Books read, things seen — August 2021

Writing, editing, panicking, which means reading (and thoroughly enjoying) mostly mysteries and romance.

  • The Siamese Twin Mystery — Ellery Queen (1933): Using a wildfire as a means of both isolating the location of the mystery and adding time pressure to it — as well as calling the relevance of endeavouring to solve it into question — was very stressful. The first Ellery Queen I’ve read, but not the first book this year in which someone is said to have “taken a run-out powder”.
  • Uzumaki — Junji Ito: Eek! Fabulous, of course, and with its (initially episodic but increasingly spiralling) plot also a really diagnostic tool for working out where my particular tastes in horror fall.
  • Death of an Angel — Richard & Frances Lockridge (1955): Publishers solving mysteries in the world of theatre.
  • The Book of the Crime — Elizabeth Daly (1951): A very small but pleasing mystery, with just enough of a Gothic vibe.
  • The Proof of the Pudding — Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1945): The first Asey Mayo Cape Cod mystery I’ve read, and a pleasant change from the default New York setting I was getting used to.
  • Fair Deception — Jan Jones: A reread, before reading the others for the first time. Very comforting melodramatic (in a good way!) Regencies.
  • Battle Royal — Lucy Parker: I felt like I had a sugar burn by the end of this rom-com. Splendid fun, but after the hints at the end of this one I am looking forward to the next book even more. Here’s the SBTB review: Battle Royal (Palace Insiders)
  • The Kydd Inheritance — Jan Jones.
  • A Fortunate Wager — Jan Jones
  • Eleven Pipers Piping — Pamela Hart
  • Long Meg and the Wicked Baron — Pamela Hart: The descriptions of the haymaking in this romance novella, especially the colours, were painterly — just delightful. Kind of a like a Regency romance book-of-hours Sarah Plain & Tall-meets-Venetia.

Movies and exhibitions

  • European masterpieces from the Met (here are the sketches from the visit)
  • Free Guy: I’m still not sure how I’d rate it, in retrospect and objectively, but I had a very entertaining time watching it at the cinema, which was all I asked.

Books read, things seen: July 2021

Sketches at Andy Geppert’s launch of his latest picture book (Backyard Birdies)

Books (excluding some embargoed manuscripts, as ever!)

I am writing a lot at the moment, so my reading is skewing heavily to classic murder mysteries (and a dash of romance), because that is not what I’m writing. This time.

  • A Marvellous Light — Freya Marske: An advance review copy (thanks Freya!). A definitely very steamy romance in this gorgeous Morris-patterned Edwardian fantasy — and/or a definitely very beautiful fantasy of arts & crafts design in this steamy romance? Anyway, that is either a warning or a promise, depending on your taste (my personal taste is to stop at the bedroom door!). However, what I loved about it (apart from the Morris wallpaper) was that although Marske was working with some familiar relationship constellations and concerns, she balanced the personalities (abilities, damage, affections) in a way that was much less usual (and made me personally like the people involved more) — in particular, there is a certain bluff kindness and exasperated capability that I had not expected. But ALSO I plan to sit down and talk with Freya about contracts and magic next time we meet up and really, that’s what I want in a fantasy. If you like CL Polk, KJ Charles, Emily Tesh or CS Pacat (or, you know, the Arts & Crafts movement) and/or magical bureaucracies, definitely look forward to this one. More about it on Tor.com (including AO3 tags) here, and it is available for pre-order now.
  • The Accidental Apprentice — Amanda Foody: Middle-grade. Splendid fun, with fabulous creatures and a wild, wheeling approach to a world of Wilderlore and Elsewheres (which promise to unfold further) — also an apprenticeship education system, which is neat to compare to e.g. school-based magic systems (no less risky, of course).
  • Loveless — Alice Oseman: The first university-romcom-styled book I’ve read that deals with what that story-shape looks like for a romcom-obsessed person who is resistant to actual romance. As a result, the book does have to put in some heavy lifting around its concepts (which in a few years I think won’t be necessary), which risks it feeling didactic (at least if you’re Extremely Online). But it also has lots of terrible-wonderful theatre kids in their first year at university, and some delightful characters and very hilarious and familiar college friendships. A fun book, and one that feels like it will be a benchmark to look back on and see how genres and conversations develop.
  • Death in Ecstasy — Ngaio Marsh. Obscure British cults! With murder.
  • Vintage Murder — Ngaio Marsh. Travelling theatre company in New Zealand! With murder.
  • Artists in Crime — Ngaio Marsh. Artists in the country! With murder.
  • The Rebel Heiress — Joan Aiken Hodge. Less direct murder.
  • Death of a Fool — Ngaio Marsh. Morris dancing and mummery, and its possible links to King Lear! With murder. (I’ve enjoyed all of these, but this one is the sort of mystery that doesn’t so much glance at folk horror as hold its gaze across the dividing fence, which is what I particularly like.)
  • The Case of the Counterfeit Eye — Erle Stanley Gardner. Only the second Perry Mason I’ve read in memory, but such a concise yet characterful voice.

