Reading notes, week 8

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February 25: Magic and the Modern Girl by Mindy Klasky. This is the #3 in question, and the first 80% or so I was getting more and more annoyed with Jane because she was so using her mother and grandmother. (It got better. But not much.) There’s more in this series but I don’t think I’ll seek them out, just pick them up if I come across them. Happyish ending, at least.

February 23: Sorcery and the Single Girl by Mindy Klasky. Hmm, I think I liked the first book better. And I knew that man was a wrong one from the beginning. I’m starting to think I’m not the audience for this (but want to read #3 regardless).

February 21: Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky. I suppose this is chick lit? It’s not supernatural romance because, though supernatural things happen in it (the protagonist finds out she’s a hereditary witch, no less!) the romance doesn’t. A joyful romp, anyway.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 7

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February 19: Grilled Cheese and Goblins: Adventures of a Supernatural Food Inspector by Nicole Kimberling. Collection of related novelettes and short stories. It’s actually #3 of a series but that doesn’t seem to matter. Tries very hard to be fantasy noir, but it’s too funny for that (fortunately). CW: explicit M/M sex scenes, which I’m not fond of, mention of institutional racism/speciesism, cannibalism as a plot point. Read it in July 2020 too.

February 18: Towards Zero by Agatha Christie. Last Superintendent Battle book, worse luck. It’s very convoluted and the ending throws a woman who tends to codependency into the arms of a man who tends to possessiveness –is this wise, Dame Agatha?– but Battle is very much at his best, clearly learning from earlier experiences. Not many nice people (mostly Thomas and Mary, who might end up together) but a satisfying villain. And this is the end of my Agatha Christie streak, I think.

February 16: Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie. I had read it before but not recently and most of it was quite new again. Full of nice characters for a change! I do fear that some not-so-nice characters (the somewhat icky antique dealer and his friends who did arcane rituals at Midsummer) were coded gay, especially as both of the male friends were wearing purple.

February 14: Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie. I wish there had been more Superintendent Battle and less Hercule Poirot in it, but otherwise splendid.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 6

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February 12: The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. Very early Poirot, and I like Poirot more and Hastings less in this one than in later books in that series. The women in this one are very well done, each and every one of them, more diverse and more three-dimensional than the men. (Except for Jack; Jack is splendid.)

February 11: The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie. Another Superintendent Battle. It’s a pity that the resolution of the plot is so extremely implausible. For a Christie it’s full of nice people, though! And there is a wonderful little HEA epilogue.

February 10: The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie. So much fun. Superintendent Battle is wonderful and so is Lady Eileen Bundle Brent. Now on a small (there isn’t much) Battle binge. (But must Anthony smoke so many cigarettes?)

February 8: A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. Always a favourite. I remembered whodunnit and some of the circumstances, but not everything; I wasn’t reading it for the mystery anyway. (Mostly for Hinch and Murgatroyd, who are so coded as a lesbian couple. And for Phillipa.) Strangely, throughout the epub copy I’ve got the Blacklock sisters are called “Blacklog” and I thought I was just misremembering but it seems to be an honest mistake. Should perhaps take calibre’s editor to it. Then I can also correct the “A Murder is Announces” which appears before every new chapter.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 5

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February 5: The Hollow by Agatha Christie. Almost DNF’ed it because of No Nice Characters Syndrome but then at 20% Midge and Edward appeared. Still separately but that gets better, though not without some hurdles. I sort of like it but it’s not my favourite Christie, not even my favourite Poirot (which is, and will always be, Cat Among the Pigeons; my favourite Christie overall is probably Sleeping Murder, though 4:50 from Paddington, A Murder is Announced, and Cat Among the Pigeons itself are also strong contenders).

February 2: Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. The mystery plot is excellent and I love the first-person narrator but oh my, all the (period-typical) racism and orientalism. Mixed feelings. Someone I respect a lot, and usually agree with, gave it five stars on Goodreads even though they’re in a marginalized group themself (not one mentioned in the book though).

January 31: The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher. A much more brutal Snow Queen book than the Mercedes Lackey one. On reread it was more powerful (and more creepy) than I remembered, but fortunately the creepiness didn’t overcome it.

Index of reading notes is here.

