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!

A Few Quiet Ones

I’m in a space right now where I’m preferring what I call “quiet” books—books low on drama, high on the fabric of everyday lives, and focused mostly on the inner landscapes of the characters.

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin: The first of these quiet books that I loved, loved, and loved was Le Guin’s last in The Earthsea CycleThe Other Wind. By the way did you know that Tehanu was followed by Tales from Earthsea, and then The Other Wind? I just kind of chanced upon that info, and then of course had to read them! I read a few of the short stories from Tales as well, including “Dragonfly,” knowing which helps in contextualising The Other Wind.

The reason why I loved The Other Wind is the same as why I loved Tehanu—the action and the scenes and the settings are intimate rather than being grandiose. It’s a more contemplative, and more conversation-driven than an action-packed story. The action-carriers, and plot-movers, are people who’d be deemed as ordinary (non-wizards), and not really all that important (women) in this world. There’s no really “high magic” in any of this. Even though the series started with Ged, the last book isn’t about him at all. It deals with the rest of the Earthsea, and puts to rest some of the big philosophical underpinnings of this world (and does it in a way that I personally loved by the way).

Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh: Ahhh, at last a historical romance that I enjoyed. Partly it’s the low-key setting (streets of Bath, school-rooms), but mostly it’s because of the characters. It was really satisfying to see the way Balogh charts Camille’s growth as she goes from floundering around and being unsure of herself to understanding what she wants, and why she wants it. Balogh also gives the reader an insight into why Camille’s doing all that she is, and that prevents her from being an annoying gnat. Joel, the hero, is an engaging character as well—a painter who’s interested in painting people as they ARE rather than how they appear to be. I think the number one reason why I love Balogh’s latest stories so much is because of their lack of “fashionable” cynicism. The characters in her book are hurt, and have problems, but that is not the sum total of who they are. Rather, these problems become the bouncing off place from which the characters explore more of themselves, and from which the subsequent story ensues, and unfolds. I’m really hoping that Viola, Camille’s mother, gets a story of her own too!

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: This book was a balm to my soul exactly when I needed one. This book has also made me realize that one reason why I love the stories I do is because of their setting. The open spaces of the deserts of Botswana was exactly what I needed to read at the moment, the warmth and the heat exactly what I was craving for while awaiting spring. The pace of the story is slow. It’s almost a series of vignettes strung together. There is a kindness to this book, a warmth, that probably stems from its thoughtful and deliberate protagonist Mma Ramotswe. The cases that come her way are of the everyday variety, and yet they’re never boring to read about. Some parts of the book feel dated, and slightly problematic (in terms of the attitude towards women, kids, etc.) but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholesome pleasure. I’m very definitely continuing with this series.

What about you? Do you have a preference for any particular type of book (including quiet ones)? Maybe that preference keeps changing? In any case, I’d love to get some recommendations for more “quiet” books!

In which I rant about Insta-Lust

So. I started with Eloisa James’s latest, Seven Minutes In Heaven, but ended up DNF-ing it about 50-60 pages in. I find I have little or almost no patience with most of the insta-lust stories out there. I mean I’m fine with you falling in lust with someone as soon as you set eyes on them (though really? but then again, who am I to say that that’s not a thing that happens a lot) but when your entire interaction is predicated on this lustiness then I HAVE NO PATIENCE WITH YOU CHARACTERS. OR YOU, AUTHORS. ESPECIALLY, YOU, AUTHORS.

I LIKED the premise—a successful lady running a governess business, and a mad-scientist hero who is born on the wrong side of the blanket. But when EVERYTHING BECOMES ABOUT hoo-boy, I can’t take my eyes off those ginormous man-and-lady-parts, then I AM DONE.

It’s not like insta-lust can’t be done right. I also happened to read Simona Ahrnstedt’s All In a while back, and though I was not as wild about the last quarter of the story as I was for the initial three-fourths, I definitely liked this insta-lust story!

David and Natalia have sizzling chemistry, and sleep with each other pretty early on in the book, but their physical relationship feels like an extension of the intellectual chemistry that they share. Their attraction to each other is of course about the physical but also so much more! (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just the physical either, just that I find it utterly and completely uninteresting to read about) There’s enough meat to their interactions, right from the start, that I WANT to read more about their COMBUSTIBLE ATTRACTION to each other!

I’m someone who usually skips the sex scenes in romance novels. Generally speaking, there’s not enough of a build-up of the relationship itself for me to feel interested in reading the sex scenes. And I get that sometimes authors use those scenes to further the relationship but I don’t always find that to be the case. (Marriage of convenience in hist-roms fits this bill though, I think). HOWEVER, the scenes in THIS STORY?! I read through every letter, sentence, and smoking hot paragraph, believe you me!

So, have you guys read either of these books? What did you think? Which side of the insta-lust line do you fall on? Or are you more zen-like with insta-lust than I am apparently capable of being? (Confession: I’m more of a slow-burn girl!)