Reading notes, week 28

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July 10: Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey (Five Hundred Kingdoms #3). Much more disjointed (several different stories) than I remember; I’d almost wish she’d stuck to the main story, which has more than enough meat for a whole book. But I do like the little preliminaries too. Full of wonderful people! Bechdel test pass (unless we assume that the ten young women captured by the Jinn only ever talked about the Jinn, and even then, does he count as “a man” because he’s sort of male?)! Cleverness!

July 12: The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey (Five Hundred Kingdoms #4). Not my favourite fairy tale by a long stretch, but I like this adaptation (though I like The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher even better). It’s such a pity that the Five Hundred Kingdoms books are published by Harlequin so heteronormativity is rampant. Also I have to push through the first couple of chapters (before *spoiler*), knowing it will become better, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Index of reading notes is here.

The dream engine fills a bath

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Well, I did; with tepid water, to baptise a four-year-old girl in. Several times (the filling, not the baptising) because every time the bath was half full someone used it for another purpose: to stash lots of flowers, to fill a kettle dunking the whole kettle while it was plugged in (fortunately the girl’s mother was an electrician, and had cut the electrical circuit before that happened).

The mother and her two daughters were from Afghanistan. The mother and the eleven-year-old girl were already Orthodox, but there had been no opportunity to get the four-year-old baptised. Fr T went to Vlissingen to do that, in the aforementioned bath, and took me and one of the basses, P, with him to sing. P had made a new translation of Psalm 50 full of politically activist language and I said “yes! read that!” (though we don’t read Psalm 50 at all at a baptism).

After a couple of futile attempts I left everything to P and went away to a market, also a political thing, stalls for ideas and causes rather than produce. There I met a man I know slightly IRL (we greet each other in the street, though I don’t know his name and couldn’t say how I know him), who in the dream apparently was an old friend. He proceeded to try to kiss me, aggressively and rather clumsily. When I kneed him between the legs and said “I never want that. Never at all,” he made that pouty mock-surprised face of a man who can’t imagine that a woman doesn’t want to be kissed by him. “If you do that again I’ll report you for assault,” I said, “and if you go any further I’ll report you for rape.”

When I got back from the market the baptism was already done and lots of people, mostly Afghan women, were cleaning up and carrying food and generally being busy. I only got in their way, so I got on a tram (without a ticket, and that made me very uncomfortable but I hadn’t found any way to get one) (also, the waking-world Vlissingen doesn’t have a tram line), presumably to go home.

Reading notes, week 27

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July 6: One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey. I found the twelve-year-old girl and the middle-aged nun I missed in the previous rereading! And another thing I almost missed: a pair of villains each planning to get rid of the other while on the surface working together, and even being lovers. I wish I was better at villains so I could use that myself.

(Also, a lot of fanfic. And my own Gates and Passages to see if it’s time for some minor edits and a second edition.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 26

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June 27: Jolene (Elemental Masters #15) by Mercedes Lackey. This concludes my series reread because I don’t have the newest one (The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley) yet. Don’t believe the blurb on Goodreads, it doesn’t represent the book at all! Most of it is (very enjoyable) learning, with a bit of (happy-ending) adventure at the end. Beef, very strong beef: the (eye and actual) dialect is horrible, and people who are actually from the area where it’s set have objections to it as well.

June 28: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. Sweet and exciting and enjoyable, except that I kept expecting it to be by T. Kingfisher and it wasn’t sharp enough for that. Also it’s got one of my fanfic Do-Not-Wants: plague (or at least a sickness that most people don’t get but some do, invariably fatal until someone finds the cure). I could read through that, though.

June 30: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine. I thought I’d read it already, but perhaps only the first chapter as a teaser! Exciting adventure, basically Puss-in-Boots with (tiny spoiler) the good and bad guys reversed. (somewhat bigger spoiler: nobody gets eaten, and even the villain gets pardoned).

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 25

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June 20: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes Lackey (Elemental Masters #12). Much more horror than most of the others, with a pair of particularly slimy villains, on the lines of Paul du Mond from The Fire Rose. Also a pattern I so don’t like in a book: person gets introduced with name and a scene or two, only to come to a horrible end immediately, not once but several times. And lots of eye dialect. Writers, if you must indicate that someone is using non-standard (or substandard) language, there are better ways to do that! (From a Goodreads review: Also, the probably MOST ANNOYING THING EVER in this series (and most of Lackey’s other work past a certain point) is the use of written accents so thick I have to translate them. I mean, really? Is this actually necessary? Part of Lackey’s charm has always been her ability to draw the readers in and keep them wrapped up in the story. If we’re stopping every few paragraphs to unravel a bit of dialogue, we ARE NO LONGER WRAPPED UP IN THE STORY. It was very jarring, and very annoying.) But I’m not throwing the book against the virtual wall because it has some redeeming features: Nan and Sarah being effective adults, some nice minor characters (Amelia! the hobs!) and what’s ultimately a really good mystery. (Digression: I find I like detective-shaped books better if they show only one side of the mystery; having the villains planning in plain sight distracts me too much.)