Movies

  • Werewolves Within
  • Fast & Furious 9
  • Gunpowder Milkshake
  • Black Widow

In two of these, I was weeping with laughter, and it was not the ones I expected going in.

Books read, things seen: June 2021

Drawing of mermaid sitting in water reading.
From the February 2021 calendar/print

Books

  • Blue — Pat Grant. (Comic) Striking style, and belongs to a particular Australian style weird-wonderful take on the bleakly awful parts of the country. Interesting history of local surf comics.
  • Tempting the Bride — Sherry Thomas
  • Slippery Creatures — KJ Parker
  • Burger Force volume 1 — Jackie Ryan. (Comic) SO MUCH FUN. And with a very particular (and stylish) style — and approached more as film than comic, when it comes to its creation as sequential art. And odd. And mod.
  • The Bone Lantern — Angela Slatter. Not published yet but as lovely as all her Sourdough-world tales, with interfolded enchantments and interleaved tales, and cruel and kind and pragmatic travellers with tangled histories, so keep an eye out for it!
  • Cousin Kate — Georgette Heyer. An occasionally almost anti-Gothic Gothic, with a stately pace common to this era of Gothic novels and a resistance to melodrama, which makes it an interesting read after the heartily Gothic aspects of The Quiet Gentleman (which somehow feels less Gothic). Some splendid people, though.
  • Gaudy Night — Dorothy Sayers. A reread for bookclub — I just love the Wimsey/Vane books so much, and it’s honestly SO indulgent, mimicking restraint and then having her characters essentially write fanfiction of scenes, but by this point authorial indulgence is all to the reader’s benefit.
  • Busman’s Honeymoon — Dorothy Sayers. A reread — see above — also I was getting very strong Diana Wynne Jones resonances from these two books (especially Deep Secret and Howl’s Moving Castle, but others as well). The milieus from which they emerge, a generation apart, are very obviously the same, and there are the John Donne quotes and so on, but there’s more there, and a deep delight.
  • Dungeon Critters — Natalie Riess & Sara Goetter. (Comic) This had been well-reviewed, but I was resisting it unfairly on the basis that it is cute and it is D&D-derived (nothing against D&D, I just stumble over some of books more obviously based on it). But this comic was having so much honest fun with the adventures of the critters, and the bad puns, and the melodramatic body language, and the little text jokes of e.g. certain names having to be pronounced (and therefore lettered) OMINOUSLY, or always being covered up by an interrupting word balloon.

Not books

  • CHESS (QPAC). The best of musicals, the worst of musicals.
  • The Broken Machine (by Liz Duffy Adams, reading by Magic Theatre online). Delight.
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Queensland Ballet). Cotton candy, in the best way.