The Law of the Firstborn

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[slightly edited repost from my 2000s blog]

It’s the Feast of the Presentation today. The ninth irmos of the canon (which I typeset, this year 2022, for the liturgy book so I was reminded of it again) has the words “al het mannelijke dat de moederschoot opent” (every male who opens the womb) to the most earworm-prone part of the tune. So what happens if the firstborn is a girl: don’t girls count at all, so the womb isn’t considered open and her younger brother is regarded as the firstborn?

Luke 2:22-24 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Then, thinking further, I stumbled upon the redeeming of the firstborn. The firstborn of livestock is sacrificed, but human babies obviously aren’t– would they have, before God took Moses by the scruff of the neck? Exodus 13 isn’t clear enough to my taste. It’s even possible to read there that it was Moses who softened the command of God, and I can so imagine Moses wrangling with his Maker on Mount Sinai to establish terms:

Exodus 13:1-2 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.” […]
(this is Moses speaking to the people) 11-13 “And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, that you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the LORD’s. But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

This is a stock-keeping society: lambs are plentiful, but you have only one donkey. And if you won’t buy back your donkey from God, you’re not entitled to use its labour either, so better kill it. Apparently you weren’t allowed to sacrifice your firstborn donkeys if you couldn’t pay the price, which seems a waste.

“The firstborn of man among your sons” seems to imply that girls do count, so if your firstborn is a girl and you have a younger son you don’t have to redeem him, because he didn’t “open the womb”. The same was probably true for ewe-lambs and donkey fillies.

There’s a reason given for sacrificing the firstborn, a reason grounded in at the time very recent history:

Exodus 13:14-16 So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

namely, this:

Exodus 11:4-5 Then Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals.”

And in Exodus 34 the same law is given again with wording so similar that I won’t bore you with it again; if you want to look it up anyway, it’s in verses 19-20, ending with the admonition “And none shall appear before Me empty-handed”.

The redeeming of the firstborn of man (and donkey) is a clear substitution of sacrifice, and the LORD goes one step further:

Numbers 3:11-13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD.”

I notice that the God of the Old Testament tends to say “I am the LORD” a lot, but that’s not relevant for this. What strikes me here is that the LORD doesn’t seem to require all the firstborn any more, but will have the Levites instead to serve Him; but still, the baby Jesus is redeemed with two turtle-doves because his parents are too poor to afford a lamb. I’m not enough of an Old Testament scholar to have anything sensible to say about this; if anyone who reads it happens to know how this works, please tell me!

The substitution of a pigeon for a lamb is in Leviticus:

[a woman being unclean after bearing a child, longer for a daughter than for a son, but anyway:] Leviticus 12:6-8 When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female. And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons– one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.

And after all this, when the Liturgy of the Presentation [note: the one in the 2000s which made me write this post in the first place] was already underway, I searched frantically for pen and paper while singing because I suddenly realised why Jesus wasn’t born a girl; why he couldn’t have been born a girl. For the same reason that he wasn’t born the youngest in a sprawling family like David. Because if he hadn’t been the male that opened the womb, he couldn’t have offered himself as a blood-sacrifice.

Father Theodore made that even more clear in his sermon when he said that the feast was “the intersection of the Old and the New Covenant”, and that Christ hadn’t come to abolish the laws but to fulfill them. It’s hard to make something new if you don’t stand in it when it’s old.

Reading notes, week 4

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January 29: Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey. Last of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, alas. I love it that the protagonist and the love interests are friends long before there’s a romance. But the villain is so blatant that I thought for a while that he’d turn out to be a good guy after all — should have known that Mercedes Lackey is seldom that subtle, and fairy tales (the Tradition!) aren’t subtle at all. He reminds me of Paul from The Fire Rose, though fortunately not quite that disgusting.

January 26: The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey. I think I inadvertently skipped this Five Hundred Kingdoms book last time, because I didn’t remember a single thing about it! Nice to have a completely new one, and a very good one (possibly the best) at that!

January 26: Canon review for worldbuildingex. Can’t disclose until early April. (And friends have helped me find a title; thank you, friends, you know who you are!)

