Reading Notes

Tess of The Road by Rachel Hartman: Oh, I loved this. I liked it even more than Seraphina. And I started out absolutely not liking it—because Tess, our heroine, is absolutely not likeable when the story starts. She is full of self-loathing which makes her extremely uncomfortable to be around, and to read about.

I am just so glad that I stuck with Tess and her peregrinations. Tess’s journey is empowering. It is rejuvenating to see Tess crawl out of her emotional hell-hole, and become confident, and able to believe in herself.

The episodic stories, which form a part of the book and do not always further the action but do so much to heal and fill Tess up, are quiet, fun and lovely to read. Quiet. I’d call this a quiet adventure book.

I so so loved the juxtaposition of Tess and her relationship with her mother, with Pathka and her relationship with her daughter. Both are difficult mother-daughter relationships and the contrast between Tess, the daughter’s, and Pathka, the mother’s point of view was eye-opening. It made me look at Tess’s mother in a way I wouldn’t have thought of. There’s a point where Pathka says something to the effect of it’s always easy to blame your mother which made me stop for a moment and think about how often I take my mom for granted too!

Oh, this is just such a refreshing, wonderful read. Go, pick it up!

Semiosis by Sue Burke: A page-turner with interesting ideas about intelligence, and communication, Semiosis takes place on Pax, a far-flung planet in a distant future where a group of humans descend to start anew. The story unfolds in discrete chapters that are narrated by a character in each successive generation of humanity.

The thing that frustrated me the most was the way the author endowed the native sentient species with exactly human-like motivations and aspirations and fears. Which is ok, fine, but also really? (Yes, I’m being very articulate here).

On the other hand, the thing that caught my attention, and came across so clearly was how the act of communication between any two . . . I want to say beings, but the way the book depicts “communication” between and amongst the different species of Pax makes me a) re-think “communication” and b) re-think the definition of being-ness.

What I was going to say at the start of that sentence was that the book made me think about how communication and more importantly an effort towards understanding another, goes such a long way in eliminating fear of the unknown.

I also read and enjoyed One Good Turn by Carla Kelly, and The Right Kind of Girl, and Three for a Wedding by Betty Neel but don’t really have much to say about any of them!

A Trio of Mini-Reviews

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip: I came across this while looking for women-centric fantasies. The powerful sorceress at the center of the story starts as one who’s all powerful, and yet isolated, with no contact with the outside world. The world however forces its way into her walls, and she ends up making decisions and choices that she could not have foreseen. The story is also about revenge and the havoc it wrecks within your own psyche. It’s well told, and yet I didn’t really enjoy it. One reason was the circumscribed world of the story. I mean literally. It all happens over a kingdom, and a mountain, and I do not know why that of all things niggled, but it did.

Cotillion by Georgett Heyer: What can I say? Heyer can write a Marquess of Alverstoke, and she can write a Freddy Standen. She can write a Frederica Merriville, and she can write a Kitty Charing. Cotillion is really, really good. It’s really, really funny. It’s really, really slow burn-ish. It’s really, really perfect. The romance of Kitty Charing and Freddy Standen is tender, hilarious, and endearing. As with all of Heyer’s supporting characters, the ones here are marvelous too with a nipfarthing uncle, a swain who cuts a swath (not Freddy if you please!), and a father who I wish had gotten a story of his own! (Really, the scenes between Lord Legerwood and Freddy could have shimmied right off the page, so shimmering with perfection they were!) The romance is very slight, and very in the background. The shenanigans are front and center. Wouldn’t have had it any other way! Loved it!

