Not-so-hot takes on reading fantasy

http://www.unboundworlds.com/2018/05/the-100-best-fantasy-novels-of-all-time/

Is this a hot take?  I’m blogging about a blog post.  (Color commentary from #2!)

Things I have read:

1 (excellent) [#2 agrees], 3, 4 (great, plus the sequel is better), 5, 6 (it’s right in my wheelhouse), 7, 8 [#2 found Eddings’ treatment of his few female characters to be unnecessarily tropey– #2 is secretly proud of what a good feminist she was as a kid], (not 10 but the other one of the pair, which was great), 11, 13 (THE BEST!) [#2 notes that this was what made her start reading fantasy in earnest when Ms. A assigned it in 4th grade], 14 [#2 was kind of meh on this one– Lloyd Alexander would do better about female characters in his later books], 19 (the whole trilogy), 20, 21, 23, 26, 27, 28 [#2 says, Anne McCaffrey died for me in the third book when her hero tw rape] (I didn’t ever read the third one), 33 [#2:  I swear we read about every single time a character poops, and yet, I read like 5 of these… they go down easy, I guess], 34, 35 (HELL YES), 36, 38 (deserves all the awards it won!), 39, 43, 45, 46, 48 (a lonnnng time ago), 50 (so many times), 52, 53 (more than once), 54 (everybody go read this), 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 (#2 may have given this to me as a gift) [#2:… I don’t think so but I probably made you read all her stuff when I should have also been making you read Edward Eager– I certainly kept a couple of her Chrestomanci books in our room], 61, 63, 65 (I literally got this from my mother) [#2 notes this one was extremely popular sophomore year with all the girls– very unfeminist for something that pretends to be feminist], 66 (and the sequel), 70, 72 (I think?), 73, 74 (was not as impressive as people make out), 75 (ditto!), 76, 80, 82 (these books are soothing) [#2:  borrrrring], 83, 84 (this one plus the sequel; need more!) [#2:  there’s a sequel?!  To the wishlist!], 85, 87 (this series is great), 88 (SO GOOD Y’ALL) [#2:  buy it!], 89, 90, 91 (LOVE IT), 93, 94, 96 [#2: I trudged through this– I find her later stuff more readable], 97, 98 (I think), 99 (this series ate my brain in a good way), 100 (ditto).

Things I started but couldn’t finish:

2 (#2 may have read this) [#2:  I read it the year it came out and recall liking it– what I did not like was the later books in which she slept with her boss and then with her much older mentor YUCK– I’m so glad #metoo has made people realize that is NOT ok], 15, 29, 44, 51 (kept trying, could never do it), 60 (hate that whiny jerk), 62, 71, 77 (tried twice, too dense), 79 [#2:  Wait, for real?  But it’s so good!  Oh, I bet you tried to read it in paperback, which is nigh impossible– check out a hardback from the library.  The print is in different colors which makes it easier to parse.]

Things I haven’t started (yet):

9, 12 (I will probably read this at some point), 16 (currently on my library list), 17 (never heard of it, though I’ve heard of the author), 18 (ditto), 22, 24 (probably will read at some point, just for the lulz), 25 (but I’ve read other things by her), 30 (ditto), 31, 32, 37 (someday), 40, 41 (seems huge tho), 42 [#2:  HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE READ THIS?!?!? I made DH read it, how did I miss you? And 7 day magic which is EVEN BETTER and about a BOOK!], 47, 49 (heard good things about this), 64 (on the list for someday) [#2 I liked it– oddly popular among economists], 67 [#2:  A very quick read, but nice!], 68 (though I have another book by this author on my wish list), 69 (I think– can’t tell from the description), 78, 81 (is on a list somewhere), 86, 92 (is on my shelf right now) [#2:  tell me if it is any good– I love Matthew Hughes and they say he’s a modern Jack Vance], 95 (will probably read at some point).

I read a lot of fantasy and am aware of a lot more.  I read a LOT of fantasy.

Need speculative fiction recommendations?  Ask away!  Have spec fic recs?  Do tell!

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Locally specific manners? Reading at the dinner table edition

Do you let your kids read at the table?  I feel like this used to be impolite but personally, I have no problem with it.  When I was growing up, at home we were allowed to read at lunch (my dad still does).  But we were not allowed to read at the dinner table.

I’m lucky that my parents supported and modeled that reading for fun is a great thing to do.  My dad’s mother was also a big reader, and as a result so are most of her children.  I think it’s ok to read in restaurants and bars (if you can concentrate).  My nightmare is a person who sits on a plane next to me and brings nothing to do except talk.  What did you plan to do for this six-hour flight, just stare into space???

