Catch-up!

I’ve got tons to do. And some sleep to catch on. So what do I decide to do? Write-up a few quick lines on what I’ve managed to read up so far, of course!

(On a side note: being a new mom (or not so new now that he is a year old!) is really teaching me about focusing on what matters to me! (in terms of what I choose to do with the wedges of time I have for myself!))

Someone to Care by Mary Balogh

I love Mary Balogh. She’s my comfort read. I love the nuanced relationships in her books. This one though might be my least favorite of this series (even though I had been looking forward to it!) It took me a while to get into it, and I found myself slightly impatient with Viola. On the other hand, I did love that Charles and Jane, the secondary characters who bring up the hero’s children, aren’t painted as villains. I did find it surprising though how in the end they are so eager to return to their own home after having invested years in their relationship with the Marquis’s children.

Anyway, I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

A Study In Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Ooh. I SO ENJOYED this. It is so atmospheric and captures that feeling of slight menace so well (even though there wasn’t really much menace in this one).

Aside: I love the late Victorian set mysteries/stories—please recommend the ones you’ve enjoyed the most.

I am going to put the next one on hold too, and apparently the third in the series is due out soon too? I do love my timing! The only quibble—the detecting seemed a little. . . not that believable to me at times? Some of the conclusions seemed a little too far-fetched. But I loved how London and Devonshire (I think!) seemed such characters in the story. And of course, I had to go bake me some madeleines after reading the scene where Holmes sends a few for the Inspector’s wife!

(I read this a while back so it must have been a memorable story for me to remember all this!)

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Ok, all you Lucy Parker fans—you are absolutely right to gush about her. I avoid contemporary romance except for an occasional Harlequin Presents but this was absolutely totally amazing. Enough that I thought my husband would enjoy it too given all the wit and humor. Oh, I wish I still had the book because I highlighted reams. Its intelligent and funny and so, so well-written. The romance between the two main protagonists, despite it being a boss and employee kinda thing (which btw SO NOT MY THING) is so well done. It handled all the pitfalls without being squicky. The secondary characters, especially Lily’s family are fully fleshed out. Parker does no hand-waving there even though it would been an easy strategy to have them be token characters. All in all, I am going to be reading everything and anything by Miss Parker. She really is very, very good.

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

I have not enjoyed MacLean’s books before. I loved this one. There’s something about the hero and the heroine, and the way they become more in each other’s presence, that is very fun to read about. I really liked both the protagonists, especially the heroine. I really like how there is no big plot obstacle so to say, other than the ones in our protagonists’ head. This was such a satisfying read. The heroine really could be like any other woman—ordinary and plain to everyone around her but so not ordinary and plain in her own head. (Well it takes some getting to, to that place, but you know what I mean). I know I enjoyed this book because sex and love scenes make me impatient. But here, in this book, I was enjoying the relationship so much that I WANTED to read about the physical part of that relationship too!

And that’s it FOR NOW! What have you been up to lately? I am currently reading Names of the Sea and Record of a Spaceborn Few and also, Ocean Light. (Nalini Singh’s Psy series is the only urban fantasy I seem to enjoy! Do you have recommendations you think I should try out?) I am also looking forward to the new Deborah Harkness! (ha, and so in the very next sentence I invalidate what I said! Oh well. Still want to know your recommendations!)

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!

Rosemary Kirstein, The Steerswoman

I think what I love the most about this story is the way it takes for granted that there’s no inherent power imbalance between men and women simply because of their respective genders. The women of this story are soldiers, innkeepers, sailors, warriors, farmers, poets, and have the freedom to do as they please sexually. In a delightful twist, the eponymous steerswomen of the story derive their “power” from observation, deduction, logic, and knowledge of mathematics.

The protagonist, Rowan, is a steerswoman too (with an impressive spatial sense!). Her companion on the journey, Bel, is a woman as well. In this, it reminded me of Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy which also features two women as its main POV characters. That’s the only similarity between these stories though. One of the biggest divergences is the way Kirstein treats magic (at least in this first book)—it’s shrouded in mystery given that it’s the domain of wizards who just don’t share their secrets with anyone. There are gnomes, and goblins, and dragons in the story and yet the few glimpses we get of magic definitely made me wonder about its source and brought to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s postulation that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

the steerswomanOne of the most fun aspects of the story is watching Rowan piece things together. She does this again, and again, putting her mind to the situation at hand, thinking, deducing, and arriving at the best possible options. In a way it’s watching the “scientific process” at work, and it’s extremely satisfying! There’s also some thoughtful and thought-provoking philosophical bits scattered throughout the story and the amazing thing is that they are so tightly interwoven with the actual plot that it took me a while to notice the depth of what the characters were thinking.

The Steerswoman is a story that has BOTH page-turning AND  quiet, subtle moments of storytelling. My only quibble is a minor character that appeared in the beginning, and was part of some scenes that led me to think that he’s going to be instrumental later on but wasn’t. My quibble isn’t that he did not appear again—but that he seemed to have been used to simply extend a few pages. However, this is a VERY MINOR QUIBBLE!

This, again, is an example of a book that does the whole magic-science (magic vs. science?) thing SO MUCH BETTER than Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky. The series is available in e-book format for a very reasonable price (apparently the rights reverted to the author, and she chose to self-publish), and I’d definitely urge you to give the first one a try!

Kirstein has two more books planned for the series but really the first book is so self-contained, albeit with some bigger questions left unanswered, that I don’t at all mind having started it! I’ve only read the first book so far but the structure seems similar to the Harry Potter books in that there are two parallel narratives arcs at any given point of time—one is the series wide unfolding with each successive book, and the other a book-length story that is resolved within the book itself. I could be wrong but I’m definitely going ahead with this series!

To end—

“I’m sorry, Bel, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t necessarily respect other people’s religions, or any religion. But the people—I respect them, and I give them the honor they deserve, whatever they believe.”

Super Mini Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I loved the first half, and while on-the-edge-of-my-seat for the second half, didn’t really enjoy it that much.

All my favorite bits were in the first half, especially the magic, the description and workings of which I loved! I’m referring to Agnieszka’s brand of magic here by the way. I just loved, loved the way she “feels” her way to magic—and how the instructions that make sense to her seem to be vague, kind-of, sort-of pointing towards the destination, but letting the way to that destination to be one of her own making. If I were a witch, this is EXACTLY how I would go about it too! Just sayin’!

I also very much enjoyed how Agnieszka’s intuitive approach when combined with the Dragon’s more logical approach leads to more! Yes! I wish All The Birds in the Sky had done something like this right from the start rather than making a message out of it at the end!

As for the second half, I quote LizMc2 whose thoughts about this book have an eerie similarity to mine! “It’s like super hero movies: I like the origin story/discover your powers part, and then it’s all giant special effects action scenes and I get bored.” Yep, the second half was one mad rush of action, and while not bad, wasn’t as good as the first half. Plus, I found the story ended on a note of whimper for me. The whole “evil wood queen” genesis story felt weak, and unconvincing.

On the whole, I have to agree with LizMc2, The Princess Curse was just more satisfying!