Books read, things seen: May – September 2016

A big, brief, catchup post, but here are some Cold Comfort Farm sketches to brighten it up. Also, I’m starting to keep track of books read on Goodreads as well.

kjennings-coldcomfortfarm

Books

  • Crusade – Peter M Ball (part 3 of the Flotsam Trilogy omnibus)
  • Bone Swans – C. S. E. Cooney: Such beautiful novellas. I wept. I drew fanart.
  • Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell
  • A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill
  • Madensky Square – Eva Ibbotson: I had not read this Ibbotson and it is enchanting! A romance of pre WWI Vienna.
  • Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell
  • Pawn in Frankincense – Dorothy Dunnett
  • Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff: So charming! So tiny! The follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Has influenced my driving.
  • The Ringed Castle – Dorothy Dunnett. Suffocated sounds of distress.
  • The Foundling – Georgette Heyer: Perhaps a new favourite.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons: The first time I’ve read it, and I finally read it due to being presented with it at breakfast as a fait accompli by my landlady at a Devon B&B. I read it as a science fiction novel set in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox, which was certainly memorable. I love her sheer disregard for agriscience.
  • The Tree – John Fowles
  • Stranded with the Scottish Earl – Anna Campbell
  • The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
  • A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – Natasha Lester
  • [Can’t tell you about it yet but very good]
  • Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
  • The Devil’s Delilah – Loretta Chase
  • Marked for Death: The First War in the Air – James Hamilton-Paterson: Fascinating WWI aviation history.

Movies & theatre

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Hunt for the WilderpeopleThis is really, really good, people, I highly recommend it.
  • Something Rotten (musical)
  • Shuffle Along (musical)
  • Fun Home (musical): Helpless crying.
  • Ghost Busters 
  • Love & Friendship: A remarkable study in telling only the connective tissue between big events, which works because it is all about the main character’s continuous, inventive self-justification and repositioning.
  • Sully
  • Star Trek: BeyondSuffered for being seen between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, in both of which people try to actually do a headcount of surviving passengers and crew.
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby

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.

Books read, things seen – January 2016

January-books

Books finished

The Accidental Creative – Todd Henry: Read on Peter Ball‘s repeated recommendation, and proving very practical as I sort out how this year is working.

The Black Sheep – Georgette Heyer: I’d forgotten I’d read this book until I reached the last few chapters (of which I’m rather fond). Mari Ness’s write-up of this on Tor.com (Almost Slumming It: Black Sheep) is, as usual, thoughtful and thought-provoking: “Miss Abigail Wendover, the protagonist of Black Sheep, is under the very understandable impression that she is in a Georgette Heyer novel.”

The Scarecrows – Robert Westall: courtesy of Kelly Link

The Seance – John Harwood: recommend and lent by Angela Slatter, with a gorgeous Niroot Puttapipat cover.

Radiance – Catherynne M. Valente, with a Will Staehle cover which perfectly captures this “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own”

The End of a Fence – Roman Muradov: I still have no idea what happened in this little graphic novel but I liked it, and the author has confirmed that is the point. It operates slightly below the conscious level, is very beautiful, and without looking in the least like it reminded me slightly of the world of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing.

Claiming the Courtesan – Anna Campbell’s debut novel

Assorted books in progress

Making Your Own Days – Kenneth Koch

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

The Memoirs of Harriet Wilson – Harriette Wilson

Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks – Alan Coren

Movies and music

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

The Big Short

Joanna Newsome concert

Thoughts

A pattern I noticed across many books I read this month was that of lies, duality, falsehood and their power to create truth, or something new and true and separate from the truth they started off from…
Continue reading

Books and Movies – June 2015

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.

A Game of Daleks

A Game of Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game is, of course, for George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I had planned to draw a Game of Thrones Dalek for a while now, and had planned a chess image. Then a few weeks ago I read Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate, in which the heroine learns to play Fox and Geese (not a key plot point). The name reminded me of the recording of  J.R.R. Tolkien singing Sam Gamgee’s song about the trolls to the tune of “Fox went out on a chilly night”, but I am always willing to be reminded of that. I had, however, forgotten the game altogether.

It is, I grant you, not the most memorable of games (especially if you prefer parlour games to board games anyway, as I do), but it is one which appears to lend itself well to many varieties of handicraft, and therefore features frequently in craft books, woodworking books, self-sufficiency handbooks and so forth (a brief summary of my childhood there). I remember my mother made us a set in orange and white polymer clays.

In other news: You may notice the April blog header, which is a snippet of the cover of To Spin a Darker Stair, the new book now available from Fablecroft Press. It features 2 stories, one by Catherynne M. Valente and the other by Faith Mudge, with illustrations by me. I’ll post more detail of the art soon.

