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.

~*~

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.

~*~

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!

~*~

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?

~*~

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!

Mini Review: All The Birds In the Sky

This is a weird book. And I mean that in a value-neutral way. Anders’s writing, and the things she imagines. . . I couldn’t stop this sense of being an outsider looking into a totally different, alien-ish world.

Patricia is a witch, and Laurence is a super-genius engineer. She can turn herself into a bird and he can build super computers. They’re both interesting kids who face some REALLY ugly bullying and cruelty in school.

The trouble begins when we meet them ten years later.

Patricia’s desire to save everyone, and everyone admonishing her not to become an “aggrandizer” soon became tiresome. The weirdness had stopped being interesting, and all the details had started boring me enough to make me skim and skip paragraphs. The only reason I persevered was because I wanted to know how the “vision” that a sort-of-villain had early on in the book was going to play out. By the way, this sort-of-villain was probably my favorite character in the book. He is an assassin who becomes a counsellor and his ongoings had just the right hint of buffoonery in them for me to stop believing that he was really a villain.

The last one-third of the book would have been much better except that Patricia and Laurence have a Big Misunderstanding. Romance readers, you know what that means. Non-romance readers, that’s basically when an author uses miscommunication between the protagonists to further the plot. (or is there a better way to say that, romance readers?) It drives me nuts. Patricia becomes this cold bitchy person and Laurence a sad, sad man. It did not help that the post-apocalyptic world that Anders describes is. .  . meh. The misunderstanding IS cleared up a little later but by that time we were nearing the end and I just did not have the patience for it.

Then comes the end. Which was a little too. . . twee for me. Don’t get me wrong, I actually DON’T think that rationale/logic and intuition/perception are incompatible but I just did NOT like having this particular ending to the journey that Anders had been promising all along. To be fair, if I’d enjoyed the book more I can see how I would have totally argued FOR such a “simple” solution but it is what it is, reader!

Ok, rant over! I definitely want to hear from those who enjoyed the book!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the kind of book that I want to read more of. While big conflicts are quite possible at some point of our lives or the other, isn’t it the day to day, moment-to-moment choices that really make up the bulk of our lives?

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is what I call a quiet story for all that it’s set in space and is a science-fiction. It doesn’t really have any main protagonists but instead is about a whole ensemble of characters, namely the crew of the ship Wayfarer. The captain and the crew have, what I guess must be, one of the most boring jobs in the galaxy.

The story starts with the induction of a new crew member, a human, into the Wayfarer’s crew. Rosemary has never been out in the vast openness before and this nicely sets things up for the reader, alongside Rosemary, to get to know about the space that this story is set in, the history of this space, and the species that populate this space.

the long way to a small angry planetThe structure is episodic with each chapter focusing on a specific crew member. I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed Chambers’ imagining of each of the species, and their particular quirks. Funnily enough, reading this story I’ve somehow ended up expanding my zone of comfort about unexpected appearances. I mean really, some of the species she describes are TRULY bizarre, and yet, it’s weird only when you look at it from a human perspective; it’s weird because it’s different from what I’m used to! I really love this visceral sense that started stealing over me, of being ok with all these STRANGE looking creatures who despite, what I think of as, their peculiar-appearance are SAPIENT! This is a Universe populated by variety—where one species beauty is another species ugly, where one kind’s highest joy is another’s absolute and utter squirmy mortification. All this to say that the world-building is absolutely fantastic!

Which brings me to a favorite story line. And this is spoilery, so I’m putting it in white. Highlight, if you want to read! So, Rosemary and Sissix!! I really thought for quite a while that it’s going to be Ashby and Rosemary, since, well, they are both humans—yes! Bias much?! But turns out Chambers had BETTER things in mind! Their coming together romantically, while being of different species, with different cultural cues, and rules, and definitions about love and sex and family is just such a pleasure to watch unfold!

The peeps in this story are NICE. Yes, even the resident curmudgeon has a sort of reason to be curmudgeony—not that that EXCUSES his behavior, but you know what? The reason does make me look at him with more understanding! And I LIKE this. I would RATHER cultivate a kinder world-view than its opposite, and stories like The Long Way to a Small Angry definitely do their bit in forwarding that.

