Reading: Every Heart A Doorway

Jul. 20th, 2017 07:40 pm
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[personal profile] white_hart
Seanan McGuire's Hugo-nominated novella Every Heart a Doorway is a school story with a twist: it's set in a boarding school specifically catering to young people who have visited the kind of other worlds familiar to readers of portal fantasy novels and who are struggling to adapt to real life on their return (most of the students at the school in this book long to return to their fantasy worlds, though we are told that there is a sister institution catering for those who need help to forget their more traumatic travels). Disbelieving parents send their children to the school hoping that they will receive therapy and recover from their breakdowns, but instead the school supports its students in understanding and integrating their experiences while still allowing them to hope that they will find their doors again one day.

The story mainly follows Nancy, who has returned from a sojourn in the Halls of the Dead with a preternaturally developed ability to stand still and a penchant for dressing in gauzy black and white clothing, to the distress of her parents who want their old daughter back. Shortly after Nancy's arrival at the school the first in a series of gruesome murders occurs; suspicion falls on Nancy, as a new girl and one whose world was a underworld, and she and a small group of other students have to work together to discover who the real murderer is. The murder mystery plot is really only a Macguffin, though (and I thought it was quite obvious from very early on who the murderer was); the book is really an exploration of identity and belonging, as the students try to deal with having found and lost worlds where they felt that they belonged much more than they ever had at home (each student went to a different world, uniquely suited to that individual). It's easy to see Nancy's parents' rejection of the changes in their daughter as parallelling more conventional rejections by parents' of their children's developing tastes and views. Identity politics writ larger also feature; Nancy explicitly identifies as asexual, while one of the friends she makes is a trans boy who was expelled from the fairyland he travelled to when he was discovered to be a prince and not the princess they thought he was.

Some of the reviews I'd read online had made me worry that this was going to be preachy, or at least a bit cringily identity-politics-by-numbers, but in fact I didn't find it that way at all; it was interesting, sensitive and thoughtful. I wasn't completely convinced by the way the murder plot was resolved, which seemed to owe rather more to the conventions of the students' fantasy worlds than to the real world in which the story takes place, but generally I really enjoyed the book and can absolutely see why it has won and been nominated for so many awards.
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin

Except some of it doesn't seem to be, o hai, I am now making an effort, it is more that various academic things (seminars, conferences, etc) that I had flagged up in my diary ages ago finally came up and were all within the space of a few weeks, I don't know, it's the 'like buses' phenomenon. And some of them I did do some social interaction at and others I just slipped in and out, more or less.

Have booked up, what I was havering about, the annual conference in one of my spheres of interest that I was usually wont to go to but have missed the (I think) last two because I was not inspired by the overall theme that year. And it's not so much that I'm not inspired by this year's theme, it's more 'didn't they do something very similar a few years ago and I did a paper then, and don't really have anything new to say on the subject', so I didn't do that, but I think that it would be a useful one to go to to try and get me back into the groove for that thing that the editor at esteemed academic press was suggesting I might write and talk to people (if I can remember how to do that thing) and hear what's going on, and so on.

Also had a get-together with former line manager, which between the two of us and our commitments involves a lot of forward planning, but it was very nice to do it.

Have also done some (long) and (a bit less) outstanding life admin stuff, which I both feel pleased about and also as if I haven't actually done anything, which is weird.

Did I mention, getting revised article off last week, just before deadline? and then got out of office email from the editor saying away until end of month. WHUT. The peeves were in uproar.

And generally, I am still working out what I do with the day when it does not begin with posting an episode of Clorinda's memoirs and go on with compiling the next one. Okay, there are still snippets to come, but they come slowly.

Reading: The Saltmarsh Murders

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:41 pm
white_hart: (Default)
[personal profile] white_hart
I picked up Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders in the Oxfam bookshop, because I'm always interested to try new-to-me 1930s detective stories, and grabbed it off the top of my to-read pile last week when I was looking for an easy read to follow To Lie With Lions.

