review


In which even the contemporary Australian noir fantasy has a Regency connection.

Books

April-reads

  • [Lady Helen and] The Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman: Regency urban fantasy, with a beautifully precise approach to research and a heroine who doesn’t actively dislike her ladylike life (even if she doesn’t get much chance to commit to it), but I may never forgive Alison Goodman for opening my eyes to the true horror of Regency presentation gowns. Also I really, really like the typography on the cover of the edition I have. Here is Angela Slatter’s interview with her (which I illustrated): Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club: Alison Goodman
  • The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer: A re-re-read, and out loud to my dad. This time it struck me that Sophy is basically a Regency Pippi Longstocking, down to the absent indulgent father, the vast bank-account, the horse and the monkey. If you haven’t read it, Mari Ness’s reread on Tor.com (while of course containing spoilers) also discusses the, ah, problematic issues of the book and will give you a fair idea of whether you want to read (or re-re-read) it.
  • The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell: I… did not read this one out loud to my father. Though I must give a general cheer for forthright, determined heroines and negotiation of relationships (and while it exceeds my tolerance levels for certain content, since I belong to the ‘curtain blew across the screen’ school of romance, I do enjoy Anna’s writing in all the other scenes).
  • Exile – Peter M. Ball:  You may think I broke my Regency streak with these two, but the main character reads Persuasion on stakeouts. Myth-heavy hardboiled Gold Coast pre-(assorted)-apocalyptic fantasy. It resonates with the parts of my mind where American Gods took up residence.
  • Frost – Peter M. Ball: See above – I’m reading the third now and will report in the May read.

Movies

listing_the_boss

  • The Boss: Disappointing. It was two movies: a mildly crude disgraced-business-mogul-turns-good farce, and a violent-angry-girl-scouts classic comedy. Either could have been strong, but it never committed to one or the other. Which is a shame, because I like Melissa McCarthy, enjoyed Spy and I’m fairly sure would have adored the movie the end credits promised. Although we knew from Hotel Transylvania that good end-credits can retroactively ruin a decent movie.
Advertisements

Books

March Books

  • How to Edit a Novel – Charlotte Nash: (full disclosure, I was given a review copy and am friends with Charlotte) A very plain, step-by-step, mechanical approach to editing which is VERY USEFUL as it is easy to get caught up in high-concept flights of editorial lyricism. I’ve been editing a manuscript and used a lot of her pointers, which successfully calmed me down and got the new draft quickly finished.
  • Hellboy: The Chained Coffin, and others – Mike Mignola: I loved this so much. How have I managed not to actually read Hellboy before? It is laconic and wry and yet with a kindness, for all the bloody myths and tales. And the art which is so simple and weighty and full-mouthed.
  • The Rabbits – John Marsden and Shaun Tan (illustrator): This book! The art is so rich. It glows, it looks flat as a mosaic and then the shapes resolve into sails and landscapes, the regimented patterns move with meaning, there are more stories in the tiny details. It has less than 250 words, and they are the high, clear bells chiming out a fine melody over Tan’s orchestral compositions.
  • Edward Grey, Witchfinder, Vol. 1: In the Service of Angels – Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck (illustrator): I enjoyed it, and would read more, but it suffered by following immediately on the heels of Hellboy and being so earnest.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: This is such a good book, still, and I don’t know how? I thought it got away with not solving the mystery by not being about the mystery but about the people left behind, and yet on a reread she keeps pulling it back to the investigation as well? It’s a book about the ripples caused by an unsolved mystery, and about the little things that change lives as well as the big things, the weight of something vast and inexplicable on the world. It’s also a reimagining of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and beautiful and dreadful. It’s also made me think that the very end of The Lovely Bones weakened that book’s impact.
Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

  • The Elusive Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy: C.S. Pacat and I stumbled upon a bookstore which was full of sequels we’d never heard of to very famous books. Now, the Pimpernel sequels are certainly generally known to exist, but this was the first I’ve read. It was a much smaller story than the first, really a battle between two wills, which is something I appreciate in sequels (instead of just making the antagonising forces bigger and badder). Also my personal theory is that Marguerite is the opposite of the cleverest woman in Europe, and in her Paris days people only called her that as a joke BUT Chauvelin, who was in love with her then, thought they were serious, and because he keeps so drastically overestimating her, the Blakeneys continue to triumph.

