Reading notes, week 22

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June 4: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. Even better than the previous time. (Bread isn’t meant to fly. But it makes pretty good watershoes as long as it’s stale enough.) Perhaps not such a good idea to read it right now because it makes me want to bake and we don’t have an oven dammit. AND IT WON A NEBULA!

June 2: Spending “Koala-tea” Time Together by atypicalowl. Young Wizards awkward teenage romance, never gets sappy.

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie. I didn’t remember this at all but I must have read it ages ago. Everybody seemed to have a motive, nobody seemed to have opportunity. Colonel Race is, in the words of a clever Goodreads reviewer, “Poirot without the ego”. Nice! This would have sparked a little Colonel Race reread binge if I hadn’t read #1, The Man in the Brown Suit, in March and given it a nopetopus. Strangely, a writer I trust implicitly when she writes something gives it five stars. I might try Death on the Nile, though, which is #3 (also a Poirot, as is #2, Cards on the Table which I probably know by heart).

A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones. Randomly chose a book from the DWJ list. Not precisely what I wanted but nice to reread anyway.

June 1: Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. With the immortal lines “he wasn’t having any of that from a mouse with wings on” and “Vampires have risen from the dead, the grave and the crypt, but have never managed it from the cat.”

Some fanfic stories that I already had on my ereader (and had already read) while trying to decide on a book.

May 30: The Twins in the South by Dorothy Whitehill. This is #4, Gutenberg doesn’t have #3 either. It is a boarding-school story this time, though. Very wholesome, want to read more.

Reading notes, week 21

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May 28: A School Story by El Staplador. Miss Marple/Miss Silver vignette with a guest appearance by Miss Climpson. (I didn’t recognise Ada Doom though I did recognise her line.)

Phyllis, a Twin by Dorothy Whitehill. Nice school (not boarding school) story with an actual adventure in it. It’s #2 of something Gutenberg doesn’t have #1 of but that’s no problem, though I would like to read #1 sometime.

May 27: Death on the Way by Freeman Wills Crofts. Definitely on an Inspector French binge. This is a strange one, all about railway engineering (the author worked as a railway engineer for a while), with disconcerting jumping-about POV and secondary characters I have a hard time telling apart, even the person who eventually turns out to have dunnit.

May 26: Pictures in the Pavement and Magic in the Rain by El Staplador. Really good Mary Poppins fanfic. Makes me confident that I got mine right.

Death at Buckland Grange by El Staplador. Novella-length Miss Marple fanfic. It’s pre-canon, with Jane Marple as a young woman already showing the beginning of her later skills.

May 25: The 12:30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts. It’s an Inspector French book but the good inspector doesn’t appear until halfway through. Well, I’ve read Poirots like that. Most of the book is from the POV of the murderer, but we get to understand and even somewhat sympathise with him. Reviewers complain about the roundup postscript, but that’s precisely the kind of thing I like, and French finally gets to be Chief Inspector in the end! Don’t understand the title at all, though, unless it refers to the plane in the first chapter.

May 24: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which a friend sent me after we discussed it. I thought it might not be a book for me (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell wasn’t) but it started out captivating (and see Pete’s comment below). After getting confirmation from the giver that it wasn’t stealth postapocalyptic, because it had some signs of that, like it was the British Museum or something like that after global warming had flooded London, I continued reading it and it’s made explicit on page 89 (of 245, so fairly late) that it is, rather, a sort of magic realism instead. It get less strange instead of more strange, which is a pity in a way, but there’s a tentative good ending.

May 23: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, after we saw the animated film (which I liked more than this reviewer did). Reread after more than 20 years, I think, and it’s almost a completely new book. Perhaps I should go for some other early ones when I feel like Pratchett.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 20

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May 20: Foolish Hope by Augustine Lang. And that concludes the Fearless Fairwells series. (It’s also about my capacity for romance for now, so it’s not a bad thing.) I may have read it before because I vaguely remember it, or perhaps only the first (few) chapter(s) in the back of another book. It starts slow and a bit uncouth and seems to have an ending at about 65% — not HEA but convincing enough — but then it suddenly acquires Adventure! And HEA after all.

May 18: The Forgotten Fiance by Augustine Lang. So good that these two get each other, too! There was nothing wrong with Percy, he just wasn’t the right person for Kitty.

High Wizardry by Diane Duane, a quick half-skim reread because I was writing a Dairine Callahan story (Young Wizards/Lord Peter Wimsey crossover, in fact).

