Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Juneblog #5 - Wednesday reads, 10th June

What I've just finished reading:
Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubenstein (re-read)
Ms Marvel vol 2: Generation Why by G Willow Wilson

What I'm reading now:
Buried in the Sky, by Zuckerman and Padoan
Into Thin Air, by Krakauer (re-read)
Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Wessely and Roberts,

What I plan to read next:
The Disappearance of Ember Crow, by Kwaymullina
Mastiff, by Pierce
Downbelow Station, by Cherryh.

... there's a lot more SFF there than historicals, isn't there?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Juneblog #4 - a read/re-read challenge

This was sort of buried in my post about Halfway Across the Galaxy, so I'm putting it out again here and will tweet it and see if anyone joins me.

Speaking of re-reads:  I've (just) decided to do one new read and one re-read of Australian YA Spec Fic this month, and I'd love for you to join me.

My new read is going to be The Disappearance of Ember Crow, second in Ambelin Kwaymullina's awesome Tribe trilogy.  If you haven't read the first, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, you really must!  Because it's amazing.  (I don't yet know whether you need to have read it before Ember in order to make sense. 

My re-read is going to be Galax-Arena, by Gillian Rubenstein.  It's currently $5 on Kindle, so you can all join in, even if you're living on the other side of the world.  I'm really hoping it lives up to my memories of it.  If it doesn't I'll be devastated - but I will also have killed a bogeyman in the process.

I'm going to do spoiler and non-spoiler posts for both of these: hopefully the non-spoiler post for Galax-Arena will go up tomorrow.

Monday, 8 June 2015

#Juneblog 3 - a random update

And then I went away for the long weekend.

So hi, all.  I'm back.  Was away in Sydney for a wedding and a Sydney Film Festival film and some other things, and although I knew it was going to be busy I guess I didn't realise just how busy.  (I've had to give up my plan of contributing to Twelfth Planet Press's "Letters to Tiptree" because I didn't plan ahead well enough.)

As to bookish things: on Sunday we went into the CBD to do some shopping - and ran into book sales at Dymocks, the ABC Shop and Abbeys/Galaxy.  Our actual goal was Kinokuniya (I wanted to - and did - get Volume 2 of Ms Marvel).  We didn't go too overthetop at the sales - I got a book about Antarctica for my mother, M got a WWII diary and a few books for her classroom library, but book sales are always dangerous.

Our flight home was delayed (in the air) due to fog at our home airport, but this gave me the chance to finish Galax-Arena, vol 2 of Ms Marvel, and another couple of stories from Cranky Ladies of History.  (Galax and Cranky Ladies were on my iPad.)

(I also spent the weekend following the Continuum Con #con11 hashtag.  I really wanted to be there, but the wedding was a commitment that overrode that, and the wedding was awesome.)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Juneblog #2 - Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left

My good friend Subversive Reader wrote a post yesterday about being a Speculative Fiction fan, and in doing so she jolted me into the realization that I had left a very important book off my list of Top Ten SFF books: Robin Klein's Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left.  I quite possibly read that one before I'd even read Beatie Bow, and certainly before the gut-punch of Galaxarena and A Cage of Butterflies.

<--  This is the real cover of HAtGaTL.  It would not convince any current teenager to read it, but most of the modern covers... wouldn't convince me to read it, and that's the important thing, right?

I've just gone and looked on my shelves and although I have two other Robin Klein books there (other favourites, non SFF), I don't have Halfway!  I am shocked!  There was also a sequel, which I'm not sure was released until the TV series was made (which I never watched, so it didn't really exist).  I didn't like the sequel as much, although I can't imagine that I would ever have thrown it - let alone Halfway out.

I probably first read this book when I was younger than X - she was never really "Charlotte" to me.  And now I badly want to re-read it, and will have to see if it's either on a shelf or in a box at my parents' house.  

Speaking of re-reads:  I've (just) decided to do one new read and one re-read of Australian YA Spec Fic this month, and I'd love for you to join me.

My new read is going to be The Disappearance of Ember Crow, second in Ambelin Kwaymullina's awesome Tribe trilogy.  If you haven't read the first, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, you really must!  Because it's amazing.  (I don't yet know whether you need to have read it before Ember in order to make sense. 

My re-read is going to be Galaxarena, by Gillian Rubenstein.  It's currently $5 on Kindle, so you can all join in, even if you're living on the other side of the world.  I'm really hoping it lives up to my memories of it.  If it doesn't I'll be devastated - but I will also have killed a bogeyman in the process.