Seen

March Movies

  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie): Twice. We had so much fun. It was silly, but smartly so (new lines frequently taken from other Austen writing), and the production values were solid. I want to watch the outtakes just for more Bennett sisters as a team. I love Pride and Prejudice and many of its revisions, and a couple of these castings and scenes were extremely gratifying additions to the mythology.
  • From Dusk till Dawn (movie): Rooftop cinema. I still don’t know how this movie manages to form a coherent whole.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (play: Malthouse Theature): For such a visual book, it was fascinating to watch it staged with familiar descriptions but a minimalist, slate-grey set and almost none of the familiar imagery. The night-on-the-rock sequence was fabulously suspenseful, and Amber McMahon’s turn as Michael Fitzhubert was mesmerising.
Amber McMahon

My rough sketch from memory, and Amber McMahon (photo by Pia Johnson from ECU Daily).

  • The Rabbits (opera: QPAC): Affecting and gloriously textured interpretation of the book (see above).
  • London has Fallen (movie): Exactly what I expected, having seen Olympus has Fallen.
  • Zootopia (movie): Another fun movie, surprising, endearing, quotable and honestly the most convincing integration of mobile phones I’ve seen.
  • Hail Caesar (movie): Odd, though frequently gratifyingly so, and less a story than a ‘day in the life of’. I wanted more but also more of this. Peter M. Ball wrote up his thoughts: Would that it were so simple?

 

Murder! Heists! Creativity! Secrets!

(more…)

Prompted by a question on Facebook, this is a list of short stories which have lingered, i.e. which occur to me off the top of my head. They aren’t value judgements, in fact I am certain there are stories that don’t occur to me because they fit so perfectly into the whole of their collection or anthology. But they’ve stuck, and that probably says more about me than them.

  • Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (in the book of the same title, but also online here) because it was wonderfully strange and folded and caught something true and should have been real.
  • Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” (in Striking Fire), because it was lyrical and hopeful and contained all it needed to.
  • Shaun Tan’s “No Other Country” (in Tales from Outer Suburbia), because it, like the whole book, is achingly gorgeous. The serious undertones of some of its neighbouring stories enhance the jewel-like quality of this one and its art.
  • Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Dark” (in What I Didn’t See – the paperback has a really nice cover;), because it keeps inserting itself into my memory of other collections, and because terrible things happen but people do good things too.
  • M R James’ “The Diary of Mr Poynter” because of one particular moment of the mundane becoming unsettled. Almost all his ghost stories do this but this one was particularly low-key. And I like the design element in the plot.
  • Dorothy Sayers’ “The Haunted Policeman” (in Striding Folly, but I read it first in the Folio Society’s Crime Stories from the Strand) because it is a miniature painting, and a lovely little puzzle. It was also my first introduction to Peter and Harriet.
  • Henry Lawson’s “The Loaded Dog” (warning for some animal deaths) and/or “We Called Him “Allie” for Short, because of Lawson’s laid-back, tongue-in-cheek tone and, in the case of “The Loaded Dog”, the rolling, rollicking, dangerous inevitability of the plot.
  • Angela Slatter’s “The Badger Bride” (in The Bitterwood Bible – and by the way, the limited edition hardbacks of this are nearly sold out) because it is a small, perfectly formed legend curled into an angle of the interlocked stories of the collection.
  • E Nesbit’s “Melisande, or: Long and Short Division“, because of the knock-on effect of the plot, and the charm, and there being no real villain as such except for consequences (not unusual in E Nesbit’s stories), and because the silliness is played out soberly. Also maths.