Books read, things seen: May 2021

Books

  • Emporium of the Imagination — Tabitha Bird. Magical shops and enchanted telephones in Boonah, Queensland. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • Claudia and Mean Janine — Raina Telgemeier / Ann M Martin. The Baby-Sitters Club is solid and Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptation is lovely. I might have cried.
  • [Title TBC], Corella Press. Three 19th century ghost stories — more information in due course!
  • The Bee and the Orange Tree — Melissa Ashley. Salonnières and murder. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen — Krissy Kneen. Family secrets and the Alexandrine women. (Krissy moderated our panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • All the Murmuring Bones — Angela Slatter. Of course I loved it but I was reading it while thinking about a drawing for the cover of the limited edition hardback, and forgot to tell the author so she only saw my frowning spatial-reasoning face. The paperback is out now from Titan and the limited edition hardback will be from Tartarus.
  • Kiki’s Delivery ServiceEiko Kadono
  • Batman: A Death in the Family — Starlin, Aparo, DeCarlo
  • The Rock from the Sky — Jon Klassen. One of my sisters described Klassen’s ‘hat’ trilogy as “Cohen Brothers for kids”, so if you image a Cohen Brothers science-fiction picture book…
  • Craft in the Real World — Matthew Salesses. A really interesting and useful re-approach to workshopping writing. Dense with thoughts and techniques. I also really appreciated the structure which, instead of fitting ideas to the shape of standardised non-fiction chapters, moves from commentary to dot-point lists, to collated thoughts, as most relevant and efficient for the material.
  • The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes — Neil Gaiman, art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III and Robbie Busch. A reread. That vigorous, untidy, grungy, horrific, insinuating, baroque, beautiful art still gets me by the throat.
  • Provocation — Meg Vann. The first of Meg’s chapbook thrillers from Brain Jar Press. Murderous happenings in the State Library…

Movies

  • Wrath of Man
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead

Books read, things seen: April 2021

A hand holding a tiny silhouette drawing of a mermaid reading a book
Big month, tiny mermaid.

Books

  • Mr Invincible — Pascal Jousselin — (comic) both wildly unlike Memento, and yet very like it in that I couldn’t read stories properly for a while afterwards, and started to resent the fourth wall.
  • The Family Tomb — Michael Gilbert — murder and intrigue in Florence in the 1960s, and for some reason I do enjoy stories of British expats being flamboyantly awful.
  • The Swimmers — Marion Womack — I’m used to books doing direct rewrites of their inspiration, and it was refreshing to read a book that took an influence (Wide Sargasso Sea) and simply ran with the elements and flavours that intrigued the writer, rather than attempting any sort of correlation.
  • The Black Moth — Georgette Heyer — I have a friend who talks about “historical smugness” in historical TV shows, e.g. “the issue of the week and how we would have handled it better now”. Heyer’s early Georgian novels sort of do the opposite — pick up the social mores which didn’t stand the test of time and then lean into them. Usually leads to vigorous bookclub fights.
  • A School for Unusual Girls — Kathleen Baldwin — Apparently I’m about to start on a Regency fantasy-romance kick again.
  • Death of a Ghost — Margery Allingham — I also like murder mysteries in which the writer has clearly been personally victimised by dramatic bohemian types
  • Fun Home — Alison Bechdel — A classic for a reason, and yet somehow I hadn’t read the whole book before (also the stage musical is magnificent, unexpected, and somehow implausibly inevitable).
  • Elmer — Gerry Alanguilian — (comic) Still a bit stunned, but my goodness, the clouds
  • Newt’s Emerald — Garth Nix — Luminous green magic!

Movies and theatre (I’m in Queensland, it was safe and legal)

  • King Kong vs Godzilla — in Gold Class, because where else
  • Come From Away (at QPAC) — I cried through most of it and it took ages for my mask to dry afterwards.

Exhibitions

  • “Creatures” — Shaun Tan (Beinart Gallery) — the lines, the paint, the eyes… Shaun is a magnificent artist, illustrator, and writer, and getting to just stand close and look at the texture is a treasure
  • She-Oaks and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism” — (NGV) — A wonderful exhibition, and a chance to see many favourites (Tom Roberts, in particular, influenced what I was trying to do with descriptions in Flyaway). Seeing them all in one place was illuminating. In some rooms, there were pictures that seemed backlit, shining off the walls, so I was puzzling over that. I worked out, too, that while I generally prefer paintings of green landscapes, that does not hold true for Impressionism, where my heart gets pulled out of my chest by dust and light, yellows and ochres and luminous flickering violets. And of course I reinforced my love for the smallest, sketchiest of paintings, where one or two dabs of paint are a bolting horse, or a girl holding her hat down, or the tiniest dog in a patch of sunlight — see, for example, Allegro con brio.