May 17: My Heart Did Fly by Augustine Lang. At 60%: GET MARRIED ALREADY YOU TWO BECAUSE YOU SUIT EACH OTHER EXACTLY. (And they did, of course.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 19

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May 14: The Manor House School by Angela Brazil, who turns out to be real, not invented by Diana Wynne Jones for the Chrestomanci books! Somewhat harder to get invested in the characters as it is in the Enid Blyton boarding-school books, but there was a nice mystery, which twelve-year-old me would have been delighted to read and even 63-year-old me enjoyed.

May 13: A Corned Beef Tin’s Got Corned Beef In by El Staplador. Narnia fix-it fanfic, fixing specifically (part of) the Problem of Susan.

Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts. Now I’m reading them in order. The title is strange because it’s the very first Inspector French book, and the story is strange as well, with the inspector traipsing all through Europe on an investigation that’s barely more than “did this person change two ten-pound notes in your hotel?”, a journey that would be a complete holiday for us with all the trains and hotels and restaurants! Paris! Chamonix! Barcelona! Doesn’t Scotland Yard have a very tight budget? (Well, Charles Parker went to Paris on an investigation, too.) The thing that most brings it home that this was written about a hundred years ago is that people know the serial numbers of bank notes.

May 11: Inspector French and the Cheyne Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. I should perhaps read these in order but I’ve been recommended this one especially. It doesn’t disappoint, though there seem to be more unlikely occurrences than average. Ends well (except for the villains) too.

May 10: Minoes by Annie M.G. Schmidt. Because we saw the movie. Which is okayish (suffers from jerkass male protagonist and from Dutch Actor Syndrome) but the book is much better. (Strangely, the Goodreads listing is in Bahasa Indonesia, but most of the comments are in English)

Banned from Argo by Leslie Fish. Star Trek fanfic, novelization of her own filksong. Fun!

May 9: Weekend at Wilvercombe by Delancey654. Because more Dowager Duchess is a good thing.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 18

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May 9: A Good Kiss is Hard to Find by Augustine Lang. Reread, but I’d forgotten most of the real meat of the story. I like these people! And it’s a kind of romance I can actually read without cringing, with very little failure-to-communicate.

May 6: A Fairwell Friendship by Augustine Lang. Romance is not usually my genre (I love the people! But I wish they were in a different story!) but these are delightful, and I’m rereading the others now we’ve got them all.

Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts. (My copy is called “Inspector French and the Starvel Hollow Tragedy” but it’s the same thing.) I think I’ll read all Inspector Frenches eventually; this one didn’t disappoint (wonderful twist at the end, and I love a full exposition of how everything was perpetrated) though I wish Inspector French wasn’t so obsessed with his possible promotion.

May 5: Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer. Easily as good as Catfishing on Catnet. Which was already apparent from the reading at CoNZealand. May deserve a blog post of its own. (Strangely, Catfishing on Catnet had very much Catnet in it but very little catfishing; Chaos on Catnet has plenty of chaos but very little Catnet. Doesn’t make it any less exciting or enjoyable.

May 2: Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham. Wow, this is amazing. I’ll never read a school story with quite the same eyes again. (Also it has as hard-to-search-for title as my own Terms of Service, though the subtitle and the author’s name make that a lot better.) In later chapters it becomes a bit repetitive, as books of this kind tend to be, but still compelling. At the end I briefly thought “why am I not one of these women?” but I’d probably have been thoroughly unhappy in boarding school, bullied and outcast. It’s not easy being green neurodivergent, even in the weird progressive high school I was in.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 17

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April 27: The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts. I can hardly imagine that this book is a hundred years old! (A hundred and one in fact: it was first published in 1920 though the epub I have of it is of a 1921 edition.) It’s long and convoluted, and I somewhat agree with one review that said that there are three different people investigating, all with the same skillset, so it’s hard to tell them apart; but I do like it, and I must applaud the marvellous howdunnit exposition at the end.

April 26: Het Grote Beestenfeest by Kees Stip. Short nonsense verse about animals. Read it in small snatches, two or three poems at a time in between wrangling church music and reader notes.

April 25: Polly’s Senior Year at Boarding School by Dorothy Whitehill. Gutenberg has only the first and this, the third, of a 13-volume series. (Perhaps all for the better because I think two books of this is enough, at least for now.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 16

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April 23: Polly’s First Year at Boarding School by Dorothy Whitehill. It took me a while to realise that this is a boarding-school book set in the United States. The usual boarding-school things happen but there doesn’t seem to be a plot, everybody likes the protagonist, and the only antagonist until now is the Latin teacher. A nice comfy read. I have another of these, if it stays this unproblematic I might try to find the rest: there are 13! (One little strangeness: it breaches the fourth wall at the beginning of Chapter 3 with “… during the month which elapsed between then and the opening of this chapter”. And a similar thing once more.)

