friends having adventures in caves.

And there were cats! Two black toms and a white queen, who were going to star in a new film that was “[famous film I don’t remember the title of], but with cats”. When I was petting the adult cats I heard high-pitched mewing and noticed a whole crowd of black kittens in the climb-everything age, 4 weeks or so, behind a sofa. One battled my hand when I put it out, and I knew this was the right kitten for the role of [kid in film].

Cycling home, or at least away from the school, I found myself on unfamiliar roads in twilight and mist (probably early morning rather than evening) and knew, when I got to a seashore, that I was on one of the Wadden Islands. There were no street lights, and I didn’t want to go any further before I could orient myself, so I asked someone walking their dog “excuse me, where am I?” I was too embarrassed to ask which island it was but from the answer I could infer that it was Vlieland. (Complicated by the fact that they said “in clear weather you can see Hannover from here, that’s a very big city”. I know that Hannover is a very big city, but I’m pretty sure you can’t see it even from the German Wadden Islands!)

 

Reading notes, week 6

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See the new layout! There’s a nonfiction section now, expecting that at any time I’ll have a number of books I’m dipping into but will not read from beginning to end in one go like fiction. I won’t tag ongoing nonfiction books, though I will tag currently-reading books (and untag them when they spill over the weekend). It’s becoming second nature to make a new post every Sunday morning while the prosphora bake, and pin it to my mastodon and twitter profiles.

February 8: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Reread, sort of randomly selected from what was on the ereader. Now thinking I should probably have started The Hero and the Crown first (gah prequels published later) but I’m into this now and it turns out very different than I remember. Better, in fact! It miraculously escaped all the “colonial fantasy” and “white savior” tropes.

February 6: A wonderful essay about (drinking) glasses by J.W.F. Werumeus Buning, read aloud by Spouse when we had a friend over. Antidote to our shared anger (at two separate people, incidentally with the same first name, which was confusing; about different things though).

February 5: The Redundant Man Who Was Redundant by Alexandra Erin. DNF because I saw where it was going. Fun buildup but I could have done without the horror element.

February 4: Crucible, All-New Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey. Official author-approved fanfic, basically. Very mixed bag. I read some of the stories before, either because they’re in a different collection or because I was only reading stories that immediately interested me the first time around (that would explain why I skipped some stories about non-human inhabitants of Valdemar, but not why I skipped the story about the bard).

Pünktchen und Anton by Erich Kästner. Not as much fun as the other two because of sexism, probably “product of its time” but no less annoying for that. Kästner also doesn’t seem to like adult women who aren’t devoted mothers, servants or teachers. And disapproves of peeking at the ending of a book because he thinks it spoils the fun. (I agree with his mother: it’s much better to read a book, especially of suspense, if you don’t need to worry about the ending.) Almost put it aside because the small annoyances were piling up, not the least all the moralising near the end. Definitely hasn’t aged well.

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander, fixing conversion errors as I go. Slightly fewer errors than The Black Cauldron, which was really excruciatingly bad (but I had an easy workflow after a while). I’m a bit fed up with the style, but not with the story, and I intend to finish the series this way.

February 3: The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. Fixing the text alerts me to a ‘trick’ the author uses in long stretches of dialogue: not only typographical (ending a paragraph without quotes and beginning the next paragraph with quotes, which irks me more and more) but also stylistic, having a character resume and mentioning their name or name-substitute again. (“This,” the annoyed blogger continued, “is what I mean.”) I wouldn’t mind if he did it occasionally but he does it ALL THE TIME.

Little Things, written by someone who liked Carpetbaggers and wanted more Narnia stories too. The author tags it “dystopia” — their idea of dystopia must be very far from mine! It’s hopeful and touching.

The Last Defense of Cair Paravel, Carpetbaggers #3. A tragedy (as you might suspect by the title) but ending on a hopeful note.

The Cave in Deerfield, another Carpetbaggers story. CW: implied off-screen character death and strongly implied TPK.

Carpetbaggers (Narnia fanfic): what happened after the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I thought I’d read it already but apparently not [ETA: that was the Deerfield story], I would have remembered all the grit! (Not nasty grit, though some of it is painful.) Excellent characterization of the Pevensies, perhaps better than Lewis himself, and some very good new characters. When I was finding the link I noticed that there are two more in the series and downloaded those too.