The Saltmarsh Murders is the fourth of 66 detective novels featuring Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, psychiatrist and amateur sleuth. In this novel, she turns her attention to the death of a young woman who has recently given birth to an illegitimate baby (and the disappearance of the baby) in the South Coast village of Saltmarsh, where she was paying a visit when the murder was discovered. She is aided in this by Noel Wells, the slightly dim curate of the village. Noel also narrates the novel in a first-person style which clearly owes a lot to Wodehouse, who he mentions being a fan of.

I wasn't sure the Bertie Wooster-esque narrative was a natural choice for a detective novel, and Noel is a very sloppy narrator, with events coming out of sequence in a way that made it quite hard to follow the plot at times. The book also features a black character and contains the kind of period-typical attitudes to and language about race that are pretty hard for a modern reader to stomach, as well as some period-typical attitudes to class and a couple of incidences of painfully rendered yokel accents. Most of the characters felt very two-dimensional, with the only one who really took on any life at all being the village madwoman, Mrs Gatty, and I didn't actually find the mystery plot particularly compelling. I don't think I'll be seeking out any more of Mitchell's books (although I think I might have at least one more that I bought as a Kindle bargain years ago...).

Wednesday looks about to rain

Jul. 19th, 2017 02:07 pm
oursin: Photograph of small impressionistic metal figurine seated reading a book (Reader)
[personal profile] oursin

What I read

Melisande Byrd His Lordship Takes a Bride: Regency Menage Romance (2015), very short, did what it says on the tin, pretty low stakes, even the nasty suitor who molests the female protag in a carriage (the Regency version of Not Safe In Taxis) just disappears. The style was not egregiously anachronistic (apart from one or two American spellings) but a bit bland.

Janet Malcolm, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (2013) - charity shop find. Some of the essays were of more interest to me than others, but all very well-written.

On the go

Matt Houlbrook, Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (2016). I depose that somebody whose scams got rumbled and who was banged up in various institutions for his crimes is not exactly trickster royalty. He then went allegedly straight and got into journalism, partly writing up the inside stories of the crime world, but these are very much complicated by the author as to their authenticity and did he actually write them. While he was more of a career criminal than the opportunistic upperclass louts in the McLaren book mentioned last week, he did have claims to gentility, but again, so not Raffles The Amateur Cracksman.

I'm currently a bit bogged down in it, which may be a reflection of the author's own experiences in trying to write about somebody who lived by lying, had numerous false identities, etc etc (which are very much foregrounded).

Simon R Green, Moonbreaker (2017) - came out this week, I succumbed.

Also started one of the books for review.

Up next

There's a new Catherine Fox out tomorrow (allegedly)...

oursin: Photograph of Stella Gibbons, overwritten IM IN UR WOODSHED SEEING SOMETHIN NASTY (woodshed)
[personal profile] oursin

What if all students spent a year working the land before university?

How about, not?

Do we not get the impression that he has a very halcyon vision of what working on the land might involve? I suspect that there are not enough lovely organic farms practising biodynamic agricultural methods to take up anything like the numbers of intending students there are each year and a lot of them would end up working in agribusiness enterprises (which I suppose might be a salutory awakening, or not).

Also, would not much of the work be seasonal? What would they do the rest of the time?

Might there not be objections from the local communities?

I also think of the lack of amenities in many rural parts, e.g. no or inadequate public transport: in the evenings, not in the least worn-out from hours of back-breaking toil for poverty wages, maybe they'll gather round and sing folk songs and dance traditional folk dances and practice folk crafts?

And actually, I don't think this is true:

We also know that without contact with nature we will not form an attachment, we will not learn to love it.

See the rise of the notion of the healing powers of nature and the pastoral way of life in Britain as the society became increasingly urbanised, and therefore romanticised the supposedly more simple and harmonious existence of country life.

I have a feeling that people who live close to nature know exactly how dreadful nature can be. Tetanus! Anthrax! entirely natural.

