Tag Archives: 30 Days of books

That New Book Smell

Day 30 – What book are you reading right now?

I was looking forward to this question all along, because it was so far in the future, and how can you know what you’re going to read in a month’s time? There was always the possibility that I would completely cheat and fix the question, but I hoped I wouldn’t.

And I woke up this morning and realised I couldn’t answer the question at all, because I finished reading Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente on the iPad last night, and I wasn’t reading a book at all. Horrors!

Luckily, despite a chaotic day of editing, rain, Worldcon stress, the internet getting all in my face, and general childrenness, I managed to rectify the situation by lunchtime. I was very stern with myself, deciding I had to pick up the book on my current to read pile (um yes I now have a prime pile separate from my two tier shelf, don’t judge me) that I was most excited about reading RIGHT THIS SECOND, in order to be completely honest and not just pick something I thought made me sound smart or serious or cool or awesome.

So I would like to announce that I am now reading Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, which is as promised EXACTLY like reading a Jane Austen book with magic in it. It even has oldey timey rough-ripped page edges, and uses the word ‘shew!’ I love it already.

And with that, we come to the end of the book meme. Well, that was fun! It was kind of nice to take a break from talking about myself and explore some of my history of reading. Back to normal tomorrow, I guess, coming up with my OWN topics to blog about…

See you there.

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Beyond the Veil

Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)

Ha, this one is surprisingly easy, and for once I don’t feel the need to give a million different answers to a simple question.

To my mind, one of the absolute worst literary deaths of all time was Sirius Black, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

[spoilers for all but the last Harry Potter book in the post below, on the grounds that some of you are following the films rather than the books and don’t know yet which Weasley twin is doomed]

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Wolves and Hawks

Day 28 – First favorite book or series obsession

I’m going to take a leaf out of Alex’s book and instead of talking about my childhood series obsessions (mostly in various shades of Enid Blyton) I’ll talk about the first fantasy series I really obsessed about as a teen. Not Eddings, though he was certainly my gateway drug.

Jennifer Roberson. Chronicles of the Cheysuli.

Looking back on those books now, they are one hot mess of problematic gender relationships. Every female protagonist ends up raped, and most of the male characters I initially liked turned out to be rapists. Which kind of sucks. It’s a little disturbing how little that meant to me as a fourteen year old discovering fantasy fiction – I didn’t *enjoy* reading about women being raped, but it was something so common in the fiction I was reading, that much like the grotesque violence in David Eddings books, it was something I shrugged off.

Wow, teenagers are kind of sociopathic creatures, aren’t they?

The other thing about the books which I remember, looking back, is that the romances really frustrated me. If I had known about the existence of fanfic back then, I would have been writing my own emo stories about Finn/Alix and all the other couples I WANTED which never happened, while systematically erasing all those boring canon couples.

Wow. These books have not aged well in my memory.

So why did I love them so much? Shapechangers was I think the first fantasy novel I ever read which had a female protagonist, and I loved Alix deeply and fiercely, even if she did go off with the wrong bloke. I loved Keely as well, who I think was Alix’s great-granddaughter. The whole thing was a gorgeously textured family saga, covering many generations, with magic and politics and diplomacy all tangled up together. I loved the scope of the story, the uncomfortable relationship between the rulers of Homana and the shapechangers who began the series as outcasts and ended up, through marriage and strategic policies, as the rulers themselves. I loved the epic, tangled family tree and how the “heroes” and “villains” were ultimately united through love and children.

And, of course, I fell in love with the characters. Doesn’t it always come down to that?

The funny thing is, while I also followed Roberson’s other series, about the Sword Dancers, which was far more feminist, had a far more innovative and unusual fantasy setting and had a fabulous romance at the heart of it, I never loved it quite as much. Teenagers. Also with the rubbish taste!

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Literary Sweet Spots

Day 27 – If a book contains ______, you will always read it (and a book or books that contain it)!

Romans. Especially sexy Romans. What am I talking about, all Romans are sexy!

I don’t know if there’s much that will make me always read a book, because I am way pickier than that, but some of my literary sweet spots include: things set in Italy, fairy tale rewrites, Greek myth, lady knights, superheroines, fencing, the 1920’s, theatre backstage, and fantasy with frocks. Anything featuring one or more of those things will certainly earn me a second or third serious look.

So what are your literary sweet spots?

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OMG WTF is that really the last page?

Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending

The first one that first comes to mind is the Mill on the Floss because WTF, drowning, seriously? Following my Lydia Bennet argument though, this one doesn’t count for much because it’s a book I don’t love anyway. Finding an ending I hate in a book I love would be a better answer, I think!