Introducing #Juneblog

There is apparently a 'thing' called #blogjune in the Library blogging community.  Personally, I think it would sound far better as #juneblog, like a junebug :-)  And I never was really a library blogger anyway.

But I've neglected this blog for far too long, and my own little #juneblog challenge might be a good way to get back into it.

Honestly, I don't have a particular theme in mind.  I just want to get back into regular blogging.  I'm thinking that I'll try to alternate between SFF (what is at the top of my head right now) and historicals (what this blog is meant to be mostly about.)

Because I didn't get around to posting last night, this is going to be my June 1 post, and there'll be an actual, substantive post this afternoon for June 2.  And I'll go on from there.

So - welcome to Juneblog!  

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wednesday reads, 20th May

What I've finished reading:

Nothing this week.

What I'm reading now:

Biggest Brother, by Larry Alexander
The Thistle and the Rose, by Jean Plaidy

What I'll read next:

I've got Tamora Pierce's "Mastiff", final in her Beka Cooper series, to finish off; back to the Wilson 'Cecily' series, and I've let the Cranky Ladies slip this week, too. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

The SF/F books of my heart

There's a bit of a debate going on in literary sci-fi fandom at the moment.  I'm not actually planning to get into that here - this is supposed to be a mostly historical fiction blog, afater all!

But on a recent thread at Mike Glyer's File770, people started listing their favourite sci-fi/fantasy, and I started thinking, yet again, about my formative reading in that genre - and how it includes few to none of the books being listed at File770.

Not much of this is on my Goodreads, as it's pre-Goodreads reading.  But if I had to list my ten favourites - as others have been doing - here's an attempt at doing so, in rough order of when I first read them:

Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park (timeslip.  It counts.)
Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce (so does this.  I *love* timeslip.)
Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden (the first three were fantastic, and yes, it skates the line as SF/F.)
A Cage of Butterflies - Brian Caswell
On Fortune's Wheel - Cynthia Voigt
Deucalion - Brian Caswell
Imzadi - Peter David
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Vulture's Gate - Kirsty Murray

I realise that the sort of books on my list get me kicked out of "real fandom" by a lot of people (YA! Media tie-ins! Authors who don't admit they write SF OMG!), but I don't care.

Australian YA in the 90s was an awesome place for SF/F.

Gillian Rubenstein's Galaxarena is not on my list only because it disturbed me so much that I don't own a copy because I can never again read it.  Ever.  There's an image from that book that is still in my head today and OMG.  Caswell gets two spots because he is just that formative.

I love spaceships and space travel and new worlds.  I love the Honor Harrington books by David Weber even though they're not well written and the politics drives me nuts and there's way too much infodump.  I still love the Darkover books even though I'm not sure I can read them again because just mentioning MZB's name makes me cringe - but it was a Free Amazon story that showed me that lesbians could exist in SF/F.  I love Scalzi's "Old Man's War" and "Redshirts" and "Lock-In" almost made this list even though I only finished it a week ago.

But that list up there is where I got started.  Those are the books of my SF/F-nal heart.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Wednesday reads (on Thursday night) - 14th May

What I've finished reading:

Nothing, this week.

I've been reading lots of blogs - File 770, Whatever (the blog of John Scalzi), and Ask a Manager, mostly.    But sadly not reading books.  Or at least, not finishing them.

What I'm currently reading:

Last night, in need of something to read in the bathtub (thus necessarily a paper book belonging to me, not the library), I began Jean Plaidy's The Thistle and the Rose.  Which is about Margaret Tudor moving to Scotland to marry James IV - and aftermath.  Got through the first 70 pages at a rapid rate, so that's good.

The Bees is still out from the eBook library, and I have had multiple reserves arriving for me to read of late as well.  Must get onto that.

And of course there's Cranky Ladies of History

What I'll read next:

Reserves from other libraries:
  • Biggest Brother, the Dick Winters bio I mentioned last week
  • Mastiff, the final in Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper series.
The various piles on my Kindle and Kobo apps...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Review: Redshirts, by John Scalzi

I read Redshirts in a combination of audiobook - narrated by Wil Wheaton - and paperback, purchased and signed by John Scalzi at last month's Supanova in Melbourne.

As Scalzi himself noted in the Coode Street Podcast, he's improved his use of dialogue tags (he said, she said) in response to his awareness of how these things sound in audiobooks.  Which, yay - because the tags were driving me mad when I was listening to the audiobook.  I did vaguely notice the difference in Lock-In, although I wasn't listening to that one.