January 23: The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey. Next in the Five Hundred Kingdoms binge. It’s much slower than the others, perhaps because it’s less fluffy, but I like it a lot better than the Andersen fairy tale it’s based on. (After the first few chapters; I’m glad I read on.) The ending is tears-of-joy happy on all counts. Lackey is the queen of cultural appropriation, and I’m having Thoughts, but not coherent enough to say anything relevant in a separate blog post.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 3

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January 18: Princess Hynchatti and Some Other Surprises by Tanith Lee. In (as far as I can see) excellent Dutch translation. I bought the book when I was a teenager and the local remainders bookshop had it for 1 guilder. (This is also how I first encountered Diana Wynne Jones, though those translations are much worse.) I wanted to read one particular story (Prince Chesorith, whose fairy godmother doesn’t give him any embarrassing gifts but only coos over the baby) but the rest were as much fun. Also, another Bechdel Test pass when Princess Dahli interacts with her sisters.

January 16: Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey. Another Bechdel test pass! Ten young women, all magical in nature, and two of them even end up having a household together. I love Sasha and Katya and their respective fathers, too. (Next up is The Snow Queen which isn’t my favourite fairy tale by far, but I want to read all of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. May resort to The Raven and the Reindeer after this as unicorn reindeer chaser.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Dear Worldbuilding writer,

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Hi, I’m sinkauli on ao3. Here you can see my works and my bookmarks, and this blog here is full of my reading notes. I’m reposting last year’s worldbuildingex letter with some fandom-specific changes and additions.

Please assume “any or no characters” and “original character(s)” for all fandoms so I don’t need to repeat that every time. Not all characters who are listed need to appear. I’d like my gift to be in words (so not art) but I’m equally happy with in-universe meta or fiction.

Whatever you do, you’ll probably make me happy anyway 🙂

Mary Poppins (Movies)

Characters: Mary Poppins, Winifred Banks, Michael Banks, Jane Banks, Bert

WB: Recruitment and training of magical nannies; Mary Poppins’ first assignment; Another magical nanny’s assignment; How magic works in this universe; The international society of magical nannies

  • What it says on the tin in the tags. Note that I wrote two stories about the international society of magical nannies, including recruitment and training, and please don’t hesitate to use those as a source and expand on them!

Alpennia – Heather Rose Jones

Characters: Barbara Lumbeirt, Akezze Mainus, Anna Monterrez, Margerit Sovitre, Tavit

WB: Trans people in Alpennia; The Jewish community in Rotenek; Non-Catholic religion as a source of miracles

  • Barbara and Tavit explore masculinity and femininity; she crossdresses for utility, he is a trans man, how do they handle the dynamics individually and/or together?
  • Anna’s background and family, the way she and her family handle living in a predominantly Catholic town
  • Are there specifically Jewish miracles? Protestant (Lutheran) miracles? Or are the miracles a specifically Catholic thing and do other religions or denominations have different expressions of the supernatural?

Magids Series – Diana Wynne Jones

Characters: Any of Will Venables’ daughters, Will Venables, Carina Venables, Robbios, Dakros, Alexandra, Maree Mallory

WB: Will and Carina Venables’ farm; Nudging Earth Ayewards; Maree working as a (magical) vet; How Magids magic works; Magid training

  • It would be so nice to see Dakros and Alexandra having a holiday or even their honeymoon on the farm!
  • Vet and Magid training at the same time

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci – Diana Wynne Jones

Characters: Mordecai Roberts | Tacroy, Christopher Chant, Millie, Asheth

WB: world series 11; relations and/or diplomacy between worlds; gods and goddesses and their avatars; differences between magic users

  • Anything about Tacroy growing up and learning to use his magic. Is it different from Series 12 magic?
  • How does having been the Living Asheth help and/or hinder Millie in her later life?

Young Wizards

Characters: The Man in the Crossings Bar, Darryl McAllister, Dairine Callahan, Spot

WB: Neurodivergent wizards; Backstory of the man in the Crossings bar; Animal wizards; Do all sentient species have wizards? Original wizard species

  • Does being non-neurotypical make one more likely to be suited to wizardry? What advantages and disadvantages does a neurodivergent wizard have?
  • I want to know EVERYTHING about the man in the Crossings bar. Where did he come from originally? Where is he going? Is he (an avatar of) one of the Powers? A freelance wizard? Where is he when he’s not pushing fledgling wizards into alien spawning cubicles?
  • Fiction about a mouse, donkey, bird (any species) or elephant wizard.