Earlier reading notes: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5

 

Reading notes, week 5

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February 1: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, because of this post on Tor.com. I had my very badly converted epub open in calibre’s edit mode and fixed each chapter while/before reading. Now I want to read the others as well but I might wait a couple of days if they need fixing too.

January 31: Das fliegende Klassenzimmer by Erich Kästner. I should have read that a month ago, because it’s so much a Christmas story. I cried a bit at appropriate moments.

January 28: Liar’s Dice by Jeannie Lin. This is a novella, offered cheap as a sample for a whole series, but I don’t think I need to read the rest: historical romance, even with mystery mixed in, isn’t my favourite genre. Some romance duly happened (meh, why does it need to be that person? Oh, because they were the only one available, the others were the protag’s siblings/servants/already married to each other), fortunately much less cringeworthy than it looked at first. I liked the historical background and the way the characters’ motivations got revealed. Final verdict: excellent, just happens not to be my catnip.

January 27: Das doppelte Lottchen by Erich Kästner. From a Twitter conversation. The new English translation is, sadly, called The Parent Trap to tie in with a movie that has only the basic premise in common with it. People, especially children, who want to read the book because they loved the movie might be disappointed (and vice versa).

Earlier reading notes: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4

 

Reading notes, week 4

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January 25: Tales from Perach (reread) by Shira Glassman, because something that happened in A Harvest of Ripe Figs made something in one of the stories much clearer.

January 25: A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman. I bought the two Mangoverse books I didn’t have yet and don’t want to stop after The Second Mango. I like it when queens do their own detective work!

January 25: The Second Mango by Shira Glassman, as unicorn[1] chaser for Artists in Crime. It’s the first, and that shows, it doesn’t have the easy swing of the others yet, but full of nice people (and a couple of nasty people who are Dealt With). I’m reading it as a prequel but that works perfectly because it’s got large flashbacks itself.

[1] No unicorn though, only a big not-quite-a-mare that can turn into a green dragon.

January 23: Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh. Seems to be one of the less irritating ones. Finished it, though it was hard going: I remember now why I stopped reading Ngaio Marsh: pretty much all the characters are annoying unpleasant people. And they smoke so much! I wish I’d counted from the beginning because I don’t want to go through it again to mark every time someone lights a cigarette. Long enough since previous reading that I didn’t remember whodunnit. It’s foreshadowed rather cunningly, though (never said she was a bad writer, just that her characters are unlikeable).

January 19: Mio, min Mio by Astrid Lindgren (in translation). Childhood favourite, still gives me all the feels (but I didn’t remember the genie at the beginning!).

January 19: Het spiegelkasteel by Paul Biegel (exists in English as The Looking-Glass Castle). Somewhat more symbolic and less plotty than I remembered, a magical mystery tour rather than a magical journey.

January 19: The third Shakespeare and Smythe, Much Ado About Murder. More of the same but hard to stop. I can’t read on in #4 though: Kobo has never heard of it, only of Simon Hawke’s Star Trek novels (the one I’ve got is rather military and that’s not what I want to read right now). Shakespeare and Smythe did get ever more splainy as I read on, and retreading the earlier books, so perhaps it’s all for the best.

Earlier reading notes: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3

I wrote a thing

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Sunday morning, in church, during the Lord’s Prayer in various languages, a tiny story idea (an idea for a tiny story, not a tiny idea for a story, I get the latter all the time) fell into my head ready-made. At post-service coffee I told the plot to a couple of choirmates and they said “you’re beaming!”

When I got upstairs I mentioned it in public:

And David got inspired:

two small ugly mirror-image demons bickering

Picture by David Bowman (click to embiggen)

So I wrote it, and he drew it, and we coordinated, and here it is: Angels. Read it here without downloading, or get the epub or mobi here. (Spoiler: ten paternosters is about three minutes.)

It’s set in my alternate-history Germany, but the story is too short to show much of the setting. I think I should call the genre “fabulism” because witches are a normal part of the world, demons are in evidence, and prayer has immediate effect. (I thought “magical realism” at first but it’s not set in Latin America, nor am I Latin American, and I don’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation for a measly 461 words.)

Reading notes, week 3

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By now we all know it’s 2020, don’t we?