As to the story.  Redshirts won the Hugo Award in its year, and a lot of people dislike that fact.  I can't compare the book to the other nominees that year, and I can totally imagine than there were better books - I'm certainly not saying that Redshirts is flawless.  But it operates on so many levels of  surface, cynicism, and deep love of the genre.  It's good.  It's inventive and fascinating and really thoughtful.  And it knows it, which, you know.

But yes, I totally recommend it, especially for snarky Trek fans.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Wednesday Reads

What I've finished reading

I finished Kaleidoscope, which I loved to death, and which I'll review properly soon, I promise.

Lock-In, by John Scalzi, which I really loved.

Redshirts, also by John Scalzi (whose autograph I got at SupaNova back in early April.)  Really enjoyed this one, although I agree with what he said on the Coode St Podcast recently about adjusting his writing style for audiooboks.  I listened to a good proportion of Redshirts in Audiobook, and the dialogue tags were driving me nuts.

Ms Marvel, vol 1.  Love, love, love it.  Volume 2 is now out, and I have to balance having it NOW vs getting the hard copy version when I'm in Sydney next.

What I'm currently reading

Cranky Ladies of History - I'm trying to read one story a night, but last night M vetoed the Elizabeth Bathory story on the basis of potential triggers, and the one after that was too long and complex to get through.

Cicely's King Richard - I'm not entirely sure I'll get through the whole thing.  The author is so VERY Richardian, and on top of that, anti-Woodville in an unavoidable way, and it's driving me nuts.

The Bees, by Laline Paul.  It was on the Locus longlist for 2014, which speaks to its potential.  It's still reminding me very much.  I'll get back to it soon.

What I'll be reading next

Dick Winters: The Band of Brothers' Major has just arrived for me through the library holds system.

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, first in the Cafe La Femme series, is also waiting for me, on my Kindle app.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Coming soon - notes on Sandra Heath Wilson's "Cicely" books

Today I bought three books on Kindle - the first three books of a Richard III (and beyond) series by Sarah Heath Wilson.  The library has the second book, but no one in the system has the other two, and they were only about A$3 on Amazon.

I may regret it: the concept is that Cicely, the second daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, falls in love with her uncle (who becomes Richard III) - making a change from the usual argument that it was Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter.  The author is clearly a Richardian, and worse than that, she first got interested in Richard via Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time (sigh).

But I'm a sucker for a Wars of the Roses/Tudor transitional historical fiction.

A glance at the beginning of book 2 doesn't inspire confidence in the writing - it's more than a little overwrought.

But I'll give it a go -- and I'll share my thoughts with you!

(Still suffering from Annunciata-fatigue, which is why I'm not reading Morlands at the moment.)

Friday, 6 March 2015

Empress Dowager Cixi: the concubine who launched modern China, by Jung Chang: some notes

I've been frantically trying to listen to Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi this week, thinking that I couldn't renew my loan of it (I have it on e-Audio loan through Bolinda BorrowBox).  I've just been able to renew it for another three weeks, so I can calm down a little bit and even occasionally listen to other podcasts!

But I'm really enjoying this book so far.

I was in about year 9 at high school when Jung Chang's first book, Wild Swans, was published.  My mother and I were reading the same copy simultaneously - I had it during the day, and when she got home from work, I had to hand it over so that she could read it.  (I believe I perfected my ability to read while walking to and from school during that time.)

I also have a copy of Chang's biography of Mao, but I haven't read that one yet.  It's so big that these days it would come under my personal purchasing rule of 'easier in eBook' (I have applied this rule to, for example, Alexis Wright's Carpentaria and Clare Wright's Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.)  I really do need to read the Mao biography at some point, to compare how Chang writes when her main subject is male, but I really like the way she writes about women.

I'm listening to segment 20 of 57 at the moment; having reached the point just after where Cixi's son, the Emperor Tongzhi (I think, I'm getting this information from Wikipedia) has died.  And this is one thing I find difficult about listening to this book instead of reading it: I have no idea how she's spelling the words (obviously there are issues in terms of romanisation, etc, as well - just think of the multiple ways westerners spell/have spelled Mao's name over the years,) and if there are footnotes or endnotes, I can't look them up.  There are times when I really want to know what Chang's sources are, and the only way I'll manage that is if I eventually get my hands on a hard copy of the book. (Okay, or an electronic copy that has managed referencing well.)

Which, this is me.  I'm enjoying listening to this - and the awesome kickass-ness that is Cixi - so much that if I do see it second hand, I will almost certainly buy it, despite the shelf space it will take up.

Monday, 2 February 2015

What I've been reading - historicals

Mondays ought to be an update on my current saga progress (whether Morland or Plaidy - or both) but since I finished The Long Shadow I haven't been getting very far into The Chevalier.  I blame Annunciata-fatigue.