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.
  • Kidfic, either canon characters’ kids or canon characters when they were kids.
  • Discovery, detection. Characters finding out things about themselves when they do something they didn’t know they could do. Learning, mentoring.

Worldbuilding-specific likes

  • Language everything. Don’t hesitate to become technical if you can and are so inspired, it’s likely that I can make sense of it.
  • In-universe meta: how things work, how something is structured. Travel guides, gazetteers.

DNW/general dislikes

(Sex DNWs are probably not relevant for worldbuilding but I’m leaving them in just in case)

  • 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). Incest. PWP (sex, even explicit, is okay but it needs to fit into the narrative; on the whole I much prefer gen).
  • Bigotry of any kind, unless fighting against it is a plot point. That includes homophobia, TERFness, 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.
  • 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).
  • Pranks, practical jokes, humiliating characters for the sake of it.
  • Unhappy endings, unresolved tragedy.
  • Gore, body horror, mutilation, monstrous pregnancy, cannibalism et cetera. Mpreg, which is a species of body horror in my book. (Ordinary pregnancy and childbirth is okay.)
  • Real-world politics and current events. (Fantasy politics in an invented world is okay.)

Worldbuilding-specific dislikes

  • Plague, pandemic.
  • Climate or environment catastrophe, (imminent/unavoidable) destruction of a whole world or a significant part of it.
  • Extra information about a setting that makes it less pleasant (“… but you didn’t know these sordid details”).

Here is an even more extensive likes and dislikes post.

Reading notes, week 2

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January 15: One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey. Apparently after last week’s Agatha Christie spree I’m now on a Five Hundred Kingdoms spree. (And so is spouse, though she’s two books ahead of me). I do wish they weren’t quite so heteronormative. (When the princess finds out the knight is a woman, she says “I guess you don’t have to worry about me falling in love with me now.” To her credit, the knight answers “I could have done without that particular remark.”) Passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, though, when all the virgins the dragon has carried off band together to put an end to the cause of the trouble. I miss the twelve-year-old and the middle-aged nun who definitely were carried off: in those scenes they all seem to be about the same indeterminate late-teens/early-twenties age. Ah well. Some writers I know (me for one) and some publishers (Ellipsis Press for one) would have made sure everybody was there, especially the ones that didn’t fit the mold. But the HEA here is unexpected and very happy.

January 12: The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, first in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. Oh my, if only it hadn’t been published by Harlequin, then it wouldn’t all (well, 60-70% I estimate) have had to be about the het love story. I do like the way Alexander reforms, and I don’t mind that there’s a HEA, but there’s no room for all the other stories that could have been in there. (It’s a lot better than some other stuff ML has written, though. Or perhaps Harlequin has good editors.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 1

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January 8: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. (Goodness, I’ve been reading nothing but Agatha Christie this week!) It’s got much Poirot. Perhaps it’s the quintessential Poirot, perhaps this only seems to be the case because it’s been filmed so often. But it’s good.

January 7: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie, because a friend and I were talking about which Miss Marple we liked best. I think I definitely like this as much as 4:50 from Paddington. This time I did remember whodunnit but all the red herrings are soooo tasty.

January 4: After the Funeral by Agatha Christie. Still suffers from No Nice People Syndrome, except Helen. And Susan is a bitch but an okay bitch. Once again, I was surprised whodunnit.

January 3: 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie. I seem to reread this about once a year and yes, this time too I wish Agatha Christie had written a whole series about Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Perhaps I’ll write some fic about her. It’s annoying that the reader is supposed to guess whether she marries Bryan or Cedric, though.

January 2: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Second time reading this; recommendation from youngest daughter who also recommended the Gemma Doyle books by the same author but I’ve never been able to get into those. It’s so over the top that it took me a while to get into the story but once that started to grow on me I completely believed in that ridiculous world. Yes, everybody is a type, but they do acquire personalities, and I started to care about (at least some of) them. This review by Rachel Neumeier says it all.

Index of reading notes is here.