Books

  • The Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan: A long overdue reading, and I don’t have a whole lot to say because it was just so nice to (a) read a classic Canavan and (b) read a traditional fantasy novel with thieves’ guilds and magician’s colleges and dirty city politics and… yes, it was comfortably satisfying. And then I got to go to Continuum and eat a lot of cake with Trudi, which is a highlight of the year.
  • Beautiful Darkness – Kerascoët and Fabien Vehlmann: Aaargh. Aaaaargh!!! Ughhhhhh! This was a birthday present from Angela Slatter and I understand this was the intended effect. It’s gorgeous but – eeeeep!
  • The Game of Kings – Dorothy Dunnett:
    • This book this boooooook. I cried on the plane and still just kind of want to roll around on the floor chewing on the pages, so I’m not sure I can corral my thoughts into any sort of coherent order.
    • Quite apart from being the BEST BOOK EVER it is fascinating to read it in a continuum of influences – tracing the echoes of Sayers in Dunnett, and recognising the impact of Dunnett on Kushner. I love these cross-genre family trees: crime to historical to fantasy in this case, or the way Ibbotson and Heyer’s romances show up in science fiction writing (and occasionally in science fiction bookshops).
    • Marie Brennan just wrote a post on Tor.com about Dunnett’s writing, and all of it (and so much more) is true: Five Things Epic Fantasy Writers Could Learn from Dorothy Dunnett.
    • I have made my housemate read it. She was “eh” when I left this afternoon, but when I came back and asked how it was going she threw all the cushions at me.
  • Double Exposure – Kat Clay:
    • A rather dashingly designed little novella (kudos to Crime Factory on the presentation, it’s quite delightful in the hand). Weird noir.
    • Unless there is a clear signal, I don’t usually read the narrator as a character in third-person viewpoints. It isn’t unusual for hardboiled fiction to be in first person, but Double Exposure is in third person, and while it is fairly close third, the fact we are never given the Photographer’s name is distancing. As a result, this novella has given me Thoughts about the role of the observer in weird noir.
    • I met Kat Clay at Continuum in Melbourne, where she dressed as Furiosa for the Maskobalo, so I had Mad Max in my mind when I read this, particularly recent discussions about the role of Mad Max as observer (i.e., seeing the story through the framework of his presence in it, but not having it actually be about him).
    • I want to read more about the city of Portview because I’m interested in that observer’s point of view – how they can follow characters through the veils of film, and the fact that they are unfased by it. Perhaps that is part of the charm of weird fiction: the character of the author/narrator and their approach to reality, as much as the world and events.
  • Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer: I was explaining to Angela Slatter why I love the cover art for this novel, and talked myself into needing to read it again right away. Here are Mari Ness’s thoughts on what should be a more problematic book than it is: Refining the Rake as Hero. Importantly, however, it has hands-down my favourite Heyer cover art (and I do love the J. Oval/Ben Ostrick covers: image search his name and you will be rewarded):
J Oval cover art - Devil's Cub

Artist: J Oval (Ben Ostrick)

  • The Ivy Tree – Mary Stewart: I find the pacing of a lot of gothic novels a little trying, but I was reading this on the heels of Dunnett and Heyer, who for all their words keep on a fairly cracking (melo)dramatic pace. Quite interesting to read against Jane Eyre. Some gorgeous description. I’m not sure the type of narrator works with the first person pov here? I chose this on a recommendation but others assure me it is ‘more for the Stewart completist’.
  • An Infamous Army – Georgette Heyer: I read this because I did not realise it featured more of the family from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub as well as the characters from Regency Buck. Mari Ness’ reread (A Recreation of War) also introduced me to the Best Wikipedia Article Ever (you’ll have to look at her post to get the link). She took issue with some of the recurring characters, so I am now of course rereading Regency Buck in order to take issue with that (I do in fact see her point, but still…). I have to share the cover for this too, because it is a James E. McConnell and the BEST of all the Infamous Army covers, not least because it stars a young Endora, and because the thought of a book with this cover getting set as reading at a military college charms and delights me (although less than Lord Uxbridge’s leg):
Artist: James E McConnell

Artist: James E McConnell

  • Unraveled – Courtney Milan: Assigned reading in my self-imposed, Peter M. Ball guided course of study of How Romance Fiction Is Done. I’m still collating my broader thoughts, but I will just point out that Milan makes law jokes! Yay for law jokes! I understand in another of her novels she even invokes the rule against perpetuities…

Movies

  • Jurassic World: Basically Jumanji crossed with Romancing the Stone with a faint hint of Alien.  Also this article from The Toast kept running through my head: If the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park Were your Girlfriend. I won’t say I cried twice, but I will say that I would pay to watch a whole movie of people exploring the ruins of the original Jurassic Park as it is gradually reclaimed by the jungle. (And I’ll give it this: all the dumbest moves were acknowledged in-movie). Also, this remains one of my favourite movie themes (along with the main theme from The Man from Snowy River).
  • The Woman in Gold: The story of the recovery of ownership of the Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen in WWII and held in an Austrian art gallery. Restrained, gentle, horrible, beautiful. Mirren and Maslany are a class act, and Maslany glows.