But I have been reading historicals - of a sort.

I've been reading Marvel 1602.

Yes.  That Marvel.

There's a long chain of events that brought me to this (I totally blame Tansy Rayner Roberts) but basically, this is a collected comic series written by Neil Gaiman that inserts a whole lot of Marvel universe characters into the very late Elizabethan period, combining James VI and I's ascent to the English throne with mutants and superheros.

Yes there's dodginess (a white Native American, sigh), and it was written pre cinematic universe, so Nick Fury is also still white, which is a bit of a shock every time I see it.  But this really is such a fascinating blending of the worlds of Marvel superhero/X comics and Elizabethan/Jacobean history.

I'm really loving it.

I'm also really only just getting into reading comics this year, mostly thanks to G Willow Wilson's Ms Marvel and expanding into Wilson's run of X-Men as well.  Because of my general unfamiliarity with comics reading, I really appreciate Comixology's "Guided View" for digital comics.  It's almost making me want to buy future Ms Marvels in digital rather than paper form, but I also feel like it's important to have Kamala Khan's story in hard copy.

Meanwhile: I'll try to review 1602 more fully when I have finished it, probably while I simultaneously try to decide whether I need to get 1602: The New World, 1602: Fantastick Four and heaven forbid, Spiderman 1602...

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Reading the Morlands: #6 "The Long Shadow"

This past week or so, I've kept meaning to write up an "as I go" post for The Long Shadow, but apart from some less-than-complimentary thoughts about Annunciata, I've never got that far.

Now I've finished the book entirely, so it's time for a proper review.  Or as proper as I ever manage.

The blurb for The Long Shadow is rather misleading.  It talks about the reign of James II as though that forms the bulk of the book, when it's probably less than the final hundred pages.  Which in a way is nice, as life for all the Morlands and their connections is better under Charles II than under his brother's four-year reign.

I will say this book killed any liking I had left for Annunciata.  Yet again there are few really likeable characters in this series: Hugo got on my nerves, and even Elizabeth Hobart (poor dear) couldn't  grab me.  Annunciata is fascinating, and a wonderful character, but I don't like her, or have much sympathy for her,

I continue to find it fascinating that Harrod-Eagles take on history is so far from my own.  Or should that be her take on the contemporary view as events were unfolding?  Still, I've always felt quite sorry for both Mary and Anne, and H-E/her characters seem quite the opposite.

I've had The Chevalier from the library for a few days now, and have already started it.  Despite currently having a long list of books I'm halfway through, and the entire set of Susan Holloway Scott novels (beginning with Duchess, which is about Sarah Churchill) to read as well.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Reading Plaidy - "Epitaph for three women", pt 1

To set the scene: Epitaph is book 12 in the 14-book Plantagenet Saga.  I've read this saga in order: no dipping in and out, no random reading of certain titles because I'm more interested in them than in other titles.  The saga starts with Eleanor of Aquitane who marries Henry II of England, and follows all the way through to Richard III in The Sun in Splendour.

Epitaph is set in the reign of Henry VI, the baby King.  I'm not sure who I expected the "three women" of the title to be, but I was a little surprised that they were Katherine, the Dowager Queen of England; Joan of Arc; and Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester.  It actually makes sense that it's these three: all of them have roles in Shakespearean plays, making them better known that most women of the historical period.  And as I said, I don't know who I was expecting the three women to be, given that Margaret of Anjou clearly gets the whole next book in the series, Red Rose of Anjou, to herself.

The book is divided into three parts, one named for each of the women, however the story of each part is not limited to the namesake; I'm still in the first part, but Eleanor Cobham who will become Duchess of Gloucester, has already appeared (and become the mistress of the Duke of Gloucester).

I'm finding the romance of the Dowager Queen and Owen Tudor awkward to read.  There's a separate book in the Queen's of England series about Katherine of France: it will be interesting to see if that's a separate story or really just a re-working of what she'd (I think) already written in this.  (I'm too lazy to check the publication dates right now.)

So those are my early thoughts on Epitaph.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Reading the Morlands: "The Oak Apple" and "The Black Pearl"

Reading the Morlands: The Oak Apple and The Black Pearl
A couple weeks ago I posted my thoughts to date on book 4 of the series (The Oak Apple).  Then I went on a week's holiday, mostly without internet access or at lease without the time to write blog posts, during which I finished both The Oak Apple and book 5, The Black Pearl, bringing me solidly into the reign of Charles II and the time of Annunciata Morland, who as far as I can see is the main character of three(?) of the Chronicles (books 5, 6 and 7).  