January 18: Simon Hawke, The Slaying of the Shrew. I was on the train and quickly wanted something to read without a lot of scrolling through the list and the burden of choice. It’s got the same advantages and disadvantages as #1: not spectacularly good but a lot of fun, with nice main characters and secondary characters who are mostly caricatures, but good ones. The first 5% was rehashing the first book in its entirety, which might be useful for people who don’t go straight from one to the other. There are 5; I have 3 (and a Star Trek novel by the same author). I like it that fully three-quarters of the book happens before there’s an actual murder, and all the stuff that does happen moves the plot forward and/or is entertaining.

January 17: De schilders van Dongen, catalog of the exhibition we went to. Paintings by a number of 19th-century artists, all of the same village and especially one woman in that village who had the looks to pose as a witch.

January 17: A Mystery of Errors by Simon Hawke, #1 of Shakespeare and Smythe, which happened to be the first thing in my ereader’s “unread” list that I felt like reading. Didn’t make a vow to avoid reading books by cis white men in 2020, after all (I don’t know if he’s straight, and I made sure he wasn’t the Simon at Worldcon whose books I will avoid). Pleasant historical mystery, not completely historically accurate but fun. It does suffer a bit from “mention all the local colour at once” syndrome, especially when the protagonists enter London. Some annoyingly splainy bits; I like exposition, and even (relevant) infodump at times, but I don’t need to have everything explained to me.

January 15: Gifts of Spring by Shira Glassman. I forgot I’d pre-ordered it from Gumroad so the announcement fell into my mailbox as a wonderful surprise! (note: “wonderful surprise” is usually an oxymoron for me but this really was one) Slightly disconcerting that the protagonist is called Rosamund so my brain half-expects another Beauty and the Beast story, but I got into the story before I could go and read something else first. Sweet! (And I wish some of the magic in it could work for some of my friends!)

January 15: The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey. It has issues. Apart from the large issues, there’s the tiny but annoying issue of calling women ‘females’ (and men ‘males’, granted).

Chapter 1 is full of suicidal ideation.

First fat shaming at 6%, second at 16%, both of the “I’d get so fat if I ate that all the time/didn’t exercise when eating that” sort. Third instance of fat shaming at 54%, “I would need my corset pulled tight just to get into my dresses after a few of those!” and fourth at 56%, when protag takes energy-giving herb tea she’ll need to eat a lot “without fear of gaining weight”. Fifth at 84%: “I take my walks so that I don’t turn into a fat little Milwaukee bratwurst-frau” – now you go take your rides, or I fear you will do the same!” Finally, at 93% Enrico Caruso (yes, the opera singer) is called ‘fat’ and ‘pudgy’ (but perhaps that’s only descriptive…) and the villain’s “figure suggested that he might be allowing good living to overcome the athletic physique of his youth” (while the love interest, even in partial werewolf form, has “a waist that was becomingly narrow”).

Argh, and she thinks she’s not good enough ALL. THE. BLEEPING. TIME. So does he, come to think of it. Mercedes Lackey’s signature plot point: they don’t communicate.

I used to love that book; what happened? Did I catch SJW cooties?

January 12: Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher. Another Beauty and the Beast, inspired by Robin McKinley. Much more creepy than I remembered (only barely not too creepy). Perhaps it’s the pervasive humour that makes the horror-adjacent stuff not get to me so badly.

Week 1 and week 2 reading notes are here.

2020 reading notes, week 2

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I notice that so far this year I’ve only read one book by a man (the Judge Dee one). I’m not aiming to read only or mostly books by women, but it happens. Mostly white women, though, like myself (and still not for that). Obviously I don’t know about the fanfic but it’s statistically probable that the women are in the majority there as well.

January 11: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. A lot more baroque than Beauty. –Eek, I’d forgotten it has Meaningful Names, like the draper being called Mrs Bestcloth and the head groom Mr Horsewise. Ah well, I can cope. (The baroqueness grows on one and actually becomes part of the attraction. The Meaningful Names grate more and more.) Most people who give it only 1 star on Goodreads do that because either they think it’s too slow, or they hate the ending; I love both the pace and the ending. Could, and perhaps will, write a whole blog post about it or about all four of the Beauty and the Beast adaptations I just binge-read. Perhaps I’ll need to reread In the Vanishers’ Palace too before I do that.