Books read, things seen: January, February, March 2021

Brush drawing with digital colour of a person with a showercap reading in a blue bath in a green bathroom

Three months of books and comics read (and a few movies)! So apparently I have been accomplishing something.

JANUARY

Books and comics:

  • First Class Murder — Robin Stevens (book 3 of Murder Most Unladylike)
  • Miss Astbury & Milordo — Irene Northam (a Women’s Weekly Library paperback found in a storage bench in a hospital in Ipswich)
  • Something Light — Margery Sharp (1959 — a pet photographer who spends too much time looking after the men in her life decides to find a man to look after her, and works her way through a list…)
  • The Case of the Missing Marquess — Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes #1)
  • The Case of the Left-Handed Lady — Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes #2)
  • Start Finishing — Charlie Gilkey (mostly I read self-help and time-management books for cathartic aggravation, but although not the most slickly written, this one has turned about to be extremely useful — especially for managing multiple projects)
  • Marry in Scandal — Anne Gracie
  • Indistractable — Nir Eyal
  • Marry in Secret — Anne Gracie
  • The Absolute Book — Elizabeth Knox

Movies:

  • Wonder Woman 84
  • Promising Young Woman

FEBRUARY

Books and comics:

  • The Practice — Seth Godin
  • Faro’s Daughter — Georgette Heyer
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel — Baroness Orczy
  • Jane, the Fox, and Me — Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault (Isabelle Arsenault‘s art in this book is just enchanting)

Movies

  • Pixie

MARCH

Books and comics:

  • Aster and the Accidental Magic — Thom Pico and Karensac
  • The Waxworks Murder — John Dickson Carr (1932, Henri Bencolin #4(?) — I enjoyed this tremendously, perhaps because it’s a murder mystery that manages to be more Gothic in aesthetic than the murders it’s about)
  • The House Without the Door — Elizabeth Daly (1950, Henry Gamadge #4)
  • Skip — Molly Mendoza
  • Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur #6: Save our School — Brandon Montclar, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain (Bustos and Bonvillain’s art in this is so energetic — the body language vivid and hilarious)
  • Grave Sight #2 — Charlaine Harris, Bill Harms, Denis Medri
Brush drawing with digital colour of a person with a showercap reading in a blue bath looking up, startled, and hearing the word "RUSTLE"

2020 reading

KJennings-JanuaryBookSketches
Sketches from January

I finished approximately 79 books, not including manuscripts for illustration (or at least, the ones I couldn’t talk about yet). You’ll see I got through a lot of 2020 on midcentury murder and Regency and adjacent romance. 15 books were rereads, and many of those were Heyers. It doesn’t include a lot of art books, although I do want to sit down and read them more traditionally more often.

I wrote about some of the patterns in what I was reading — particularly the “romance (and tragedy) of the navigable world” over on Meanjin: What I’m Reading — Kathleen Jennings.

I was trying to do sketches or fanart for each book, but that thinned to a single broadly thematic image over the year. I still like the idea of doing it, but we shall see.

Here’s the list, including links to the individual “Read and Seen” posts, some of which include fanart and occasionally some thoughts on the books (they also show up in Observation Journal posts from time to time).

The *asterisks are for books which did something (style or trope or idea) I’m still thinking about.

Read and Seen — August to November 2020

I fell behind on my book posts, because I kept meaning to draw art to go with them. But here they are (excluding many partial books, some shorter illustrated ones I forgot to write down, and several manuscripts for illustration). Thoughts are abbreviated, but see also my post on Meanjin: What I’m Reading.

Also here is a wolf in a well.