The Oak Apple - At the conclusion of this book, I can safely say that Hamil remained a git of the first order until his end.  Not surprisingly for a book that covers what is apparently known as the "First" English Civil War, there is a fair bit of death contained in this book.  The Black Pearl then covers the Great Plague, resulting in even more of the family tree being obliterated.  

I'm starting to suspect that really likeable characters in this series are few and far between.  Mary Esther is one of those, however.  Ruth is admirable rather than likeable, but I really do like what Harrod-Eagles did with Annunciata's father.

Oddly enough one of the few likable characters is one of the historical characters, Prince Rupert.  I suppose it's not actually all that odd, but it feels odd to me.

On to The Black Pearl - which I read so quickly that I feel at a disadvantage now that I'm trying to post about it.  Also, because I'm currently reading "The Long Shadow", which is making me feel *less* inclined to like Annunciata (more on that in my first Long Shadow post) which is sad given that I think I still liked her during The Black Pearl.  She just feels a bit... remote, I guess.  I'm not sure if it's unfair that in my mind I'm connecting her to various Stephanie Laurens protagonists in my head - these aren't Regency Romances, after all - but somehow Laurens' characters live more to me than Annunciata is doing.

But this could all be my Long Shadow bias speaking.

In terms of history, reading this has certainly sparked off an interest in Civil War/Restoration history that I didn't have before.  I've read a little set in this era (only two of the relevant Plaidy's so far), although that does include most of Children of the New Forest, which I've never quite properly finished and which I really should give one more go...  ~wanders off to check shelves~ Got it!

And now we all know what my next read will be...

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Welcome to "Reading Plaidy"

Somewhere - and yes, I'm trying to find it - there's an infographic or ten describing various types of reader.  As in, you read one book at a time, or several, or only a single genre, or everything etc.

As anyone who looks at my Currently Reading on Goodreads knows, I'm a "lots of books at a time" reader.

And because I've been enjoying the way I've been blogging about the Morland Chronicles, I thought I might start doing the same with the Jean Plaidy books I'm also working my way through.

As a result: welcome to "Reading Plaidy".

For the last few years I've been working my way through the Plantagenet Saga, but I have been known to skip around to other Sagas occasionally when I get bored or frustrated.  For example, I've read The Murder in the Tower, which is book 1 in the Stuart Saga.  I will get to the rest of the Stuart Saga soon - possibly sooner rather than later because of my current Morland (The Oak Apple) - but for now my main Plaidy is Epitaph for Three Women, in the Plantagenet Saga.

For the sake of record keeping, the books I've read so far:

Norman: Bastard King

Plantagenet: Plantagenet Prelude, Revolt of the Eaglets, Heart of a Lion, Prince of Darkness, Battle of the Queens, Queen from Provence, Hammer of the Scots, Follies of the King, Vow on the Heron, Passage to Pontefract, Star of Lancaster

Tudor: Mary, Queen of France;

Stuart: Murder in the Tower, Three Crowns

Victoria: Captive of Kensington Palace

I think that's all of them.  I've started a couple of the England's Queens, but I'm not listing them until I've finished them!

So - stay tuned for my first Reading Plaidy post: part one of Epitaph for Three Women.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Reading the Morlands: "The Oak Apple", pt 1

So, it's been a while!  Sorry about that. A couple of illnesses and then the chaos that is December has meant that as well as not blogging, I've not actually been reading. I think I finished one book in November, and none in December at all!

But now it's a new year, and a cleaning frenzy before having guests over New Year's revealed that the latest of my Morland reads, "The Oak Apple", had hidden itself beneath the sofa, so now I'm back to it!

Currently at p191

Before it slid beneath the sofa for six weeks, I'd read about the first 115 pages. On picking it up again I did find myself a little confused about what was going on, and I'm sure there are some elements I'm missing having not gone back to skim what I'd already read. I do appreciate the family tree in the front of the book, although I wish the print was larger!

Perhaps if I had gone back and skimmed I'd be more confident about just what the family's attitudes are in terms of religion: I know they were Very Catholic previously, but they seem to have moderated a little - for the sake of survival, perhaps? - and it's clear at this point that all but one part of the family will NOT be Puritans unless forced. 

Other thoughts: Edmund seems to be a slight improvement on recent Morland heirs - entirely undone by Richard, sadly. Hamil is a git of the first order, and Mary Esther is a delight. 

All in all, I'm glad to be back with the Morlands again after a lengthy break.