(no subject)

Jul. 18th, 2017 09:14 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] sciarra!
lizbee: (Default)
[personal profile] lizbee
I've been sick as a dog for almost a week -- I haven't had a voice since Saturday morning -- so I was "lucky" enough to have coughed myself awake just in time to catch the announcement live via Twitter.

I've really been hoping for a woman of colour as the next Doctor, and I didn't recognise Jodie Whittaker by name, so I felt a weird stab of disappointment and even betrayal when I saw her white hand, coupled with simultaneous excitement that it was clearly a woman's hand.

I still think that a white woman was the easy option, casting-wise, but I've seen Whittaker in a few things -- including the first four episodes of Broadchurch, which I inhaled last night and enjoyed so much I completely forgot about Game of Thrones -- and she's very, very good.

And I also wonder if it would be unfair to an actress of colour, to throw her to the same wolves that drove Leslie Jones off Twitter, while also expecting her to lead a show with (so far) all-white writers. Which is not to excuse the implications of casting a white woman, I just think it might be complicated. Most things are. Whitakker's already been hit with a barrage of misogyny, and I hope the BBC is filtering her mail.

Anyway, I've curated my social media so well that I haven't seen a single friend or acquaintance saying they're opposed to a female Doctor as such.

On the other hand, I've seen a lot of performative finger-wagging, reminding us that this is only a victory for white women (got it, thanks) and that we can't rely on pop culture to save the world (no, really? Good heavens, I had no idea, thank goodness I had you, random Twitter person, to tell us off for being invested in a hobby!).

I guess I'm weary of performative wokeness, and, while everyone's entitled to an opinion, I find a lot of opinions on Doctor Who from people who aren't or haven't been in the fandom ... lack context? Which is sometimes valuable, and sometimes it's just the hot take equivalent of "DID YOU KNOW THAT 'TORCHWOOD' IS AN ANAGRAM OF 'DOCTOR WHO'?"

ANYWAY. Whitakker. I'm looking forward to her run, I'm still holding out hope for Alexander Siddig or Sophie Okonedo as Fourteen (it's never too soon!), people are already complaining that Whitakker is too young and too old, so, like women everywhere, we already know she just can't win.

And more book-related...

Jul. 17th, 2017 08:43 pm
oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
[personal profile] oursin

The end: Yorkshire Dales 'bookseller from hell' quits his shop

Doesn't say how long this charmer has been running a business, if you can call it that, but what I should have liked to have seen would have been a face-off between him and Driff Field, author of successive editions (last in 1995) of the idiosyncratic Driff's Guide to All The Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain (these are probably still worth reading if you ever come across copies, even though the information on actual bookshops is presumably waaaay out of date):

Hugely successful for its wit and wide coverage of the field, the guide was nonetheless chaotic, idiosyncratic and often sarcastic, with entries such as: "the b[oo]ks are slowly transforming themselves back into rags"; "judging by body temp, shop seems to have expired in 1930"; "I could smell a bargain, pity was I had a cold that day"; "owner has been unwell recently with bad back (possibly caused by turning on the customers once too often)".
or at least how Driff would have written him up.

oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
[personal profile] oursin

Yet another paean to the 'return' of the physical book and the allure of the bookshelves: My bookshelf says who I am – and a Kindle cannot do that.

Well, that depends whether your bookshelves do say who you are - mine, I depose, say 'I am large, I contain multitudes' - and whether you want this revealed to any casual observer - though I daresay anyone wishing to decode [personal profile] oursin from her bookshelves would have to be in and out of several rooms and up and down staircases.

(Also, of course, we may not have physical shelves to browse but we have our virtual ones, no?)

Today’s unlimited information makes the boundedness of bookcases profoundly comforting. My inner librarian is also soothed by arranging books. When my young children go to bed and I’m confronted by their daunting mess, my favourite activity is tidying their bookcase.
*looks around at piles on floor* And not even the excuse of having small children.

Me, myself, today, I was actually doing something that might be considered my inner archivist at work - going through what I cannot even with any accuracy describe as my files, to bring some order into various matters of life admin, accumulated over a considerable period. The cobblers' children...