There is no guns-blazing, seize the evil villain by his horn action in this story. Heck, even the conflicts that the crew runs into are dealt with in a pretty ordinary fashion. I give you evidence. Conflict One becomes steerable because of one of the crew members’ ability to communicate in a different language. Conflict two is handled by figuring out a loophole in the law. Conflict three is about each of the members doing the best they can in that moment. Don’t you love that? I mean isn’t this “ordinariness” how we generally deal with the crap of our lives? It’s so good to see this channelled into an actual story.

I can go on and on about more things I liked—the ending, for instance. It’s ambiguous, talks about BOTH sides of the equation, and is the sort of political question that the story touches upon again, and again, often eschewing a neat, clean answer in favor of highlighting the merit in each of the arguments.

Let me leave you with this.

GC space had plenty of neutral markets that welcomed spacers of all species, but the Port was something special. Even if you didn’t need to stock up, the spectacle of it was well worth the trip. Sprawling streets stuffed with open-air shopfronts, overflowing with clothes and kitsch and sundries. Grounded ships, gutted and transformed into warehouses and eateries. Towering junk heaps lorded over by odd tinkers who could always find exactly the part you were looking for, so long as you had the patience to listen to them talk about their latest engine mod. Cold underground bunkers full of bots and chips, swarming at all hours with giddy techs and modders sporting every implant imaginable. Food stalls offering everything from greasy street snacks to curious delicacies, some with rambling menus of daily specials, others with offerings so specific that the only acceptable thing to say at the counter was ‘one, please.’ A menagerie of sapients speaking in a dizzy array of languages, shaking hands and clasping paws and brushing tendrils.

And also this.

The memories reached out to Dr Chef, trying to pull him away from his safe observation point. They tugged, begging for him to give in. But he would not. He was not a prisoner of those memories. He was their warden.

. . .

Rosemary started to nod, then shook her head. “That’s not the same. What happened to you, to your species, it’s . . . it doesn’t even compare.”

“Why? Because it’s worse?”

She nodded.

“But it still compares. If you have a fractured bone, and I’ve broken every bone in my body, does that make your fracture go away? Does it hurt you any less, knowing that I am more in pain?”

“No, but that’s not—”

“Yes, it is. Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”

Middlemarch Book Three: Waiting for Death

Laila’s review: Middlemarch, Book Three: Waiting for Death
Vacancy’s review: Middlemarch, Book III, Waiting for Death (or knee deep in the provincial life…)

What an ending! My heart’s thumping! Turns out it was Fred Vincy, Papa Vincy, and Mama Vincy who were waiting for Mr. Featherstone’s death, who dies just about at the end of Book 3.

Of all the characters we’ve met so far, the one that I have the least patience for is Fred Vincy. He’s sweet natured, selfish to the utmost degree, and completely oblivious of his selfish nature. He’s surprised when Mary Garth calls him out as one. His chief occupation in life is to wile away his time in schemes of utter foolishness while he waits to inherit all of Mr. Featherstone’s wealth and property. That his schemes are idiotic, and that he might want to re-think them, doesn’t occur to him even once, despite one spectacular failure after another. All his problems would be solved were he to come into money, is what Fred Vincy thinks. While he waits for Mr. Featherstone’s death he chooses to borrow money from Caleb Garth, “the poorest and the kindest” of his friends (and Mary’s father), thus marking himself out as a coward as well. His only redeeming quality is that he loves Mary Garth who seems to have a sound head on her shoulder. In fact, the whole lot of Garths is like that—kind, loving, and with a sensibility that does not blind them to the faults of the persons they love. Mrs. Garth for instance,

never committed herself by over-hasty speech; having, as she said, borne the yoke in her youth, and learned self-control. She had that rare sense which discerns what is unalterable, and submits to it without murmuring. Adoring her husband’s virtues, she had very early made up her mind to his incapacity of minding his own interests, and had met the consequences cheerfully.

The Garths, unlike the Vincys, lack in money and connections, but are just SO MUCH better off.

Which brings me to the Vincys. Specifically, Rosamond Vincy. All along, I’ve been thinking of her as an ensnarer but reading Book 3, I realized, that Lydgate is as much of an ensnarer as Rosamond. If anything, he’s an idiot, and deserves whatever is coming his way, for thinking:

The preposterousness of the notion that he could at once set up a satisfactory establishment as a married man was a sufficient guarantee against danger. This play at being a little in love was agreeable, and did not interfere with graver pursuits. Filtration, after all, was not necessarily a singeing process.