January 10: Beauty by Robin McKinley. Plain and direct, and I think it’s the one I prefer now (but won’t know that until I’ve finished the other one.) Eyes teared up at the end. I tried to find some crit that mentioned Stockholm syndrome or similar and wasn’t about the Disney movies, but that’s amazingly hard. Best I found was this, which is about the Disney movies but also mentions the 18th century French original designed to help girls come to terms with being married off to older men. (Yes, also ick. But kind of appropriate for its time and surroundings.)

January 8: Ars Historica by Marie Brennan. A short story collection I didn’t know I had. On the dark side and difficult to read (those things are related but not identical). Of the 7 stories I like the penultimate one (False Colours) best; it put me pleasantly on the wrong foot, and I think it’s quintessential Marie Brennan. There’s a very short and somewhat nasty story after it, which rereading False Colours won’t flush so I’m going to need more Shira Glassman or something equally sweet and fresh.

January 6: Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman. A nice bit of sweet fluff to get the taste of Bedlam Boyz out of my brain.

January 6: Bedlam Boyz by Ellen Guon. A bit of a curate’s egg, in the modern sense rather than the original one: parts of it are excellent or I wouldn’t want to reread it. Parts of it are meh, parts of it are cringeworthy, and the ending is very abrupt and only faintly satisfying. I do like the way she handles magic, and I love Elizabet Winters.

January 5:  A slew of fanfic stories which I’m now consolidating into a proper list (run out of fanfic for now, looking for something longer to read next).

  • The Importance of Choosing the Right Pediatrician. DNF, I’m sorry to say. The premise seems so good (people trying to do the best for their unusual baby) but I didn’t have enough background because I didn’t watch that particular series of Star Trek and I keep being less than interested in the medical stuff. I’m counting the whole series as one thing; did finish parts 1 and 2.
  • The Butterflies!Verse, Young Wizards fanfic. The first story is also the beginning of another series but I read it for Sadie and Barty, not for Harry. Wonderful insight in kids and cats. May read the other series later.
  • Yet another widower!Harry story (a joyful one) and a cute but weepy story about Dairine’s electronic associates.
  • The Wizard’s Oath (tiny series of 2 short stories), okayish but very situation-specific (Israel, political).
  • My Oath and Morning, Young Wizards with a nonspeaking autistic main character. I want more Amanda! Faintly remember something else with an Amanda in it but that might be a different story, at least it’s not one in the author’s list. [ETA: Nope. Angela.]
  • The Day Before Forever, Young Wizards with a real historical figure. Weird little thing about Vienna.
  • Also The Day Before Forever, but this one is Bible fanfic that gets me RIGHT IN THE SOLAR PLEXUS.

Week 1 reading notes are here.

Protestant art

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Or craft, whatever. I’m taking part in a series of three workgroup sessions about gratitude, organised by the local Protestant church where I know some people. I think I and a Bahá’i woman were the only non-Protestant participants. We had a round of introductions (ick), then someone told a very condensed version of the story of Ruth in the crypt, using wooden figurines and a blue braided cord for the River Jordan. At one point, when most of the wooden people were standing on the Bethlehem side (Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, Obed –whose name never got mentioned for some reason–, Jesse and David, also David’s gold paper crown, so large that it was almost a character in its own right) and wooden Orpah by herself on the Moab side, I said “poor Orpah, all alone over there!” so the storyteller gave her a wooden family.

After the story, we got to choose craft materials from a large selection to “work on the story”. It’s not something I’m used to doing, and I was a bit apprehensive before I started, but the storyteller’s River Jordan as connection/barrier had inspired me and I made this:

Ruth and Orpah have the same skin colour; Ruth and Naomi have the same dress. Ruth and Naomi are standing on one side of the blue ribbon river, Orpah on the other. I wanted to show the connections between them and went back to the materials table for a ball of yarn or something, and then I found two ribbons with “LOVE LOVE LOVE” in the ribbon box (I squealed with joy when I did, and someone asked “did you find what you were looking for?” and I said “no, I found what I needed!”) so I could wrap one around Ruth and Naomi, and the other around Orpah and push it between the other two. Orpah’s ribbon is also stuck to the land.

This was half an hour’s work, and it doesn’t stick together properly so I had to repair it all the time at the show-and-tell, but we’ll have some more time with it next session before we go on to philosophical and theological questions. I’m all in favour of philosophy and theology, but the craft is so much fun!