(no subject)

Jul. 17th, 2017 09:08 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] snippy!

Remix...and looking ahead?

Jul. 17th, 2017 12:47 am
gramarye1971: Old Ways (TDIR: Old Ways)
[personal profile] gramarye1971
Signed up for [community profile] remixrevival, because Parallels doesn't seem to be running this year and I'm in need of a midsummer fic exchange to boost creativity levels. More people should sign up (especially if you're nominating anime/manga, because I am happy to adjust my own offerings if people do)!

Writing that first sentence, though, made me stop and ponder: it's a bit past the time for it this year, but would people participate in an AO3-coordinated Dark Is Rising fic exchange next May/June? Perhaps with reveals timed for Midsummer's Day? I may post about it on [community profile] thedarkisrising, but since a significant body of that community overlaps with my flist, it's worth doing a straw poll for it here.

Planet of the Spiders revisited

Jul. 17th, 2017 01:12 am
sir_guinglain: (Pertwee_TVAction)
[personal profile] sir_guinglain
Dialogue for the old and new fans...

From Planet of the Spiders part one, as it might be re-edited:

LUPTON: Not only a Doctor, but a woman Doctor. We do not want her here.
CHO-JE: We cannot shut out the world entirely, my brother.
LUPTON: Why not? You used to, in Tibet.
CHO-JE: All things pass away, as you will learn in your meditation. This world of samsara, the world of appearance, is the world of change.
LUPTON: Yes, but I came here to get away from the world. So did the others. We came here to find solitude.
CHO-JE: One day you will learn to walk in solitude amidst the traffic of the world.
LUPTON: It's still not too late to stop her coming.
CHO-JE: But it is. Mister Chibnall has already gone to the station to fetch her.

**

CHO-JE: We can but point a finger along the way. A man must go inside and face his fears and hopes, his hates and his loves, and watch them wither away. Then he will find his true self, which is no self. He will see his true mind, which is no mind.
SARAH: And that's what meditation's all about?
CHO-JE: Yes! The old man must die and the new woman will discover to her inexpressible joy that he has never existed.
SARAH: Well, good luck, mate.

From Chrissie's Transcripts Site, with alterations.

Fic: Shining Armour (Yuri!!! on Ice)

Jul. 16th, 2017 10:04 pm
el_staplador: Yuri Plisetsky from 'Yuri!!! on Ice' sticking his tongue out; caption 'makes me wanna barf' (yuri on ice)
[personal profile] el_staplador
I posted a fic. It's not at all the sort of thing I usually write...

Shining Armour (1900 words) by El Staplador
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Yuri!!! on Ice (Anime)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Michele Crispino/Emil Nekola, Michele Crispino & Sara Crispino
Characters: Michele Crispino, Emil Nekola, Sara Crispino, Yuri!!! on Ice Ensemble, Original Characters
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe, Alternate Universe - toyshop, Fluff and Angst, Angst with a Happy Ending, Experimental Style
Summary:

They came out of the factory on the same day. They were packed in the same box, sent to the same shop, displayed on the same shelf. But now somebody's bought the lady and left the knight behind. Nobody understands what a disaster this is, except maybe the robot on the shelf above...




I have also managed to post my assignment for Rare Ships!!! on Ice, a whole day before the deadline. This, by contrast, has my grubby fingerprints all over it. (At least, I think it does. I shall be interested to see if anyone guesses.)

Culinary

Jul. 16th, 2017 08:19 pm
oursin: Frontispiece from C17th household manual (Accomplisht Lady)
[personal profile] oursin

Bread during the week: brown oatmeal.

Saturday breakfast rolls: from the wholewheat nut bread recipe in James Beard, cutting down on the amount of sweetener he seems to think necessary - sugar AND honey!!! Nice. Haven't made these for yonks.

