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: 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"

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.

Read and Seen — March 2020

March was… certainly a month, so I didn’t get drawings done, much read, or this post up at the end of it.

But over the last few months I did seem to read quite a bit (entirely, or partially) about time and lives and disguises and occasional plot-incidental cats, so here is a sketch:

March-sketches1

It is said you can’t bring anything through that wasn’t yours to begin with… but that doesn’t stop them following.

Books:

Movies

  • Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (I am very glad this was my last movie at the cinema — it was also interesting for the clarity with which it stated, affirmed, and stuck the landing of its genre/aesthetic choices)

Several of these show up again in my Notes on Books in the observation journal, so I might have more to say later

March-sketches2

Read and Seen — February 2020

2020-03-05-Book-sketches-Feb

Responses to Keep Going and Hilda and the Troll (left) and False Colours (right)

Books:

  • Keep Going Austin Kleon (good, but personally I found Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work less diffuse and more resonant).
  • False Colours — Georgette Heyer (so utterly gentle, and my favourite combination of high-stakes-for-characters/low-stakes-for-readers — see also Arabella and those productions of Twelfth Night where Orsino works out Viola’s deal pretty early on). The hero’s mother, Lady Amabel, irritates some of my friends but I love her, which might be partly attributable to Phyllida Nash’s beautiful narration: False Colours on Audible).
  • Hilda and the Troll — Luke Pearson (so charming — I already loved the series, and the clean distinct style, which is coming into focus here)
  • Hilda and the Midnight Giant — Luke Pearson (see above, and they started me thinking more about visuals and stylisation — and trolls and giants and, of course, trollish giants)
  • The Creeps — Fran Krause (perfect bite-size frights, alarms, and nervous laughs: excellent sequel to the equally excellent Deep Dark Fears, and together with Lynda Barry’s Syllabus refined the Pearson thoughts into smaller, four-panel formats — see also the Deep Dark Fears tumblr)
  • British Prints from the Machine Age — Stephanie Lussier (I’m trying to actually sit down and read through art books occasionally)
  • His Countess for a Week — Sarah Mallory
  • Certain Manuscripts for Secret Illustration Purposes

2020-03-02-FebruaryBooks2

Some individual panels

I did some little comic responses to various books and films, but they got out of hand and cross-pollinated. These are a few individual panels. They’re all a bit Luke Pearson/Fran Krause inflected, with some distant False Colours DNA (top left), a dash of Emma (top right), some Machine Age (bottom left), and some sort of Birds of Prey/Sarah Mallory mash-up (bottom right).

Movies:

  • Birds of Prey (fun and bright, and just a slightly different eye on things)
  • Emma. (fun and bright, but not quite enough of a different eye on things for what I wanted from it; great music, excellent supporting Nighy; also there’s an image that is shown in the first lecture of a subject I tutor, and I burst out laughing when I saw it (partially!) repeated in the film — Luxury or The Comforts of a Rumpford, a deliberate reference, h/t Peter for the link).

Other:

  • David Suchet, Poirot and More: A Retrospective (fascinating explanations, particularly of character notes, finding the right voice, the speed at which Freud would have walked, and rituals of exit)
  • The New Pornographers, at The Triffid (I know, Mother, I know!) (a lovely show, and they feel a lot more rock when heard live; also, for reasons, I was playing a listening game and am now convinced that while it would be tricky, it would be possible to make a rock opera of Emma).

(Some links are affiliate links, which just means I get a teeny commission if you buy something through them, but for preference, support good local bookstores!)

Read and Seen — January 2020

KJennings-JanuaryBookSketches

I’ve been trying to do a bit more fan-art/loosely-inspired sketches this year. Mostly (but not entirely) of books. These are based on January’s reading.

Books (not including manuscripts for illustration)

  • The Nightjar — Deborah Hewitt (this made me look up nightjars, which are kind of amazing)
  • Silver in the Wood — Emily Tesh (bolshie dryads!)
  • I See, I See — R. Henderson (delightful turn-about picture book by a Brisbane author: recommended, and everyone I’ve shown it to so far has bought it)
  • Domestic Life in England — Norah Lofts (flawed yet captures the acceleration of history)
  • Show Your Work — Austin Kleon (… great, actually — I tend to resist small square books)
  • Through the Woods — Emily Carroll (creepy-beautiful!)

(I have longer ramblier thoughts on Patreon).

Movies

  • Little Women (Amy!)
  • JoJo Rabbit (feels in some respects (for narrative reasons I think are deliberate) like a movie about East Berlin)

Other

 

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