Scythe by Neal Shusterman: Eh. I was all excited going into the book but. . . it was ok? Didn’t feel anything special really. A post-mortal world (yes, death has been overcome in this future) run by a perfect Thundercloud (a sentient AI who takes care of humanity sans any overtake-the-humans drama) has “scythes” to “kill” people to maintain . . . I don’t remember why they decided to harvest death in this manner. Was it to maintain a sustainable population? Might be, even though resources isn’t a problem in this world. (poverty is a thing of past). Anyway, two teenagers apprentice to a scythe and compete for the position, and there’s stuff about power, and corruption, and the ways in which mortality is a good thing, etc etc. Like I said, nothing special. I had the feeling as if the author had done this a hundred million times. Not sure if I’ll continue reading this series.

A Brief Line Part II

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery: I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. The climax didn’t work for me. I think I was looking at it through a romance lens, and the Big Misunderstanding trope is one of my least favorite plot types.

It just leaves me feeling impatient and wanting to shout at the characters. Intellectually I understand that there are FEELINGS which make communication between the two leads difficult, but a lot of the times those feelings feel forced and out of sync with the protagonists characters.

The Blue Castle did give Valancy’s character enough of a history to make the Big Mis somewhat believable but the drama of it felt somewhat contrived to me. Plus, the throes of passion which Valancy is often in, romantically speaking, didn’t really do anything for me though they would have delighted my teenage soul.

Same with the nature bits. I LOVE BEING TRANSPORTED into natural sceneries, and words can be magical in that respect. But somehow, I was unmoved by the scenes in The Blue Castle. They felt a little over-the-top to me.

Overall, the book was a complete and total meh for me.

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The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul by Preeti Mistry, Sarah Henry: I enjoy reading cookbooks and cooking related books. Preeti Mistry’s story is fierce, and full of passion for both cooking, and doing what is right.

I found the recipes to be meh-ish (they ARE true to the title—classic with a Preeti Mistry twist) but the story behind the recipes was captivating. I loved how cooking becomes a point of connection for Mistry and her Indian relatives who aren’t too sure of what to do with this lesbian in their mix.

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Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones: oh this was SO MUCH FUN! I was riveted, and as always loved the mad energy that permeates Diana Wynne Jones’s books. I’m beginning to also think that I might have to go back and re-read all the ones that I’ve read so far ‘cus I AM SO BUSY TURNING THE PAGES I don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on in between the lines. Can I also say that I guessed the big reveal in the end somewhere in the middle? I don’t know why I thought of it but once the idea came, I WAS SURE I WAS RIGHT. And I was!

I also started reading Fire and Hemlock but I DNFed it 30% in. I kind of felt bored I think? Which in retrospect seems plain weird—this is Diana Wynne Jones! I think I might try it again at some point simply because this a lot of people seem to love this one!

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A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole: Fun but I found the last 20% of the story a bit of a drag! I also hugely enjoyed Cole explicitly incorporating and calling out on gaslighting and mansplaining in her story! Oh, yes please, more, more, more!

A Brief Line or Two About Stuff I’ve Been Reading

Long live the e-book. And smart phones. And apps that make reading on smartphones such a seamless experience!

Provenance by Ann Leckie: At this point, it’s safe to say that I’ll probably read anything by Leckie. She knows how to plot, and yet there’s a quietness to her stories. By which I mean that her stories while being a page-turner also feel very personal, and intimate. Maybe because everything is told through the point of view of a single character? I’m not sure. I think the quietness has also got something to do with Leckie’s focus, or the focus of the story as it unfolds. I’m not EXACTLY sure why her books feel ‘quiet’ to me. Anyone wants to chime in?

Provenance is set in the same world as the Ancillary trilogy but it’s a self-contained story, working itself out in a different corner of that Universe. The protagonist for one, unlike Breq, is a fumbling youngling as compared to Breq’s solidity and maturity.

Identity is again at the forefront of this story but approached from a totally different angle as compared to the Ancillary trilogy. Provenance explores cultural identity, and planetary identity, and so by its very nature feels like an aspect of self that has deeper roots in one’s psyche. It also feels like a part of onself that one would tend to not be fully aware of.  Leckie asks what happens when this part of one’s being-ness comes into question.