April 22: The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie. I found A Pocket Full of Rye next in the unread list on the ereader and didn’t feel like that so I sought out a Miss Marple that I know I like. It’s slow-paced, but all resolves perfectly, almost like a Freeman Wills Crofts book.

April 20: Inspector French and the Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. As good as the other one. I liked the “show your work” aspects of the investigation, though that made it very complicated especially near the end. Nice resolution!

Kennut zijn dat ik u kan? en Taaltje wel, taaltje niet by Bert Japin (no links, because searching only gets me second-hand book sites). Collected essays/columns from the 1960s about various language idiosyncrasies, anecdotes, hilarious mistakes. Some rather dated but most still entertaining. It turns out to be from Taaltje wel, taaltje niet that I know that “Leyden” means “On the Two Streams”!

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 15

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April 17: (Inspector French and) the Box Office Murders (both titles exist) by Freeman Wills Crofts. I’d forgotten the existence of Inspector French completely, and this is one I hadn’t read before! Very slight period-true cringe moments but the inspector is a decent, respectful human being, who listens to his wife when she has something sensible to say. And there’s a self-rescuing princess damsel in distress. Refreshing. Here is a very good review of it.

April 16: Five Things Tom and Carl Did in College (In the First Semester Alone) by Gray Shadows. Of course Tom and Carl go to Blackstock! But I thought it was just a tongue-in-cheek insert until the fifth section when the crossover with Tam Lin became apparent. It was inevitable, I think. I like it that a good crossover story makes the worlds seamlessly become one, and this one is very good. (I wonder if I’m supposed to know which of the Blackstock girls Tanaquil is, though.)

April 15: The Wizard of Karres by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer. It’s the sequel to The Witches of Karres and starts right from the end of that, in the same scene even, though it does have small “this is what happened in the previous book” infodumps later. Nicely written, though the small reminder infodumps jar a little. Perhaps that isn’t a problem for people who don’t read the two back-to-back. I thought I wouldn’t like all the circus stuff, but it was well done, I suppose by Mercedes Lackey (because I like her vaudeville Elemental Masters stories too). Strangely, there seemed to be an ending at about 60% and then a whole new story arc emerged — no problem eventually, but a bit disconcerting. That final story arc had a twist at the end that wasn’t what I expected (that Hulik do Eldel would turn out to have been the Empress in disguise all along; they were different people after all) but satisfying nevertheless. I want this to be a trilogy!

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 14

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April 9: The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz, which I read in Dutch translation as a teenager (from my parents’ bookcase) and I think I read the original too, more than 25 years ago. I remember bits, and often go “oh yes! that!” before discovering that it’s different than I remembered. Fun. I like hilarious space opera, in judicious doses.

April 7: Second Form at St Clare’s, which is actually #4 in the series but I can’t get hold of #2 or #3. Don’t know where I got these two, either, possibly from a site in some country where they’re already in the public domain. — Okay, more things happen than in #1, and if I can get some of the others I’ll probably want to read those too, but on the whole I like Malory Towers better.

April 5: The Twins at St. Clare’s by Enid Blyton. Interesting to read from the POV of the kind of girls who would have started out as Darrel Rivers’ enemies. The first half is significantly more interesting than the second half, when it becomes Yet Another Boarding School Story.

April 4: Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk, a rather prolific author that I’d never heard of.  Bought it on recommendation from someone (several someones, in fact) on the fanfic discord. I didn’t realise until after I’d started that it’s not just urban fantasy set in the 1890s, but also a M/M romance, and my creeping suspicion that there would be sex scenes was confirmed by a judicious search. I’ve now read through most of the sex scenes, and they weren’t as bad as I expected (no hate sex for one; enthusiastic consent all the time). Also, it ends okay. But I don’t think I’ll read this again, or seek out its sequels.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 13

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March 31: The Hollow by Agatha Christie. Another late Poirot. I’ve read it before but have forgotten enough for it to make it a “real” mystery, and there are three women and a man in it who I actually like, very unusual for Agatha Christie. (Oh, and I also like the police inspector, which is less unusual.) It ends almost right, and the right people get each other after a small bout of Failure To Communicate.

March 30: Monsieur Pamplemousse and the French Solution by Michael Bond. Out of inertia, really, because it came right after the other one. It’s significantly better than the other one, too! No more Pamplemousse for now, though. Especially as the next one is Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Carbon Footprint which seems to be disappointing.

Index of reading notes is here.