Do you think reading at the dinner table is rude or perfectly ok?

#2 who has kids hasn’t really given this much thought but her kids do read at the dinner table sometimes.  We’re much more informal about meals than we were growing up though and sometimes eat standing up in the kitchen.  #2 also cannot handle the middle-seat chatterbox who has run out of the airplane magazine.  #2 wants to read novels uninterrupted on planes!

What are we reading?

I read a novella called River of Teeth. It was super fun! A caper. (“It’s not a caper! It’s an operation.”)

A great middle-grade graphic novel is Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. It’s about how it’s hard to make friends and being friends is cool, but sometimes complicated.

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford the main character is a 12-year-old boy who lives with his parents in an old weird huge B&B.  Snowed in over winter break, he and his friend start LARPing a D&D campaign in the inn! THERE ARE SO MANY MYSTERIES maybe a secret identity or two, I dunno.  It had a satisfying ending.  The second book is also good, though it drags a bit.

You should read Ladycastle by Delilah S. Dawson.  There’s references to Hamilton, Oracle from the Batman universe, Beauty and the Beast, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Monty Python.

Someone to love by Mary Balogh was pretty boring, and has a bit of unnecessary cultural appropriation.  I guess it’s the first in a series and she’s introducing more interesting characters than the two main ones.  I dunno.  Sadly there is absolutely nothing original about the book (even the cultural appropriation) and the hero isn’t fleshed out enough (or the sex scenes sexy enough) for it to stand on merits other than plot.  Someone to Wed was better than Someone to Love.  It’s the third but for some reason the library got it before the second, so I requested them out of order.  Worth a library read, but not a purchase, I think.  The second book, Someone to Hold, started off strong with a really great heroine (someone finding herself), but the hero was meh and the romance was rushed.  It would have done better to meander and grow throughout rather than have sex and misunderstandings.  Another worth it from the library but don’t need to own.  The fourth was also fine, but not great, so I’m glad our library is invested in getting Baloghs when they come out so I can try without having to buy.

The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne could have been good, but it wasn’t.  Also:  this is the second “lady auctioneer tries to save auction-house despite her older brother’s whatever” plot I’ve read in the past month.  The other one was better.  The main failing of this one is a hero who deliberately ignores the heroine’s express no, which somehow is supposed to be fine when it is the hero.  In a sort of meta thing, once she does surrender she loses her voice and herself and the book becomes all about him.  Pretty blah.  I wouldn’t have finished if it weren’t for wanting the missing brother thing to be resolved.  But then that was resolved off-screen, so… I assume book 3 or 4 has the actual on-screen bits.  I’m not sure if I want to bother or not.  Probably not.  :/  I mean I’ve read worse, but…  Right now I’m feeling the need to reread a regency in which we discover that consent is super sexy.  Sooo sexy.

The Lightning-Struck Heart. Gay humorous fantasy. It’s hilarious but also packs in a surprising amount of emotion. However be prepared for MANY sex puns. It has excellent dialog among a group of friends as well as between the love interests. When I first started reading it, I was like, this is too cutesy to live. But it turned out to be good. Sadly the second turned into a weird anti-Trump thing and just wasn’t that enjoyable.  The first one’s still brain candy.

I thoroughly enjoyed Miss Buncle’s book. It’s in the Pippa Passes line of literature which I generally enjoy (like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or Cold Comfort Farm). Very fresh for something written in the 1930s (there’s some stuff that is a bit dated, but overall, surprisingly fresh for something that was never made into a movie!).

Kelly Bowen is my newest love.  You should all get Between the Devil and the Duke. It has a plot, mystery, and adventure! blackmail! intrigue! highwaymen! military veterans! businesswomen!(plural!) It is a little bit sordid and it does have a few sex scenes if you’re not into that. The hero falls in love with the heroine early in the book when she asks him to choose between different mathematical scenarios, which, not coincidentally, is when I fell in love with the book. And it has a completely satisfying climax and denouement. I now need to get the rest of her books even though my library only has 3 of them. (I’m buying this one.)  The first two in that series (Duke of my heart, A duke to remember) are fine, but not as good.  They’re also more sordid and have rape (including child/teen rape) as a back story but don’t go into much detail.  Note that with all three of them, historical accuracy is not a priority.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is an odd but fun romp.  The hero isn’t particularly likable or multi-dimensional (your standard brooding Duke) and if you care at all about historical accuracy this one is not for you (there are Star Wars jokes!) but it’s over-the-top silliness makes it worth at least a library read.  Just don’t start it expecting anything serious. Cosplayers! Bats! Secret passageways! Ermine!  Total brain candy.