The next reading experience that leaps into my head is Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones, a book I loved beyond reason. I still remember the sickening feeling of ‘oh oh, only a few pages to go, how can she possibly… oh. WTF???’ It’s the one time I have been tempted to throw a book across a room, so great was my frustration at those three little words, To Be Continued. That’s not the author’s fault though, it’s the publisher. The very idea of publishing the first novel of a SERIAL series without marking it as such makes my blood boil. We need to know if there’s gonna be closure!

Likewise, the ending of Connie Willis’ Blackout is beyond frustrating, thanks to a publishing choice. We get half the book and then sorry, wait nine months for the next volume. SO MEAN. It’s particularly harmful to the reading experience because we had just got past the interesting but not fast-moving set up half of the story and were totally ready to have our brains blown out by whatever Willis had for us next. To be continued. Gah.

I really want to not count that too, and to come up with a brilliant example of a book I otherwise loved but had a stupid ending, and I can’t think of… oh. OH.

Okay, it’s not a book I otherwise loved. It’s a thoroughly unlovable book apart from a few fangirl scenes. But. It’s a book with an ending so bad, so utterly awful, that it colours the entire series that came before it. A book that gives with one hand and rips away marvellous childhood memories with the other, generations before George Lucas came blundering into his own creation with a pickaxe and a host of good intentions.

It’s an ending that spoils everything, and leaves the reader bludgeoned around the head with a little bit of sick in their mouths.

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To Be Read

Day 25 – Any five books from your “to be read” stack

Like Random Alex, I have some very old books in my TBR pile. Cough. On my TBR shelves. For a while there I added a coloured sticky note to books that had been there a year, with a different colour each year, to show how long it had been there, but that just got really depressing, so I stopped. I’ve had a few clear outs of the shelves in the last 12 months, but there are still books that have been there as long as we’ve lived in this house (five years)

A random sample from both ends of the shelf includes:

Sebastian, by Anne Bishop
The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Gossip Girl: You’re the One that I Want, by Cecily Von Ziegesar

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Best Friends FOREVER

Day 22 – Favorite non-sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)

Oh, I do love me some platonics!

There are three kinds of relationship that really draw me into a story.

1) Siblings. I am just crazy about awesome sibling relationships in fiction – possibly because I never had a sibling myself, growing up. I never especially wanted one, but I loved reading about them in books. The Melendys from The Saturdays and other books are probably my favourites from childhood, a bunch of creative and very different kids who nonetheless genuinely enjoyed hanging out with each other. More recently I fell hard for Scarlett and her sibs in Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett series. My favourite kind of sibling relationships in fiction are the ones where there is a balance of friendship and love and tensions, because of course that’s a lot more interesting than the ones who just pal around with no spiky bits.

I recently read ‘Are We There Yet’ by David Levithan, which I have been meaning to blog review for ages (along with a bunch of other books!) – the brother relationship in that book is astounding. It’s about two young men 7 years apart who have grown apart in recent years. Elijah is 17-18 and has just left school, and Danny is wrapped up in the world of the workforce. They have no trauma in their history, no big fight, they just stopped getting each other a while ago, and pretty much stopped talking. Their parents, worried about their relationship, trick them into taking a 9 day holiday in Italy to sort themselves out. I really loved reading about these brothers, and how easily they had fallen out of the habit of liking each other, and how different they thought they were, and how badly they failed to understand how the other thought. It’s a really gorgeous story which feels realistic rather than sappy, plus ITALY.

2) Just friends, no, seriously. It’s possible. There’s something really seductive for me in fiction which is about two people of the opposite gender (or of corresponding sexualities) who COULD hook up, but don’t. And in fact don’t actually fancy each other at all. It’s incredibly rare, but I love it when it’s well done. Heh of course I used to ship the two platonic friend characters LIKE CRAZY but now I appreciate the lack of sexual interest. Because you know, the world is not When Harry Met Sally, and it’s entirely possible to be friends with someone of the corresponding sexuality without fancying them.

After being all inclusive and all, the examples that come to mind are all het and girl-boy. I’m thinking about Gracie and Flemming from the Gracie Faltrain books, Alanna and Gary from Tamora Pierce, and Mara and Arakasi from the Daughter of the Empire books. My best example, though, is probably Anita Blake and Edward. From Book 1, Edward was the guy I was most interested in from the Anita Blake books, and while in my teens I shipped those two quite desperately, now I can really appreciate the fact that they don’t find each other attractive, and that he’s the one she hasn’t gone there with.

