may reading roundup

The Grace of KingsI’d heard a lot of buzz about Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, so I was eager to dive into the first book of this Chinese-history-inspired “silkpunk” epic.

This book was well-paced; for a big book, it went fast and didn’t get bogged down in the middle. I also appreciated the focus on minor characters from time to time. Even if they disappeared within a few chapters, Liu used them to good effect in showing the scope of the rebellion and its disruptive effects.

On the flip side, it was hard to get attached to any character, including the three major ones. Plus, the ending strongly hinted at a type of inter-family conflict in future books that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d look at a sequel, but it wouldn’t automatically go on my Must Read list.

RingworldYes, I confess I’d never read Larry Niven’s Ringworld until last month. I vaguely knew that the Ringworld was an engineered mega-structure which completely ringed its sun, but actually exploring it in this book was enormously satisfying. Might be a theme for the month, but again I found myself caring a lot more about the worldbuilding than about the characters.

The Three-Body ProblemThe Three-Body Problem, a translated work by Chinese SF writer Liu Cixin is one of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel. I found it absolutely gripping. Would read the sequel in a heartbeat.

Tom's Midnight GardenMiss M. is reading this classic British children’s time travel fantasy, so I decided to hop on board this particular train. A very nostalgic book for me, down to the perfectly bittersweet ending, which reminded me of similar works in the genre that I read as a child.

Aside from these, I read through the Hugo nominees for Best Novella and Best Short Story categories.

april reading roundup

It’s been a long time since I did one of these! It’s been hard making time to read in between all my other busy-ness but I did start on a number of books.

Early on this month, I decided to put on my reading list classics that, for some reason or other, had passed me by (I’m sure we all have those!). Don Quixote is one, as are things like Herodotus’ The Histories and Plutarch’s Lives, and pretty much the majority of the American classics that most Americans read in high school (The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick, to name a few).

It’s been a long time since my formal education, so I thought I’d get into a “study literature” mood with some reference books. The two I read bits and pieces of were The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer and How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren. I’ve decided that my high schoolers should definitely read the latter before they go off to college.

The Well-Educated Mind

I was also in the mood for science fiction short stories, so I got a Larry Niven collection and an anthology out of the library.

The anthology is Old Venus, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozoir. The premise instantly attracted me: all these stories are set in the Venus of science fictional imaginings–a world of lush tropical jungles and huge oceans–before science revealed it to be the hellish place we known of today. All the stories showed a high level of skill and detailed envy-inducing worldbuilding, so which ones grabbed me and which ones didn’t came down to a  matter of taste. My particular favorites were Matthew Hughes’ “Greeves and the Evening Star” and Ian McDonald’s “Botanica Venerica: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathagan”, both of which feature upper-class aristocrats (one English, the other Irish). I’m not sure what that says about me!

Old Venus

Since I published Ironhand, and have other projects in various stages of completion on my plate, I re-read Discoverability by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This book started life as a series of blog posts that you can still read for free on Rusch’s website. I love Rusch’s approach to writing-as-business. My big takeaways from the book this reading were the WIBBOW test (Would I Be Better Off Writing? In most cases, yes), the necessity of having several books for sale before launching a massive marketing campaign (working on that), and of seeing ones’ books as individual assets and treating them as such.

Discoverability

What about you? Have you read anything good recently?

WANAFriday: a new-to-me author

This week’s #wanafriday blog prompt is: Share something cool that you’ve recently discovered with your blog readers. This could be a great book, a gripping TV show, a neat tip, an awesome recipe, or something else!

Many moons ago, I was waxing nostalgic about M. M. Kaye’s Death In… mysteries and bemoaning the fact that she’d only written six of them and I’d read them all. A blog reader (perhaps it was the lovely Ellen Gregory?) suggested I try Mary Stewart’s mysteries.

Now, I’d only ever heard of Mary Stewart because of her Merlin trilogy. I’d no idea she’d written romantic suspense (back before there was such a genre). Wanting to fill the Kaye-shaped hole in my reading life, I picked up her Airs Above the Ground.

And was hooked.

In short order, I tore through The Moonspinners, The Gabriel Hounds and My Brother Michael. I appreciate Stewart’s wonderfully evocative descriptions of her setting and her attention to details of the natural world. I enjoy her courageous heroines and her very manly men. It’s also interesting to note the way attitudes have changed over time, even in something as small and simple as the fact that people in her books smoke like chimneys!

I’m delighted to have discovered Mary Stewart’s mysteries and happy to recommend them to you. If you enjoyed Kaye’s Death In… books, you’re in for a treat with these!

 

Check out other people’s recent discoveries:

evenings with Jane Austen

Earlier this summer, I was on a Jane Austen kick (we’d just got back from a busy vacation and were dealing with sickness–and all I wanted were cosy, comfort reads or films).

Persuasion

Persuasion

My first Jane Austen craving was a desire to re-watch the 1995 Persuasion adaptation, starring Amanda Root. I’ve also watched the 2007 adaptation, which is shorter and disappointed me greatly by leaving out my favorite line from the book. Really, how else are you going to persuade Sir Elliot to rent Kellynch Hall to the Crofts without pointing out that a married lady with no children is a great preserver of furniture? The later adaptation also had Anne running amok all over Bath (that is so not Austen), but the Captain Wentworth was more handsome and broody. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

But handsomeness of actors aside, I prefer the older Persuasion which remains truer to the book (save in their portrayal of Helen Smith and their completely changing Mr. Elliot’s motivations for courting Anne) and in spite of Amanda Root’s deer-in-the-headlights look for far too much of the movie.

Then I re-read the book, and was reminded again what a hard role Anne Elliot is to play. Anne is a quiet woman, with an understated manner. She’s past her bloom, yet has enough delicate prettiness to attract attention. She is not a type of heroine who’s found a lot in modern books and movies.  It’s a lot easier to play spunky Elizabeth Bennet than it is to play an Anne Eliot with her elegant mind and sweet characterwithout making her look like a doormat.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

In the case of Sense and Sensibility I confess to loving the 2008 adaptation more than the book itself (shocking, I know!). The rather bland leading men of the book are rounded out and made more heroic in the movie. Colonel Brandon is not the relic of the book, but honorable, mature, active and attractive. Edward Ferrars is played engagingly by twinkle-eyed Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downton Abbey). Marianne’s histrionics over the loss of Willoughby are downplayed in the movie without losing any of the emotion. Elinor Dashwood remains an admirable, common-sensical young woman. And the adaptation does a fine job of putting the Dashwoods’ new cottage right on the cliffs with the wild wonderful sea as the backdrop. The location is absolutely stunning.

(I also much prefer this adaptation to the more famous Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet movie.)

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

I watched Masterpiece Theater’s Northanger Abbey for the first time, and found movie kinder to the characters than the book itself. Austen does not seem to really like her characters very much, which is off-putting to me as the reader. The movie deals much more gently with the romantic-minded Catherine Morland and the love that Henry Tilney bears for her (in spite of his disinheritance by his formidably snobbish father).

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Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park did not make it on to my reading and watching lists for various reasons. Right now, P&P suffers–in my mind–too much from over-exposure. I’ve never cared much for Emma and what I vaguely remember of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie seemed too contemporary (in attitude) for my tastes. I despised poor Fanny Price when I read Mansfield Park as a young teen–I suspect I’d be kinder to her today.

What is your favorite Austen book and/or adaptation?