Books read, things seen: April 2016

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.

This week: news and matters of note

This week on Twitter etc. (rings by Janet Kofoed)

This week on Twitter etc. (rings by Janet Kofoed)

Alison-Goodman-sketch---not-used

  • The X-Files finally started in Australia (everyone complained about the pop-up ads but I thought it restored the nostalgia which the shock of watching on flat-screen in HD took away). In commemoration, here is the original music video to Bree Sharp’s “David Duchovny” which is so full of wait-was-that? cameos that it bears watching to the very end:

  • If you are into Old Hollywood, You Must Remember This, or Catherynne M Valente’s Radiance, then this long but cumulatively charming article from Brisbane newspaper The Truth, only 100 years ago, is a winsome read: Where Films Are Faked, Fixed and Finished.
  • The rather marvellous talking-to-writers expedition last week included much talk of pens, and it is one of the joys of working in these fields that asking “what pen do you use” tends to result in an arsenal emptied over the banquet table (that was at Illuxcon), while their owners trade virtues and merits. For the record mine are: Hunt Crowquill 102 with Winsor & Newton India Ink (drawing), Pitt Artist Pens (sketching), slim fine ballpoint (for notes, although I haven’t settled on one that is reliably non-blotting).

Hunt Crow Quill

  • Peter Ball’s post on “Prose, Blocking and the Perfect Combination” has a very useful approach to thoughtfully orchestrating the action in your writing.
  • Peter’s post (above), however, also underlines the degree to which storytelling advice translates across media. Illustration, movies, novels: all these contain examples and principles which can be incredibly helpful no matter what field you’re working in. Plus, if you need another incentive to watch Every Frame A Painting, it is 7 minutes of all the Best Bits.
  • Another resource for those trying to make the impossible believable is James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism (that’s James National-Geographic-and-Dinotopia Gurney). It’s also just interesting – my mother made off with my copy to read it. His rather good blog is Gurney Journey.
  • Here’s a less accessible but in-depth look at some myths about classic composition advice – of direct use to photographers and artists but, I would argue, also very useful to writers if you don’t mind doing some heavy lifting with metaphors (and you’re writers, aren’t you?): 10 Myths about the Rule of Thirds
  • The Ship Song Project continues to be beautiful – when I sing it while doing the dishes, this is the version I try to sing:

 

October Short Book Reviews

Life through Cellophane – Gillian Polack: It was described on the cover as “part horror & part gentle love story”, but I’d rephrase that as “part gentle horror and part love story”. It’s about growing up in middle age, about being alone when surrounded by people (and vice versa), and about how, even when your family is made up of friends, you can’t always choose them or how they’ll behave. Also ghosts and ants and lots of food and Canberra and escaping from the public service. I really liked it.

The Impetuous Countess – Barbara Cartland: I mentioned in my review of Serena last month that there was another Regency to come. I was reading this book on the train and wanted to hit my head against the window in rhythm with the train because the writing. had. a. paragraph. break. at. the. end. of. every. sentence. and it drove me batty. It also made it difficult to assess the book beyond that, but it was in some ways closer to what I should have liked – innocent, flamboyant, melodramatic. And yet it was thin and silly, and I have a theory that this is because it concentrated on just the romance and the erratic behaviour and missed what make Heyer’s and Jones’ and Bujold’s romances so much fun: that those books aren’t primarily about the romance, that while what romance there may be is inevitable it’s almost a bonus. Plot: Young girl running away from home falls in with dour but handsome count, carriage is overturned, she tells the people who takes them in they are married, forgetting they are in Scotland and that means that now they are married and then they… go to France, I think, and there are balls and misunderstandings and Napoleon and rooftop escapes and pretending to be servants to escape from Paris and then getting smuggled back to England and finally realising they love each other. It could have been fun if it wasn’t *so* cringe-worthily over the top (and the heroine so hilariously naive). Or maybe if it had just had longer paragraphs.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom – Alison Goodman: My diary says “It was sort of like… Prince and the Pauper meets chinese chequers meets The Grinch who stole Christmas. All in a good way. (P&P for opulence, deception & protocol, CC for world buildng & border decoration & Grinch for the denouement).” All of which is true, but not necessarily helpful, because regardless of how that sounds it is a good book, with a strong formal structure (which suits the world), a very ordered world (which suits the story), lots of elegant action, complicated politics (both government and gender), beautiful description of trappings and action (both fighting and smaller actions – a lovely way with the folding of hands), and dragons. My personal tastes trend more towards fairy tale retellings and chaos-with-a-heart than such beautifully thought-through worlds and systems of magic, and while I don’t have the background to do it myself I’d like to see a take on this looking at the cultures that inspired the world, but I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Fables 10: The Good Prince (issues 60-69) – Bill Willingham, et al: My note on this simply says, “Gentle, for all the fighting”. James Jeans’ cover painting still makes me sad. Old enemies, new heroes, baseball in the Frog Prince’s lands, foresworn knights and families slowly growing. The individual issues of Fables form a much more discrete storyline than the enormous mythology of Sandman, for example (a large part of their respective charm) but I am still blown away by the ease with which mood changes to model itself to each episode – fun and childlike, austere and tragic, heroic. It’s a beautiful series, and my copies have been in fairly high rotation.

The Pipes of Orpheus – Jane Lindskold: This was like the Famous Five in Dante’s Divine Comedy written by a late 19th century fantasist and Christian Anderson, but with a dash of PL Travers, more human sacrifice, and a strong dose of Stoker in the last third. It was – I’m not sure. It had the same effect on me as a lot of late 19th century fantasy, which is admiring puzzlement, and I think this is because the story doesn’t neatly fit the modern structure of such stories. Essentially, it is the story of the surviving children the Pied Piper in his madness lured away, and of their journeys through Hades, Transylvania and Olympus to free the spirits of the dead. It features a gorgeous description of a tenuously existing world being rolled up, and some Muses who appeared to be Welsh. The relevant entry in my diary reads “I finished Pipes of Orpheus on the way in [to work]. I am still puzzled”. It is, however, one of those books I will recommend because I would like to discuss it – don’t, however judge it by its cover!

Four and Twenty Blackbirds – Cherie Priest: I have not read a great deal of Southern Gothic fantasy, but I think I might like it. Tor gave out some free books at… Conflux last year, I think, and I finally read this one. It is gripping from the beginning, full of ghosts and family secrets and murderous cousins, swamps and alligators and monks in disguise, blood memory and old murders, the lies of those we love and the occasional kindness of enemies (such a small part, but it stuck with me). But I particularly liked the heroine, Eden, who is… kind of awesome, not because she is Feisty(TM) or Strong(TM), but because she just does things. She’s not superhuman, she knows which fights not to pick, she’s physical but not exceptionally powerful, not angsty (!), not polite or relying on hints, prepared to do something, even if it might not be wise, rather than do nothing. It is such a relief to read a story which appears to be shaping up to be an impenetrable web of untold family secrets and have the main character give up on being polite and just ask the questions outright. I’d like to read more of the stories about Eden, but also some more of the genre because it interests me not just for the books in it, but for the sort of fairly location-specific genre, and because of recent conversations about whether parts of Australia have or could support something similar.