Cinderella

Books

  • Burial Rites – Hannah Kent: A historical novel about Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman executed in Iceland. Such a small, slow, bleak, beautiful book and history. Also some interesting Anne of Green Gables parallels, which is not at all to say that if you like Anne you should read this (you should read it, just not for any similarity!). I’m curious, however, to know if anyone else thought this.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab: (One of several I grabbed from Tor based on the cover) The structure of the beginning of this novelreminded me of Diana Wynne Jones. It didn’t unfold or particularly explain, just… started, and then went on, so the whole book felt on the cusp of Telling You What The Plot Is And Tipping Into The Middle. This gave it a sustained, off-balance momentum which I always find both puzzling and enjoyable (it’s something that’s usually discouraged but high on my wish list). Schwab also starts with the point of view of someone not of our world looking at our world (or something like it) and just assumes the divided state of the worlds is normal. This is something else DWJ trained me to like.
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered – Sarah Caudwell: The first and, as I read them out of order, the last. Alas. Such a delightful balance of classic mystery/comedy, and unexpected, understated messing-with-stereotypes.
  • Am I Black Enough for You – Dr Anita Heiss: Part memoir, part musing on identity (and how others perceive it, particularly the Aboriginal identity of an academic city girl), part story of the growth of an academic and author. Both this and Palmer’s book (below) had some interesting intersections on the themes of (a) speaking up and (b) listening.
  • The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer: I really enjoyed this, and have recommended it to people for very different reasons: as an account of controversy (whichever side of several you fall on), as an artistic memoir, as biography, as a bohemian fantasy, as a crash-course in creative business, to read as a novel, for some unexpected Sayers parallels in the themes of growing up and negotiating adult relationships.
  • Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat – Ursula Moray Williams: A classic. I may have cried at the end.

Movies

  • Cinderella: Just nice, in the nicest way. Terri Windling pointed out this review by Grace Nuth, “Have courage and be kind”, which points out the charming kindness and politeness. It sounds like a small thing, but as KHR Smith pointed out, we didn’t realise until we came out of the cinema that we’d been missing it.

The little gouache Cinderella painting above is available as a print on RedBubble.

On Peter M Ball’s repeated recommendations, I’ve just finished reading Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, by Jeff Vandermeer, attempting to read it both as a writer and for its potential for application to illustrating (Artlife?).

Print

Of the whole dense and informative book, the part which stayed with me was the section on goals.

Curious personal hang-ups

Now, goals and five-year-plans are not news, but I never saw the point. “A plan is a basis for change,” after all, and “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. Also, “man plans, God laughs,” and serendipity has always been quite good to our family, while “saying ‘I wish’ means you aren’t happy with the way things are,” and if you admit you aren’t happy with the way things are, then you fix them. If that sounds like an odd combination of military principles, hippy survivalist mentality and Puritan work ethic, welcome to my upbringing.
So I have never set official goals, and nothing went horribly wrong (except for accidentally becoming a lawyer).

The blindingly obvious

Reading Booklife, it finally clicked: The idea of goals, not primarily as a destination but as a template for making decisions.

The casting vote. The deciding principle. Something to be regularly referred to, not for motivation but for course-correction.

The paper in my pocket

So I have made a list, dividing it into three columns: one for writing, one for art, and one for more general business/financial/support goals. Then I have a row for the 5 year goals, the 1 year goals, and then twelve months, with the current one broken into weeks.

As per the book, the intention is to refer to this when making decisions about what to do, or concentrate on, or stop doing. Does this get me nearer to a goal? Does it also support one of the others? Is the effort:result ratio reasonable or is it pulling me away from other things? Does this thing which is taking up all my evenings this week and has nothing to do with a goal really matter? And if so, should I revise the goals?

Past form

The odd thing (or alternatively proof that it is largely semantics, and that semantics matter) was that, for all my goal-aversion, I was already doing this in two respects:

  • I had stopped making New Year’s Resolutions several years ago, and started making lists of New Year’s Aspirations, being things it would be fun to achieve/do/eat. (I recommend this approach).
  • I had been keeping an illustration wish list of jobs or techniques I wanted to try, which both gave me a guide of jobs to chase/accept and a sense of satisfaction when I was able to tick something off. Although I still haven’t done endpapers.

Digression on ducks

Making the list, I found it interesting to note the apparently necessary differences between the art and writing goals (Write a Big Thing vs Draw a Duck), and the shape of reaching them (Plan/Draft/Revise/Edit/Repeat vs Draw a Duck). Writing (even short stories) is often long-term, large-scale, with a high threshold to audience appreciation, and creator-driven. Illustration consists of many small projects, at a smaller scale, easily seen and reacted to, and often pushed/pulled forward by art directors and deadlines.

I’m curious to see how the two diverge or converge over time, and whether I can more deliberately adapt approaches and mentalities from one into the other.

A Duck with a Plan

DuckWithPlan

Next Page »