I enjoyed Cat Sebastian’s latest, Unmasked by the Marquess, but I know it really wasn’t that great a book.  Like, I kept reading it and thinking about how amazing KJ Charles is.  And yet, it was silly and unbelievable, and I do not begrudge the $3.99 I spent on it nor the fact I will probably reread it some day.

I gave up on two library checkouts:  Six Impossible Things by Elizabeth Boyle which wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t any good.  I tried, but I just could not care and the book needed editing.  Books like these make me really appreciate imperfect books like the Cat Sebastian or the Tessa Dare above– silly, unbelievable, but at least one likable believable character in each (most of the main characters in the Cat Sebastian were likable).   Couldn’t get into Jane Ashford’s Once again a bride.  Skipped to the end and wasn’t impressed by the ending and decided there was no point in trying out the middle.  I had gotten lucky with my last few new tries.  Now I have to decide whether it’s worth paying money to take a chance of the Kelly Bowens I haven’t read yet or if I should try more of what my library has to offer even though that sometimes means spending more time looking for books than actually reading them.  (Or I can reread some that I already own– there’s one book that I really want to reread but I can’t remember which one it was!  Right now I’m thinking maybe it was one of the temptation books by Lauren Royal, but maybe it’s a Loretta Chase that I never purchased… I don’t know!)

It’s summertime!  What are you reading?

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What are we reading

Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian!  Cat Sebastian is another author who does regency m/m romances and she’s lighter than KJ Charles, but still good.  I liked her so much I bought all 4 of her books that are out and wishlisted her two forthcoming books.  I wouldn’t recommend buying the first in the Sedgewick series if you can get it at your local library (it had one really well-developed main character but the other main character was more 2-d and not that likable and the plot never really gelled) but the three books in the Turner series were all super wonderful.  A++ Would recommend, will read again.  I started with my favorite rake/bluestocking trope (though in this case the bluestocking is a guy and also the scientist trope), because I tend not to love the books with “soldier” in the title, but in this case the first is probably the best of a really great three book series (which was obvious after meeting the protagonists of the Soldier’s book in the rake’s book).

Jordan L. Hawke was ok.  I liked the first in her Whyborne and Griffin series, Widdershins. It’s about a philologist(?) (Some kind of linguist) who is dealing with growing up being gay in a society where that’s illegal and it’s caused him to be very anti-social and possibly estranged from his family. He tells the early books in first person (the later books alternate between the two protagonists). The second hero is this super handsome private investigator who has stumbled onto something paranormal.  Hawk is not anywhere near as good as KJ Charles; she’s highly derivative–you’ll feel like you’ve read this one before many times BUT her heroes are new, and so sweet.  The first short story was also definitely worth the 99 cents because it was in the first person of the second guy and you get an insight into what he sees in the main character of the novel.  They’re both super insecure and think the other person is amazeballs, and, of course, they’re both right about the other person so… A+++ on romance and character development but B- on plot (I grade generously).  I mean, it’s not like bad or anything, it’s just, you know, derivative but not cleverly enough for my taste.  (Though it is cute that the universities are Arkham and Miskatonic.) Book 7 in the series sticks out as all around good, but the rest of the series after the first book I found myself skipping large chunks, mostly in the middle.  There’s also a LOT of death, much of it gratuitous.   Her Hex series is more interesting in terms of the world-building, but even darker.  So much death.  Those poor redshirts, there to provide Angst and Pathos and to further the plot.

Fool me twice by Meredith Duran had a really strong start– it was gripping and I couldn’t put it down for like the first 40%.  But then it stopped being excellent and was just good.  I’m not sure if I’m going to buy a copy.  Sadly, my library does not have any of the rest in the series, so I’m being forced to buy the rest without pre-reading them, and they’re somewhat more expensive than the $3.99 I’m used to paying.  I did really enjoy the 99 cent first novella in that series, your wicked heart, even though it was pretty silly and only gets 3.5 stars on amazon.  I do wonder about that typing school that makes all its graduates smell like roses even when they haven’t washed or been near any kind of scent in days.  Her heroes also all seem to share an odd fascination with the backs of knees.  That scandalous summer was probably not worth the $7.99 I paid for it, but it was definitely worth a library read if my library had had it.  I enjoyed the heroine in Lady Be Good and am really looking forward to the heroine in Luck Be a Lady (which was already on my amazon list as it’s one of her highest rated books).  See… one of the things with this series is that she gets you super curious about the heroines of future (or previous) books– it’s how she hooks you, and the wealthy auction house owner whose brother is up to no good is extremely compelling in the book that introduces her as that heroine’s boss.  So the series as a whole may be better than the books individually.  So I may end up having to purchase Fool me twice even though it’s $9.  Update:  Luck Be a Lady was fine, but not as good as one would have expected it to be given the build up in Lady Be Good- possibly better if read out of order or with more time in between.  I went ahead and bought the next book in the series too– it’s one of my least favorite tropes, husband and wife are separated early in their marriage by countries because of a misunderstanding and then reunite years later, but in this case the misunderstanding is that she thinks he ran off with a mistress whereas in reality he was kidnapped by a political opponent and put on a prison island for several years.  So… that’s an interesting, and more understandable twist than the usual misheard something while eavesdropping sort.