What an ass! I can’t help wondering whether all his flirting aside, Rosamond is going to be as lonely in her marriage as Dorothea is in hers. Yep, I feel a little more sympathetic towards Rosamond even though she does have a streak of manipulation running right through her.

Eliot keeps shifting POVs to give the reader a sense of the place from where each character is coming. And this understanding in turn makes one a little less harsh on the said character than one would otherwise be.

And so, even though Casaubon continues to be a git of the first order, Eliot’s insertion that “Mr. Casaubon was nervously conscious that he was expected to manifest a powerful mind” in response to Dorothea’s, and perhaps his own expectations, makes one view him a little more charitably than one would otherwise be inclined to. Then there’s this bit that made me both understand Casaubon and also laugh at him:

To know intense joy without a strong bodily frame, one must have an enthusiastic soul. Mr. Casaubon had never had a strong bodily frame, and his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic: it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its wings and never flying.

This following piece too jumped out at me. Eliot mentions this in relation to Casaubon but it’s true for all of us, isn’t it? (Eliot is SUCH A PRO at inserting these sort of universal truths throughout her story!) (Also, it made me feel a little sorry for Casaubon!):

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transform into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

The way the latter half of this paragraph is framed reminds me forcefully of Will Ladislaw, and his “attitude of receptivity towards all sublime chances.” What a contrast!

And what of Dorothea in all this? Celia’s nickname for her, Dodo, becomes more applicable than ever. There’s this sense of Dorothea “shrinking,” and sliding more and more into a state of stasis, and lethargy, as a prisoner would. She hasn’t given up yet—her moral core will not allow her to give up on either her marriage OR on Casaubon despite the latter’s efforts to quell her at each and every turn. And yet, I have hope for her, simply because it feels to me as if Casaubon’s actions stem from a fear of Dorothea’s energy and spirit, more than anything else.

Other things that I loved in book 3:

  • There’s this scene in book 3—just two pages long—between Mrs. Bulstrode, and a friend of hers, that reminded of the ways small town busybodies impart so much information without really alluding to the subject that they’re imparting information about.
  • Caleb Garth’s philosophy that he arrives at through “the sights of his youth [that] had acted on him as poetry without the aid of poets, had made a philosophy for him without the aid of philosophers, a religion without the aid of theology.” Also, his “unconquerable indifference to money.”
  • That Mr. Garth advises Mary against Fred as a marriage prospect even though he likes him
  • That a character called Mr. Borthrop Trumbull makes an appearance towards the end, and that I kept reading his name as Mr. Borthrop Turnbull
  • Mrs. Garth! What a woman! Though her strictness towards her own sex while being lenient about those same things with that of the opposite one do make me wonder how much of that is colored by Eliot’s own view of the two genders
  • All the epigraphs! They are such good foreshadowers of what is to come in the given chapter!
  • Mrs. Farebrother—she’s unstoppable! Rumors abound that Lydgate is a natural son of Bulstrode’s, given the way he is pushing Lydgate forward. When her son reminds Mrs. Farebrother that “Lydgate is of a good family in the North. He never heard of Bulstrode before he came here” she replies, “‘That is satisfactory so far as Mr. Lydgate is concerned, Camden,’ said the old lady, with an air of precision. ‘But as to Bulstrode—the report may be true of some other son.’”
  • And this, that had me grinning:

    There are answers which, in turning away wrath, only send it to the other end of the room, and to have a discussion coolly waived when you feel that justice is all on your own side is even more exasperating in marriage than in philosophy.

So at the end of Book 3 it looks like we have three main story arcs to follow—Dorothea’s and Casaubon’s, Fred Vincy’s and Mary Garth’s, and Rosamond Vincy’s and Lydgate’s. Interspersed through the saga of these three couples are the goings-on of Celia and Sir James Chetham (they become engaged! that makes me so happy!), Mr. Bulstrode, Mr. Farebrother, and Mr. Vincy. Oh, and Mr. Brooke—now that he’s invited Will Ladislaw to reside with him, I think? That ought to be VERY interesting. I wonder how Casaubon and Dodo are going to react to that! Also, what will happen to Fred Vincy? Mary Garth doesn’t think he is going to inherit and I trust her opinion of the now dead Featherstone. So much to find out!