As always, Leckie’s story is full of meaty, substantive ideas. However, all of it unravels slowly in the middle of deliciously weird alien-races, plenty of action, and a coming-of-age tale. I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to both the main character as well as the plot which didn’t really seem to be going anywhere: the first 7-8 chapters were kind of slow-going. But as soon as that mark was crossed, I could not stop reading!

How about you? Have you read this one? Or anything else by Ann Leckie?

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The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choskshi: I was cautiously optimistic about this one. A fantasy set against the rich mythology of Indian subcontinent? I was eager but also wary. Guess what? I was right to be wary!

I didn’t like the florid prose. And I do mean florid. I LOVE big, flowery sentences crammed with adjectively descriptions and adverbly actions. But the sentences in The Star-Touched Queen were a shade too purple for me; they were a little too weird and hallucinatory for my tastes.

Then the thing which threw me off completely EVERY single time it cropped up: the way Bharat is used in the story.

In Chokshi’s book, Bharat refers to a single nation-state which is surrounded by other nation-states. Only the Bharat and the other nation-states she talks about MAKE UP THE WHOLE OF BHARAT aka India in real life.

I’m not making much sense, am I? It’s like saying America is made up of the states of America, and California, and Washington, and Oregon, etc. etc.

As far as I’m aware, both in history and mythology Bharat has always referred to the whole of Indian nation, as opposed to a part of it taking that name for itself. (though I guess chest-thumping patriots MIGHT have proclaimed their very own state as THE Bharat State? Hmm.)

Anyway, this is a fantasy, and Chokshi can make her world up whichever way she wants (and maybe there’s some precedence for this in real life) but the usage was anachronistic enough that it just pulled me out of the flow of the story every single time it cropped up.

The world in Chokshi’s story is strange and different (I’m compelled to add: from what I’m used to), and before long I felt like I was being pelted with too much weirdness (that, again, was not to my taste). I ended up DNFing this about 30% of the way in I think. Oh, the insta-lust element of the story did NOT go well with me either. (I AM NOT A FAN OF INSTA-LUST (though maybe I should give those stories a chance to see how they unfold? Hmm)) So yes, that was that. I’d love to hear from folks who read and loved this! I want to know what worked for you! (maybe the same things that were off-putting to me?)

I would also very much like to read fantasies set in the Indian subcontinent (the region is TEEMING with mythology—the reason why I don’t have patience with European mythologies. TOO MUCH HAS ALREADY BEEN STUFFED INTO MY HEAD!) so if anyone has any recommendations, I’d love to hear ‘em!

Ok, so this turned out to be not so brief. I’ll get to the rest of the stuff later! I think those will be considerably briefer! Hope everyone’s having a good summer!

Something on Sunday 10/29

Note: This post is inspired by Jenny’s “Something on Sunday” series.

So first off—husband cooperated, baby cooperated and I actually slept for 11 to 12 hours last night! Of course there were interruptions but let’s overlook those! 11 to 12 hours people is no small feat with a tiny human around and about!

THEN—I meditated a little! Only a little, and by the end I was almost falling asleep but I MEDITATED!

I also made my husband laugh! My smart-ass self reared its head quite a few times today and delighted both me and my husband! Our shared laughter is one of my favorite things about us, and to begin experiencing it again just feels so precious!

Last but not the least, I DRANK TEA! WITH SNACKS! After almost a year! See, pregnancy made me dislike tea, and having tea in the afternoon with little biscuits to dunk in it, or some nice little snack on the side was one of my favorite parts about my day. Being able to do that again feels mighty satisfactory I must say!

ok, so those are my things for this Sunday! what are yours?

Not About Books

I’m a breastfeeding brand new momma. It feels so good to say that out loud. It feels good to have come through the anxiety, and the stress, and be here in this place which might  not be easier perhaps, but feels better.

Hello, world! I’ve been absent! I was pregnant. And then the little natkhat (hindi for the mischevious one) had to be delivered a little earlier than we anticipated because of some complications with me (I’m absolutely fine now!)