We stayed in Saturday evening and I made the following meal: starter of healthy-grilled asparagus and hard(ish)-boiled quails' eggs, sprinkled with a dukkah-type dry dressing of toasted sesame and sunflower seeds + pinenuts, crushed in a mortar; then smoked swordfish (which I had happened to spot in the organic butchers/fishmongers), which I served with ground black pepper and lemon, and a couscous and raisins salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, heritage tomatoes sliced and tossed in wild pomegranate vinegar with salt, sugar and basil (maybe it's me, but do heritage tomatoes, whatever their colour and shape, all taste like tomatoes?), and a hot cucumber pickle thing from one of my books of Japanese cooking - cut the cucumber in 4 lengthways, cut out the seeds, chop into batons, stirfry briefly in sesame oil with dried chile, add a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar (recipe also says salt, which I consider supererogatory with soy sauce) cook briefly, and leave to marinate for a bit.

Today's lunch: duck steaks, panfried and then rested as per instructions on packet, with Greek spinach rice (for some reason the rice was a bit too al dente), okra simmered with ginger, coriander and fish sauce, and padron peppers.

(no subject)

Jul. 16th, 2017 11:41 am
white_hart: (Default)
[personal profile] white_hart
I am assuming, from the amount of anxiety I'm currently feeling about who the new Doctor will be, that I am generally not as OK as I would like to think I am.

Wibbleage )

Oh look, a meme about books

Jul. 15th, 2017 04:24 pm
oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
[personal profile] oursin

via [personal profile] liseuse. Why do I think this was compiled by somebody who has not been reading for as many decades as I have? (I am still considering that peach you are offering me.)

1. You currently own more than 20 books: I slightly shudder to think how long ago I passed that mark.

2. You currently own more than 50 books: vide supra

3. You currently own more than 100 books: vide supra

4. You amassed so many books you switched to an e-reader: no, I switched to an e-reader for portability when on the move.

5. You read so much you have a ton of books AND an e-reader: is this at all exceptional?

6. You have a book-organization system no one else understands: I used to have a book organisation system but with one thing and another much of it has fallen into chaos.

7. You’re currently reading more than one book: yes, but some are more backburnered than others.

8. You read every single day: I breathe every day too.

9. You’re reading a book right now, as you’re taking this book nerd quiz: I'm not actually trying to multitask here.

10. Your essentials for leaving the house: wallet, phone, keys, and a book: unless I'm just going round the corner to the shops or to the gym, e-reader; also, Freedom Pass for London Transport.

11. You’ve pulled an all-nighter reading a book: no, but I've stayed up later than I intended.

12. You did not regret it for a second and would do it again: no.

13. You’ve figured out how to incorporate books into your workout: WOT.

14. You’ve declined invitations to social activities in order to stay home and read: no, but there are occasions I may have wished I had.

15. You view vacation time as “catch up on reading” time: to some extent. Also, long journeys.

16. You’ve sat in a bathtub full of tepid water with prune-y skin because you were engrossed in a book: eeeeuuuuwwww, no.

17. You’ve missed your stop on the bus or the train because you were engrossed in a book: yes.

18. You’ve almost tripped over a pothole, sat on a bench with wet paint, walked into a telephone pole, or narrowly avoided other calamities because you were engrossed in a book: not to my recollection.

19. You’ve laughed out loud in public while reading a book: once or twice.

20. You’ve cried in public while reading a book (it’s okay, we won’t tell): no.

21. You’re the one everyone goes to for book recommendations: I'm not sure this is a thing one can say about oneself.

22. You take your role in recommending books very seriously and worry about what books your friends would enjoy: what am I, some kind of missionary? I put my thoughts out there and people can make their own decisions.

23. Once you recommend a book to a friend, you keep bugging them about it: good grief, no. Seriously poor ton.

24. If your friend doesn’t like the book you recommended, you’re heartbroken: oh, come on, how old are you, 6?

25. And you judge them. A little bit: de gustibus non est disputandum, seriously.

26. In fact, whenever you and a friend disagree about a book you secretly wonder what is wrong with them: what are you, 6?