June 23: The Bartered Brides (Elemental Masters #13) by Mercedes Lackey. Also a horror-adjacent book, with even more in the POV of the villain, and starting with a person who gets introduced with name and scene and comes to a horrible end immediately. This one has got redeeming features too, including a novel way to be a trans man: take over the body of someone who has been evicted from it by the villain (no big loss) to make room for Uber Villain (who gets chased into the afterlife by the good guys before he can take possession of it).

June 25: The Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters #14) by Mercedes Lackey. Strangely, it starts with two novella-like chapters before the actual story begins, but then it’s mostly Hansel and Gretel (though the parents are okay) with a side of Sherlock Holmes deduction. Frankly, it could have done without Sherlock Holmes: all the other people are competent enough by themselves! Suffers very much from eye dialect, and also actual phonetically-spelt dialect, making it almost unreadable in places. In spite of that, the story is very readable and Nan and Sarah (and Suki!) get actual character development.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 24

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June 13: The Art of Effective Dreaming by Gillian Polack. (I want to read more by Gillian Polack! I want to read EVERYTHING by Gillian Polack!) Oh wow. It starts slowly, and doesn’t pick up much speed along the way, but that’s not a bad thing at all! The protagonist is very relatable, with all her quirks and flaws. There’s not a traditional happy ending, but the ending isn’t exactly unhappy either. In fact the ending is so open (though hopeful, and the way it happens makes sense) that I want there to be a next book in which Things Get Resolved but I don’t think that’s the way Gillian Polack works. It would make a good paired reading with The Interior Life by Katherine Blake, I think, but I don’t feel like reading The Interior Life right now because I remember the cringey bits too well.

June 17: A Study in Sable (Elemental Masters #11) by Mercedes Lackey. I remember it as so-so but on rereading it turns out to be pretty good, with more depth to it than I recalled. The strangest thing about it is that the first 20% or so seems to be a standalone story, though motifs from it come back later in the book. Mary Watson is such a dear. John Watson is (presumably) a widower in the original Sherlock Holmes canon so I read this as a sort of crossover fix-it fanfic.

June 18: The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison. I love Thara Celehar so much! And I also love his kicked-upstairs apprentice, Velhiro Tomasaran. As one reviewer (who incidentally gave it five stars) noted, I would have liked a glossary and a list of dramatis personae, because I can’t keep everything straight enough to, for instance, write fanfic of it without rereading it again while making notes. But now I really want a third book to wrap up all those loose ends.

Index of reading notes is here.

Dear Crossworks writer,

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Thank you for writing for me! I’ll do my best to make it easier, but please feel free to ignore my prompts if you have a different fun idea. FYI I’m sinkauli on ao3.

(observant readers will notice that parts of this post have been lifted literally from last year’s)

1. Lord Peter Wimsey/Miss Marple/Poirot/Murder She Wrote/Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • This combination more or less asks for a cozy detective story that may or may not be set in Australia! But anything else is fair game too. I know not having adultery as a motive is hard for Jessica Fletcher, and probably also for Phryne Fisher, but it is a hard DNW.

DNW for this crossover: any shipping or sex at all. And please see the general likes and DNWs as well.

2. Chronicles of Narnia/The Great Mouse Detective/The Rescuers

ALL (well, most of, I don’t know the others well enough) THE ADVENTUROUS MICE!

  • When Reepicheep sailed to the utter East, did he find a portal to our world, or at least the world where Basil of Baker Street and/or Bernard-and-Bianca exist?
  • Do Bernard and Bianca know about Basil and Dawson and perhaps ask them for advice or assistance? Casefic is good, or just hanging out as friends talking about their adventures.

Some Bernard/Bianca, Basil/Dawson and/or Reepicheep/Original Any Gender Mouse Character romance is okay, but no smut please.