I liked the second Madeline Hunter Fairbourne quartet book, The conquest of lady cassandra, enough to request the first from the library, but not enough to buy it for my kindle.  The second is probably better after having read the first– the beginning was pretty confusing if you didn’t know the characters already, which I didn’t.

The third Sasha Cottman, The Duke’s Daughter, was so terrible I gave up trying to read it and just skimmed the second half.  Heroine is TSTL, which she was in the first two books too (but she was just the ditzy friend in those), and the hero doesn’t make any sense.  It built him up very well in the beginning and then when the forced marriage drama thing happened he reacted completely differently than he’d been built up to react.  Also she takes his agency away in several cases and he doesn’t seem to mind(?)– we’re talking she tries to give him a sleeping draught without telling him and does things to him in his sleep levels of taking his agency away.  And he’s just like, oh, how horrible a person I must be to make her treat me like this.  Which totally doesn’t make any sense given how he reacted to the forced marriage.  And if they’d just talked things out in the first place… There wouldn’t have been a book I guess.  At least it was only $2.99.  Do not recommend!  I wonder if she lost her editor between books 2 and 3.  Update:  Sasha Cottman is now dead to me—I had another of her books (Not in that series?  About a missionary daughter and a spy?) on a kindle and it was pretty boring and pretty patriarchal with another TSTL heroine but I was on a plane and groggy so I was pushing through…until I hit rape as a backstory.  Pretty unbelievable backstory too.  Flipped to the epilogue in which the missionary mom who encouraged the rape mentions in a letter that the rapist has married her ladies maid and he does whatever his wife tells him to do (despite his use of sexual violence on the heroine and promises to break her of her stubbornness after a forced marriage) and what a happy couple they are.  Just ugh on so many levels.  Unfortunately the book was a gift and it is a pain to get reimbursed from Amazon for gifts but maybe I’ll try anyway.  Should not have put them on my wishlist in the first place.

I’m not naming them here, but in the past 3 months, I have read no fewer than 3 books whose plot twist turns out to be that the heroine(/main character) is the legitimate heir of a bigamist nobleman.  I guess that’s better than carriage accidents, but man, do these people belong to the same plot of the month club?  Or did two of them steal from the first, or did they all steal from some other book I haven’t read yet?

What are you reading?

RBOC

  • DC1’s algebra teacher quit to join administration a couple of weeks after the second semester started (after a week long absence).  I guess we’ll have to keep a closer eye on the rest of the semester since algebra is so fundamental and I’m pretty sure zie doesn’t now how to factor polynomials even if zie does know how to multiply them.
  • Super bummed that Teen Vogue is no longer doing a print edition.  The last few issues were AMAZING, including one guest edited by HRC.  Irritatingly, they switched DC1’s subscription over to Allure magazine “the magazine for people who care about beauty” or something like that.  Full of “beauty tips.”  This month’s issue was on nudity and had a nearly naked airbrushed stereotypical model on the cover.  Completely not appropriate for an 11 year old or really anybody.  And very different from a magazine that features people like Malala Yousafzi on the cover.  I will be getting a check for $2 in the mail for my cancellation– Teen Vogue should have been charging more.  It’s a different market and was worth much more than the ridiculous $10 for 2 years or whatever it was I paid.
  • Forgive me, for I have referred to a paper about fertility as “seminal” in published work.  Next up:  referring to a paper about religion as “canonical”.  And a paper about building cities as, “ground-breaking” (or should I save that one for agriculture?).
  • it is weird to me that my kids have had macarons before having had macaroons.
  • DC2 has moved onto chapter books at school.  Zie is in love with the Geronimo Stilton that DC1 read maybe once or twice.  They have such different taste in books.  Really the only commonality is that they both love Jim Benton, author of Franny K Stein and Dear Dumb Diary.  I so wish we had Scholastic so I could indulge in buying sets of series we don’t have (like Thea Stilton!)
  • Preserved walnuts are really good.  If you ever get the opportunity to try/buy them, take it!
  • My cholesterol is fine this year (whew!), so maybe all that additional lunchtime walking did some good!  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have helped with my vitamin D levels (which may explain the fatigue I’ve been having), so my doctor wants me to go from 2000 iu to 5000 iu.  I’m going to compromise and do 4000 iu because that means I can have a 2000 iu when I brush my teeth and keep another bottle of 2000 iu in my office when I get my mid-day slump.
  • It isn’t a bargain if you can’t afford it.
  • We owed an additional $2846 in taxes this year, not counting the estimated taxes for this next year.  [Update:  We forgot a whole ton of donations– didn’t go through the school email folder or the check register, so it’s actually $100 less than that.  With the additional donations, we’re just a little over the standard deduction.  Also turns out there’s no point for us to declare a home office since we don’t get anywhere near the minimum for it to count for us– We make too much and our house is too big and too cheap.]
  • DC2’s school was having a performance for parents/relatives and one of their dances had them shooting with finger guns.  This disturbed DC2 enormously given that they started practicing right after the FL school shooting.  Thankfully someone decided to change that number to something in less bad taste.