There’s a scene in (I think) Guilty Pleasures where Anita has been bitten and she needs Edward to help her cleanse the wounds with holy water. It hurts like hell, she’s in pain and vulnerable and I think probably naked, and he helps her with cool detachment, as he would help any comrade. The guy who we first saw threatening to kill her if she didn’t hand over the information he wanted, is also her best and most trusted friend in that circumstance. I love the fact that these two have always been comrades, always have each other’s back, and don’t actually think about each other naked.

I want to find some examples of gay characters who have similar relationships, but it’s so rare to find books with more than one gay character! The best example I can think of right now are T.C and Augie from My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger – they are best friends, and Augie is gay (though he doesn’t know it yet – everyone else does) and they completely love each other, having decided when they were kids that they were brothers. Maybe this fits more in the siblings section! (and PS Kaia, Augie may be the gay best friend, but he’s one of 3 protags in this book, not a supporting character, hooray. Did I mention you need to read this book?)

c) GIRLPOWER Nothing like the girl best friends, or gang of girls, who are actually good to each other instead of tearing each other down. My favourite recent example of this is Astrid and her fellow unicorn hunters in Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, particularly Phil (who I completely forgot to add to my list of favourite fictional characters EVER). Princess Mia and Tina in the Princess Diaries books also get a mention, but there are zillions of great ones out there.

And yes, these three kinds of relationships are particularly prevalent in YA fiction. Which explains a lot about why I like it so much.

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The Lovers

Day 21 – Favorite romantic/sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)

Oh I have lots of these! Let me think.

There’s Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie from the books by Megan McCafferty – you saw them snogging yesterday, I think. I really enjoyed the fact that McCafferty followed their relationship over five books and I think about ten years in all, taking them through the stages of awkward, weird but intense friendship, awkward teen romance, long distance sweethearts, seriously uncomfortable exes, and various other stops along the way. They felt real in that they both did the kinds of stupid things that young people do, and their friendships and relationships with other people felt just as real. I went into the final book seriously not being able to tell whether they would end up together or apart, and not even sure which version of that would be a happy ending.

There’s Elizabeth and Darcy – there’s ALWAYS Elizabeth and Darcy. I love this book dearly for many reasons, and I think part of the reason that it is such an excellent romance is that – once again – it’s about the faults of both characters, and how love means forgiving/accepting the flaws of the other
person while attempting to rectify your own. It only works, of course, if it comes from both parties. Too often in real life, people desperately try to act out their half of a love story, without the other person doing their share of the work. (Austen has some great examples of this uneven kind of relationship too, particularly Marianne & Willoughby) I should add that I always had a soft spot for Emma & Mr Knightley too, though my tolerance for Emma’s faults has worn off the corners a bit the older I get. They are less epic than Elizabeth and Darcy, but still terribly sweet.

I recently read Poppy Z Brite’s The Value of X, which had been sitting on my to read shelf for over a year, and fell in love with Rickey and G-Man all over again. In Prime, Liquor and Soul Kitchen, these two sexy chefs sizzled up the page, in books that are ostensibly noir mysteries but are really all about documenting what it’s like to work the line in the New Orleans restaurant scene. I love stories that have a strong romantic theme that are about established couples, and these books have that in spades. Calm, capable G-Man and crazy, manic, brilliant Rickey make a great pair, and while I enjoyed that ‘established relationship’ aspect of the books, it was still fantastic to be able to read ‘X,’ which told the story of how these best friends got together as teenagers, and how their families dealt with it.

Another deep favourite is from The Course of Honour by Lindsey Davis – until very recently, her only non-Falco novel. It depicts the love story of the Emperor Vespasian and slave/freedwoman Caenis, which is historical fact, though Caenis is only mentioned about three times in the primary sources. Davis takes this footnote of a real character and creates a believable story of her whole life, and how it could be that a former imperial slave ended up the mistress of an Emperor. She also brings to life Vespasian, who is immortalised in history as an old man who won an empire and kept it together for ten years, depicting what he might have been like in his youth. Though based on real characters, this is most definitely a work of fiction (which had far less to work from than, for example, Robert Graves with the Claudians) and their love story is gut-wrenching, funny, stressful, gorgeous, and worthy of a big screen epic movie.

I also love love love Howl and Sophie, Thomas and Janet, Nick and Mae, Young Jolyon and Irene, Owen and Hazel, Min and Cal, Hawk and Fisher, Harriet and Peter, Ned and Verity, Princess Mia and Michael & Alanna and George. Ten points to anyone who can name all the books!

My oldest ships are probably Trixie Belden with Jim Freyne, and Laura Ingalls Wilder with Almanzo. I also totally wanted Jill & Eustace, and John Walker & Nancy Blackett, to get together when they grew up.

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