3. Discworld (Witches Series)/The Goblin Emperor/Enchanted Forest Chronicles/Everything Everywhere All At Once/Elemental Masters
  • Anything with one or more witches/mazei/magicians finding themselves in one of the other worlds and dealing with the local magic/headology/Gifts would be awesome! (And any other nifty combination of the above would also be awesome)
4. Kate and Cecelia/Enchanted Forest Chronicles/Howl Series/Derkholm Series
  • Much scope for enchantresses getting together, each bringing her own competence and expertise.
  • What if Elda ends up in the Enchanted Forest somehow and meets dragons or Morwen’s cats?
5. Young Wizards/Miss Marple/Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries/Matilda
  • Anyone can be a wizard, right? Why not Miss Marple or Miss Fisher or someone from either one’s circle? Or Matilda or Miss Honey or both?
  • There’s this tiny little girl on Miss Marple’s doorstep, asking intelligent questions…

General likes:

  • Happy ending, or open(ish) ending with possibility for happiness. Lots of bonus points for other happy endings than “people getting together as a couple”.
  • Unexpected, uncomplicated friendship. Complicated friendship will do too, I like any story with friendship better than one with only antagonism, but I’m a sucker for people becoming friends when they’re doing something together or turn out to have something in common which neither of them would have planned for. Friends-to-lovers is okay but it’s a pity if that’s the whole point of the story.
  • Autistic characters (canon or headcanon) 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. In general, disabled characters who work around or with their disability.
  • Kidfic: canon characters’ kids, canon characters when they were kids, original canon-compliant child characters.
  • Discovery, detection. Characters finding out things about themselves when they do something they didn’t know they could do. Learning, mentoring.

General DNWs:

  • Enemies-to-lovers. Rape, non-con. Casual sex without friendship. 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.
  • Adultery, infidelity (polyamory is okay but I don’t really prefer it). Contradicting, ignoring or breaking up canonical pairings for a ship. Incest. PWP. For this exchange no smut please, on the whole I’d much rather have gen anyway.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Plague, pandemic, climate catastrophe, postapocalyptic anything.
  • 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).
  • Real-world current affairs or politics. (Period or fantasy-world politics = okay!)
  • Pranks, practical jokes, humiliating characters for the sake of it.
  • Unhappy endings, unresolved tragedy.
  • Gore, body horror (all horror in fact, but body horror is the worst), mutilation, monstrous pregnancy, cannibalism et cetera. Mpreg, which is a species of body horror in my book. (Ordinary pregnancy and childbirth is okay.)

Reading notes, week 23

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I DNFed an Agatha Christie (The Unexpected Guest) because I realised after a couple of chapters that I’d read it before and it suffered badly from No Nice Characters Syndrome.

June 7: Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott. What a strange book! I said to Spouse “it’s clearly set in the future, but it seems to be the future seen from 1995” and we looked it up and it turned out to be from 1994, close enough! I like the visualisation of the net, it’s much like I do visualisation of psychic powers in Valdyas (both in fiction and roleplaying), and the stuff around it reads like a slow-action thriller (disclaimer: I haven’t read so many thrillers that I can make a true comparison). Set in the kind of America that I envied Americans for before I knew enough Americans. Ends well.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 22

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May 31: The Fire Rose (Elemental Masters #0) by Mercedes Lackey. Again, I could stand the horror-adjacent parts of the villainy better than before. I can’t imagine I’m getting inured to horror (I’m still not seeking it out, and I’m just as disgusted when it’s disgusting) but at least I’m not completely avoiding it any more.

It’s clear this time around that Lackey was still feeling her way in the Elemental Masters universe, having some things much more complicated, and hedged about with much more ritual, than in later books in the series. I think I like the common-sense approach of the later books better than the formal-magic approach in this one, though the magic scenes are good, Lackey has a knack for magical pomp and circumstance.

It’s also clear that any reader brings themself to every reading.

(I think the rest of what I read this week is online fanfic I can’t be hedgehogged to retrieve, and the first part of Trouble and her Friends which is long and slow and complex)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 21

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May 24: Home from the Sea (Elemental Masters #7) by Mercedes Lackey. This one doesn’t suffer from “it’s good until it goes all bad” syndrome, at least not much! There’s a villains-will-villain moment but the protagonist handles that competently, even without the Deae Ex Machina Nan and Sarah to help her. Goodreads reviewers, get a grip, please! This book may not be fast-paced but that doesn’t make it bad. One pet peeve: even after it’s been established that the Selch are as mortal as any human and don’t even have a longer lifespan, they’re still contrasted with “mortals” (rather than, well, “humans” I suppose, or land-people).

May 27: Steadfast (Elemental Masters #8) by Mercedes Lackey. I think I like them all better than the previous time! Perhaps because I’m seeing different things. The way Katie gets used to her elementals, for one. And the “bad turn” is worse than in many another Elemental Masters book but mercifully short.

Index of reading notes is here.