What are we reading: Romance edition.

#1 skipped large middle chunks of Patricia Bray then deleted on kindle.  Waste of a dollar.

I enjoyed Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley enough to purchase it.  There’s no onscreen sex, if that’s important.  It’s a fun caper where the protagonists fall in love over books.  The end is a bit rushed, but there’s also no unnecessary angst.  (The best part though is a glimpse the love affair of the long-dead parents!)  The first in the series is free on Amazon but I haven’t read it yet (update: it was ok, but not worth paying for).  I also haven’t read the second in the series, but plan to…

I tried a couple of Patricia Rice regencies, but I don’t like how the heroes take away the heroine’s agency, even when having agency is a big deal for the heroine and it seems like the resolution should include the hero giving in on that.  We’re talking about things like, I dunno, secretly marrying the women against their will in Scotland where the marriage rules are different and not telling them they’ve been married until months later when circumstances have made it far too late for an annulment.  Or, you know, not stopping sex when the woman is in pain because of his “need”.  UGH.  Or forcing the heroine to have sex as a transaction in a situation where she doesn’t want to, but feels that she has to in order to save someone else.  Not cool.  Her Genius series is a modern set of romances… the amazon reviews complain about it having a liberal agenda, but there are too many uncomfortable racial and homosexual “jokes” for it to truly be liberal… or maybe it just shows how far we’ve come in the past 20-30 years in terms of what’s not cool to say about minorities.  I won’t purchase it, but I think I’ll try the second in the genius series, and later books seem to get higher reviews.  So I dunno… it felt like the books could be really good if they were just updated and the bad parts that used to be more common in this literature were removed.  It’s possible that, like Mary Balogh, her more recent books are less icky because the entire genre has moved away from icky.

Genuinely enjoyed The Heiress Companion, which is an old fashioned (and clean) regency novella by Madeline Robins.  It is no The Grand Sophy, but a pleasant read nonetheless.  Lady John and My Dear Jenny were also pretty good.  Spanish Marriage and Althea were both pretty awful, though in different ways.

Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith was also worth buying.  An old-fashioned style regency, if that makes sense.  (Not a bodice-ripper, older than that– more Austen-style.)  Not perfect, but soothing.

We both love love LOVED KJ Charles’ latest, Spectred Isle. The adopted son of Simon Feximal is in it!  SOOOOO GOOOOOOD.  Neither of us can wait for the next one.

In the modern world, #2 read and liked Attachments, which was Rainbow Rowell’s first book. Can you fall in love with someone via email? (Of course.) I think I’ve already mentioned Carry On somewhere on this blog.

Finally, we love books. I loved the little book, Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Writing letters to books is a neat idea and maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Get to reading, Grumpeteers! Tell us what’s good in romance.

Books… in… spaaaaace!

Ok, I was listening to this podcast episode about (what else?) books and reading.  One of the hosts, Brea Grant, is a nervous airplane passenger, as am I.  She says that her secret is to read books that are set in space.  She reads books that let her think she’s not trapped in a small metal tube but rather out in the vasty darkness.  I think this is a great idea.

My recommendations are:

(The standard here might be Ancillary Justice, if you haven’t read it already)

I recommend The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.  The sequel is great, but not as space-ish. Not fantastic: The Ship Who Sang (by Anne McCaffrey) isn’t great art, but it’ll while away an afternoon.

Most things in the Liaden series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.  There are several places you can start, including The Crystal Variation, and/or Fledgling.

Only a little bit in space, but great: Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi.  Pretty awesome.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.  Oooh! Murder mystery in space. Page-turner-y.

What have you got, Grumpy Readers?