Wolf in a well — illustration for a Patreon story

August

Books:

Thoughts: There were several books in this group with… variably likeable characters from privileged backgrounds, which makes for both odd characters and tricky class intersections. The Carlyle/Heyer/Marsh sequence was a bit of a trip. The Lucy Parker London Celebrity romances continue to be stacks of fun, however. My favourite is The Austen Playbook, for some apparently very small decisions, like having the heroine get cast as Lydia Bennet instead of one of the more obvious roles, and because it makes the author feel like someone you’d like to hang out with.

September

Books:

Movies:

  • Bill & Ted Face the Music
  • Porco Rosso

Thoughts: I love how Kate Milford writes colour and light, and I keep laughing at something ridiculous Gladys Mitchell in Winking at the Brim. Also, along with The Happiest Season, it has a very minor finely observed sequence about maintaining personal space, which I liked.

Bill & Ted Face the Music was the most delightful way to return to the cinemas post-lockdown (I’m in Queensland), and so very much about what making art isn’t and is. Porco Rosso does such wonderful things with time and learning.

October

Books:

Thoughts: Holly Black always mixes grim reality and enchantment enviably. Huzzah for Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong detective society (I’m currently reading First Class Murder to my dad) — I’d love to read more traditional English subgenres from a slightly (or even extremely) outside perspective. One of the enormous frustrations of Michael Innes’ Hamlet, Revenge! is a glancing acknowledgement of how a country house murder must look to someone not-from-England and then ripping that story away from the reader.

I mentioned a bit over on the Meanjin blog about why I was tormenting myself with self-help and business-development books. Also I like to dip into them occasionally because it overlaps with some things I’d been teaching this year. The ones I usually find most useful, personally, were written for other purposes, but I did get a few good points/reminders/reassurances from The Organised Writer in particular (and there’s always something useful) and I rather liked the approach Ferris took in putting together Tools of Titans, which it shares with Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals and Maira Kalman’s My Favourite Things — essentially a collection of things he found interesting and applicable, and which the reader can take or leave.

November

Books

Movies/theatre/other

  • Baby Done
  • The Happiest Season
  • Born With Teeth — Liz Duffy Adams, table reading with Emily Carding and Margo MacDonald

Thoughts: GOODNESS I enjoyed The Eye of Love (thanks go to Jenny Clements for that). Gentle and focussed, with characters who would be ridiculous if they did not take themselves and their lives so seriously. The table reading of Liz Duffy Adams was a delight — and really interesting to see a certain shift in acting-for-Zoom from what it had been earlier this year, with so much moving into the head and hands. Also the way specificity (of, for example, job) in Baby Done made the story both smaller and expanded it beyond the superficial.

What I’m reading: a post for Meanjin

I wrote a blog post for Meanjin on what I’ve been reading, and the ways I’m trying to make those books fit each other, and the romance of the navigable world. The link to it is here:

What I’m Reading: Kathleen Jennings

It features aviation and romance and Ladybird books and murder (and a few other things — although, thanks to the moderating influence of Alex Adsett, not as many other things as it might have).

Read (not seen) — June 2020

A cut-paper silhouette of a flowering thorn sprig with gold-leaf details, on the page of an open notebook with a hand-written book list

Events overtook me, but I finally have a picture to accompany June’s reading list (as ever, this doesn’t include manuscripts):

  • Act Like It — Lucy Parker.
  • The Flowering Thorn — Margery Sharp.
  • Marry in Scarlet — Anne Gracie.
  • An Afternoon to Kill — Shelley Smith.

Jenny Clement has been filling my arms with interwar women’s fiction and mid-century murder mysteries. The Flowering Thorn (1934) is one of the former, and belongs to that class of books in which wickedly inclined (although never actually very bad) party girls of the 1920s go back to the land and grow stout on fresh food and country living. It’s a story with an ever-smaller compass, and with a firmly held point of view on such things, but it was lovely. An Afternoon to Kill (1953) is one of the latter. It’s fascinatingly nested and does something I’m not even mad about, although I faintly feel that I should be.

All the books will probably show up directly or indirectly in future thoughts & projects.

[Edit 25/1/2021 — I forgot to include Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Risk in America by Mark Monmonier]