So about the breastfeeding thing—yes, I’m jumping directly into what’s on my mind—it’s my choice, and I feel I’m in in such a better place now but holy moly why did nobody ever warn me that it is SUCH A LOT OF HARD WORK?! Exclusive breastfeeding is a pain in the butt! Add to that the fact that I was sure I was NOT going to experience any postpartum blues—oh, what a noob I was—and I became plenty stressed out. Very little sleep, wildly fluctuating brain chemicals, no meditation, no walks out in nature, no nothing that had worked well for me so far, just a whole lot of brand new territory to jump into, and I started becoming a whole lot of weepy!

Oh, and on a side note, I TOTALLY  see how you can hate your husband after kids (I LOVED How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids—I think I got the recommendation off Jenny’s blog).

So anyway, yes, that’s where I have been. Or am. I consider myself incredibly lucky and blessed. From what I can tell, I had a relatively mild case of postpartum blues, and I am lucky in having a solid support base in my husband, and also my mom whom I SOS-ed to come pronto! (Moms are the best!) It was also helpful to see that EACH mom in my new moms’ support group (yep, I joined one!) had that zonked out, little-sleep look with which I have grown so familiar! (I’m not alone!)

It is only now a few weeks in that I find myself falling in love with my baby. It really does feel like I’m falling in love with him (yes, he’s a he, and no I don’t feel comfortable sharing his name or his picture on the internetz! He can do that on his own later on!). I mean I SERIOUSLY think he’s the CUTEST baby ever. He UNDERSTANDS everything I tell him. And if he’s crying then it means I need to get my inner detective out—so far, he doesn’t cry without a reason (and if you want to tell me that that changes with age, please keep your advice to yourself, thank you very much! :P)

In a strange twist, I have not had the slightest desire and indeed haven’t so far read any parenting book. I have a hunch that having a clean slate rather than having expectations (cuz that’s what I would do with all the information I’d gather—parcel and shape it into expectations) is probably more my way of being a mother than any other.

Do I feel like a mom? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But then to be honest, for the longest time, I didn’t feel like a wife either! I just enjoyed being with my best friend, and I think that’s how I want to approach motherhood too—just be with this new person in whatever way I need to be, and let the motherhood thing figure itself out!

Mini Review: Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

Linnets and Valerians is full of all the best things that I loved about The Little White Horse with none of its overt moralizing and proselytizing. It’s about four children, ages 6 to 12, who run away from their grandmother and fortuitously end up at their uncle’s. They eat mouth-wateringly described food, romp all over sun-soaked hills bursting with color and smells, and proceed to have a glorious adventure by thwarting the “evil witch’s” wicked plans.

At its heart Linnets and Valerians is about magic—the magic of finding your heart’s family, the magic of nature, and well, the kind of magic which looks like magic but is also not that hard to rationalize. There’s also a very un-monkey like monkey, a man who could be a gnome, and madam queen and other bees who weave their own enchantment.

As with The Little White Horse, my favorite part remains Goudge’s writing—fat, gorgeous, luminescent words that paint evocative scenes which spring up in the mind’s eye fully realized, and vividly colored:

She stood and looked about her and she wondered if there was any place anywhere more lovely and strange than this, poised here half-way between the world of trees and of the clouds. It was a miniature green valley, almost like a garden, held in a cleft of the rock. . . . A small stream ran down the center of it and fell over the edge of the cliff down to the trees below, and the banks of the stream were thick with forget-me-nots and green ferns. There were flowers everywhere in the grass and more ferns and little rowan trees grew up  the sides of the valley. Nan put her flowers into a pool between two stones at the edge of the stream, to get a good drink, and she had a drink herself, lifting the water in her cupped hands.

Cozy, funny, generous, and delightful are all terms that can be liberally and aptly applied to Linnets and Valerians. It was such a satisfying read that it’s made me want to ILL my next Elizabeth Goudge book!