March and April Short Book Reviews

To War with Whitaker – Hermione Ranfurly: Funny, acerbic, remarkable diaries of Hermione Ranfurly (I read her childhood memoirs in February) who followed her husband to the Second World War and worked for a series of generals in Egypt and Italy. Her experiences, the contrasts between war and liesure, bureacracy and youthful high spirits, the privileges her rank and youth brought her and the economies needed because of relative poverty make it a delightful read. But by the time the diaries return, self-consciously, to the peaceful country setting in which they started, it is clear that the world, politics, culture and society have changed.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Cover is a watercolour painting, which is better than a photo cover (although it was based on several of the photos in the book) and looks consistent with the cover of The Ugly One. Still a bit too khaki.

Step Ball Change – Jeanne Ray: Light and sweet and fast.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, I think of someone kicking up a heel in a red shoe? Accurate to the genre, but racier than the cover to Eat Cake (see below), and this certainly wasn’t a racy novel!

Eat Cake – Jeanne Ray: See above.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, tones of pink: a neatly dressed woman holding a pile of cake boxes – accurate to the story.

All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein: The account of the breaking of Watergate by the reporters involved. Gripping and entertaining, but also fascinating for the changes (and lack thereof) in reporting and technology!

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale
  • Movie tie-in cover, but that means Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman looking earnest and flared, so that’s good.

Der Tod auf Dem Nil – Agatha Christie: This book is incorrectly titled. It shouldn’t be “Death on the Nile” – it should be “People annoy each other indefinitely on the Nile.” Or possibly “People don’t die on the Nile”. I was sure the death happened earlier in the book last time I read it, but my sense of time may have been dilated by reading it in German.

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale. I think.
  • Dreadful sunset photo-cover on a cheap library-style hardback.

Death in the Stocks – Georgette Heyer: So much better than the last Heyer crime novel I read – this was frothy and fast paced and entertaining and modern. I’m often surprised by how current books written in the ’20s and ’30s feel and how old-fashioned the ’50s seem. I know *why*, but if you just read books written then it sometimes feels as if the decades came in the wrong order.

  • Lent at me
  • Too pink, but otherwise a painting of fabulous young people in evening dress is accurate to the feel of the novels (although most of the characters were rather bohemian), and far better than the current sweet, pink, beribboned covers to her regencies.

Strong Poison – Dorothy Sayers: I’m sneaking up to reading Gaudy Night (and the review of it on Tor.com), on principles of delayed gratification (and also because, as Tor.com said in relation to that novel, you can reread a book any number of times but you can only read it once for the first time). I enjoyed that this book opened with the summing up in court, but mostly I enjoyed the vigorous opinion of the characters on the correct way to make an omelette, and have been making omelettes (successfully!) a great deal since. In fact, I might have one for dinner tonight.

  • Bought from a big chain bookstore
  • Black and white photo of a woman’s legs and court shoes, walking along a pavement. A bit noirish, but not off-putting and sets the era squarely. It does give the impression of a cover to a well-known book, rather than a cover to draw in unsuspecting readers.

Five Red Herrings – Dorothy Sayers: Too many accents! This circular crime novel with its welter of accents and geographical features and eccentric artists at times felt too convoluted and self-indulgent, but it was Lord Peter Wimsey and many eccentric artists, so it wasn’t  bad. Possibly I wanted more cooking tips. I did like that she had a character discover a vital clue at the beginning and then told the reader that they’d have to work out what it was for themselves and if they’d been paying attention they’d be able to. And I did! Well, I had a strong suspicion, but I’m not an oil painter so I wasn’t sure.

  • Bought from a local crime/SF store on the same evening as the above, in penance for shopping at big chain bookstores
  • I cannot recall what the cover picture was of, but my impressions were as for Strong Poison above.

Also: I also read several Strand short crime stories out loud to my father, include Kipling’s “Faery-Kist” and Sayers’ “The Hanted Policeman”, which was my first Lord Peter Wimsey story, and so far my favourite.

August Short Book Reviews (and two thoughts thereon)

The Hidden Art of Homemaking – Edith Schaefer: I’ve seen one edition titled simply The Hidden Art because the original title is the worst thing about the book. It limits both audience and scope. The book is about the right, duty and the joy of using inclinations or talents in little ways every day. It has chapters on music, art, cooking, reading, writing – and argues graciously and appealingly for the beautification of life and the world in little ways, using desires and gifts to make wherever you are home, for everyone. It was written in the ‘70s and although that shows (hanging mobiles, anyone?), it is one of the few books written by a Christian woman I have read that wasn’t about being married and having children. She writes about people living alone, married, in share houses, in flats and tents, staying in hotels or student accommodation, pursuing careers and giving them up, building things with their hands and their minds, being of service without being servile. It speaks about people who have only inclination as well as those who have talent. Nor was it focussed solely on the self or on other people – one of the lines I liked best was how “you are the environment in which other people live.” It was simple and broad-reaching and lovely and I find myself remembering and applying little things.