27. You’ve vowed to convert a non-reader into a reader: eeeeuuuuwww.

28. And you’ve succeeded: you have a great future ahead of you as a cult guru, but count me out.

29. You’ve attended book readings, launches, and signings: only when it's been mates of mine launching their book.

30. You own several signed books: a few, but mostly ones by friends.

31. You would recognize your favorite authors on the street: some of them.

32. In fact, you have: no.

33. If you could have dinner with anybody in the world, you’d choose your favorite writer: this supposes that there is one prime favourite. Also, quite a lot of my favourites are dead.

34. You own a first-edition book: a few, none, I think, that I went out specifically to collect rather than happening across a copy that was.

35. You know what that is and why it matters to bibliophiles: oh, come on.

36. You tweet, post, blog, or talk about books every day: no.

37. You have a “favorite” literary prize: I skorn them utterly.

38. And you read the winners of that prize every year: what, with my existing tbr pile?

39. You’ve recorded every book you’ve ever read and what you thought of it: life is too short.

40. You have a designated reading nook in your home: no.

41. You have a literary-themed T-shirt, bag, tattoo, or item of home décor: what is this even. Okay, I do have a photo of Dame Rebecca on my wall: it was a present. Do piles of books count as home decor?

42. You gave your pet a literary name: what pet.

43. You make literary references and puns nobody else understands: I will cop to that.

44. You’re a stickler for spelling and grammar, even when you’re just texting: ditto.

45. You’ve given books as gifts for every occasion: birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduations, Tuesdays...: not really.

46. Whenever someone asks what your favorite book is, your brain goes into overdrive and you can’t choose just one. You end up naming twelve books: and then adding afterthoughts.

47. You love the smell of books: yes.

48. You’ve binge-read an entire series or an author’s whole oeuvre in just a few days: or at least over the course of a few weeks.

49. You’ve actually felt your heart rate go up while reading an incredible book: I've never actually checked this.

50. When you turn the last page of a good book, you feel as if you’ve finally come up for air and returned from a great adventure: not sure I would put it exactly like that.

Reading: To Lie With Lions

Jul. 15th, 2017 11:09 am
white_hart: (Default)
[personal profile] white_hart
The sixth of Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolò books brings to a conclusion the phase of Nicholas's life sparked by the devastating events of the ending of Scales of Gold. In many ways it felt as though this and The Unicorn Hunt were two halves of one very long book rather than two separate instalments of the series, which I think probably partly explains why I felt that The Unicorn Hunt's plot seemed to meander rather if it was mainly setup for the next book. I feel similarly about The Disorderly Knights and Pawn in Frankincense in the Lymond series, and although the ending of To Lie With Lions isn't quite as cataclysmic as the end of Pawn in Frankincense, or indeed Scales of Gold, it leaves Nicholas in a similar place to Lymond at the end of that book; isolated, friendless and being taken to an unknown destination.

The centrepiece of this book is Nicholas's voyage to Iceland, culminating in a haunting, nightmarish winter journey across country in the face of an imminent volcanic eruption, and a subsequent description of the eruption itself, which are definitely up with the Sahara journey in Scales of Gold and the winter journey in Russia in The Ringed Castle among the most amazing of Dunnett's descriptive passages. The novel then gathers pace and ramps up the tension towards the dénouement, which does the typical Dunnett thing of shining a new light on so many things and radically changing the reader's understanding of both Nicholas's and other characters' natures and motivations, and even if I had guessed the identity of "Egidius", the third Vatachino partner (mostly because Pat McIntosh's Gilbert Cunningham mysteries include a character with the same first name and nickname as the "Egidius" in Dunnett's books, almost certainly as a tribute to Dunnett) there were still plenty of surprises among the revelations.

Only two more to go, although then I'm sure that both the Lymond and Niccolò books would benefit from a re-read; there's so much in them that only makes sense once you have got to the end. Also, I have just bought a secondhand copy of King Hereafter, as it isn't available for Kindle. Though right now I think I need to read something a lot less emotionally demanding for a while.

(no subject)

Jul. 15th, 2017 11:50 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] owlectomy and [personal profile] talking_sock!

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