A Civil Contract – Georgette Heyer: One of her regencies, but not a comedy and not entirely ‘romantic’, it is a novel about a marriage of convenience between two people of very different backgrounds, and about learning to be content with a situation which is less than ideal, and yet far more practical and real than the ideal. I’m not sure entirely how successful it was – I find myself liking it for the themes it attempted rather than the success of the execution. Don’t read it expecting one of her mad, break-neck, light, melodramatic tales, but it was pleasant enough, and different and a little sad.

Flying Nurse – Robin Miller: A cheerful, eventful autobiography by the ‘Sugar Bird Lady’. Robin Miller trained as a nurse before obtaining her pilots licence, and this is an account of her early flight experience, of ferry flights from Europe and America, unusual patients, the early days of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, adventures in Western Australia and the air. She has an ear for anecdotes and for the small adventures that other authors tend to glide over, such as what provisions are made for relief on long solo flights. It was full of laughs, but also a fascinating portrait of a time and woman who although in a ‘man’s job’ refused to make concessions on that basis and undertook aircraft maintenance in short dresses, delivered babies midflight, talked rooms full of deeply suspicious miners into taking a pink medication served on sugar lumps, and who loved the huge isolated, conflicted, changing areas that she served. Robin Miller – Wikipedia. Royal Flying Doctor Service – Wikipedia.

Beasts in my Bed – Jacquie Durrell: Jacquie Durrell was the first wife of Gerald Durrell (author of My Family and other Animals among many other things – September 2008 review). This picks up with their first meeting, their hasty marriage, the painfully-written, immensely successful books (Gerald did not consider himself a writer), travelling in Africa, South America and Australia, travelling by ship with menageries, starting a zoo, beginning to make wildlife documentaries for television. It lacks the effortlessness and beautiful detail of Gerald’s own writing (although he keeps a running commentary in the footnotes), but it is interesting and light-hearted.

Two Thoughts

Book Chains: I’ve been rabbiting on to people about how I love accidental chains of books (it has to be at least semi-accidental, otherwise it’s a course of study). Flying Nurse, a garage sale acquisition, features in the longest so far: I read Nancy Bird’s autobiography My God, it’s a Woman earlier this year (January review); she talks about someone called the ‘Sugar Bird Lady’ and had her first flying lesson with Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and was married by John Flynn who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service; I picked up The Southern Cross Story (March review) which was by Kingsford Smith, and happened to be bundled with HC Miller’s Early Birds about early Australian aviation (also in the March review); reading Flying Nurse I realised the author was not only HC Miller’s daughter, but she was also the Sugar Bird Lady (she flew the polio vaccine, which was given on sugar lumps, around Western Australia) and flew for the RFDS; I then discovered that her mother was Mary Durack Miller who wrote the Australian classic Kings in Grass Castles about the Durack family; while telling my sister this, I flipped through the book and found out it had either been signed by or belonged to Mary Durack Miller. 
Wikipedia: Robin Miller; Nancy Bird; Kingsford Smith; John Flynn; HC Miller; Dame Mary Durack.

Writing and Nonfiction: I’ve been wondering lately about that divide – indistinct but definite – between non fiction which is merely interesting, and non fiction which rises above a mere recount of events and becomes… a story on its own terms, I suppose. It’s something to do with texture and richness, the techniques (but not the sole preserve) of fiction writers – not necessarily of ‘plot’ as it is known at any given point in time, but colour and scent and thought and flavour. Gerald Durrell’s My Family and other Animals (review) is so rich you can close your eyes and see Corfu, the haze of bees, the olive trees, the ocean, the crumbling villa, the antics of the animals, the hysteria of the household. Jacquie Durrell’s writing contained interesting accounts of endearing animals and intriguing people (I did like seeing the glimpses of Gerald’s family through the eyes of another!), but it was always just an account. Isabella Bird makes you intensely aware of the miseries of being cold and damp and fleabitten in Japan (October 2008 review), of the sensation and sights and smells of standing on the rim of a lake of lava at night in Hawaii. Dickens, except when observing the small comedies of shipboard life, gives an account of America that is intellectually interesting, but not compelling on another level. M. M. Kaye’s The Sun in the Morning is richly coloured as a box of paints, while A King’s Story is the most desperately dull piece of writing I have persevered with only because I knew it was meant to be interesting (he was at war! he crossed Australia in a train that turned over! he fell in love and caused a constitutional crisis – how do you make that dull?). I read a biography of L. M. Montgomery that was awful, but blessedly short, and am reading one of Yeo Thomas that feels like an espionage thriller (although I wish the author would translate the French quotes more often). So… no conclusions yet, just observations.