What are we reading?

So it turns out that our readers were 100% correct that The Suffragette Scandal is the best of the Brothers Sinister books.  The final short story is also worth reading as a nice coda.  Her Turner series is also pretty good– it was touch and go there for a little while with Unclaimed, but I should have trusted that Milan would turn the Prostitute With a Heart of Gold meme on its head.  Unraveled is excellent (and only 99 cents!).

I continue to enjoy the Lady Emily books by Tasha Alexander.  Currently on book 2.

Only a Kiss by Mary Balough was pretty disappointing.  Not up to par with the rest of the books in the survivor’s series.  Lady Imogen’s character doesn’t really seem to fit the character in the earlier novels and is only superficially explored.  The hero is kind of a jerk (and a pale imitation of a specific Heyer hero, though I’m not remembering which one off the top of my head).  Formulaic without heart or soul.  (I also tried reading 3 more of her old books but so much rapity rape and hero not taking no for an answer… at least with her more modern books she’s learned the sexiness of consent.  Thank goodness modern romance novelists no longer seem to think that “no means yes over-rule me” is acceptable.)

The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (free on kindle).  I found out on a long plane flight recently that I *hadn’t* read all the sherlock holmes stories, I still had one book in the unread folder in my kindle.  No idea how I missed it.  Anyway, this is the book with the dog that didn’t bark.  But it’s also got a nice little story about a woman who doesn’t trust her husband that has a surprisingly good moral.  Go Arthur Conan Doyle!

if you read edenbrooke as a parody of regency romance, it is excellent and hilarious.  If you take it seriously, it is horribly written, irritating and repetitive.  (Twirling?  Really?)  She does name her heroine after the irritating sister from sense and sensibility.

Was also somewhat disappointed with Bet Me by Jessica Crusie.  The heroine is really likable but I think forcing food on someone who doesn’t want it is almost as bad as telling someone she shouldn’t eat it.  Also, no means no.  I hate it when the hero is allowed to not take no for an answer.  Whether it’s physical relations or donuts.  That’s just not cool.  Trust people to have control over their own bodies and listen to what they say about them.

Also a little disappointed in Prudence.  It’s ok, but I think I won’t actually be buying a copy after I return the library book.  :/  Also the first chapter of the library edition is just swimming in typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, though that seems to be limited to just the first chapter.  Very odd.

Lots of long plane flights, jet-lagged reading in bed at weird times, etc.  What have I read?

#2 gave me Serpentine by Cindy Pon, which I read on the plane and now I’m waiting for the sequel.  Easy to read and page-turning.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.  This is a series of high fantasy novels, each of which is well over a thousand pages.  I can only get through them on kindle on long long trips.  Good stuff, very evocative.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.  A podcast recommended this (and #2 got it for me as a wedding gift) and I liked it!  Hot.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig.  For fans of Richard Kadrey (which I am).

I think that’s all I read on the trip, besides several guidebooks.  Oh, and a book of short stories that was only ok.  And lots of crossword puzzles.

Other reading has included Chapelwood by Cherie Priest.  Squee!  Love this stuff.

I have a million books on deck, so exciting.  If only I didn’t keep having to go to my job!

Moar reading diary

Hm, looks like yesterday was our five-year blogaversary.  Whoops!

What have we been reading lately?  A selection:

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev — picked up on the recommendation of a commenter.  The female lead is painfully naive at the age of 24, but she has pluck and gumption.  I like the complexity of the characters.  The male lead is a bit of a dork, but I promise there’s a happy ending with lots of happy family.  You should read it!

— More books in some urban fantasy series I’m reading.

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers.  Parts of this book are fascinating in the descriptions of the creatures who love books and the bookish city they live in (and under).  The characters are dinosaurs, gnome-like things, giant talking worms, sentient books, etc…. and YET none of them are female.  My score: plus one for whimsy and bibliophilia, minus three for sausage-fest.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan (which #2 also read and really liked).  Very cute romance with smart heroine.  I heard about it on a podcast.  An apparent happy ending, then complications.  Then a REALLY happy ending!  Note this is a bit more sordid than most of the regencies we recommend (it dips its toe into “Victorian” literature not just “Long Regency”), but it doesn’t go into graphic detail and the sordid events are in the past.  This book is a bit special because there are a number of times it takes a standard Regency trope and then resolves it sensibly or realistically rather than the way it’s typically resolved.  I kept going, I know what’s going to happen now, but oh, it didn’t, that is so much more sensible/realistic than what normally happens.  (Also the sex scenes are different than the standard formula a lot of these books use.  They illustrate character and provide growth for the couple.)  UPDATE:  We should have noted that this one is FREE FOR KINDLE.  Because it is like CRACK and she knows you will end up getting more in the series.  AT FULL PRICE.  At the AIRPORT.

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.  Heard about it on Scalzi’s blog.  Enjoyable and I’ll read the next one.  Steampunk/romance/adventure and the heroine is a healer.

#2 has been clearing out some unread books in her bookcase in preparation for her trip, mostly by reading them or giving up on reading them and putting them in the to send/donate pile.  The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson was ok but not a keeper.  Definitely a library book– worth reading once and never again (#1 has read two of these from the library).  A number of the “detective-midwife” mysteries that my mom left last time she visited didn’t make the cut because they’re too sordid for my delicate sensibilities.  Likewise a number of best-selling book-club books that my sister passed on didn’t make it either because they were too sordid (The Thirteenth Tale) [Hey, #1 liked The Thirteenth Tale! #1 has a higher tolerance for sordid.] or because they were boring (The Possessed).

Two library duds by Mary Balogh.  First comes marriage was really clunky and in sore need of editing (she would tell rather than show, then show in addition to the previous telling).  The hero was also kind of a jerk.  The ideal wife was much better edited, but really stretched believability to the point of cracking and threw in a random gratuitous rape near the end (not a rape scene, but a completely unnecessary rape to illustrate a point that had already been made multiple times and was dealt with as an aside by everyone involved– very poor form).  Sometimes she writes amazing work and sometimes you just have to wonder what she was thinking.  We suspect the quality of editing may have something to do with it, unless the 2009 copyright on the former novel is a lie.  (The 1991 initial copyright may have something to do with the latter’s flaws.)  OTOH, A Matter of Class was a delightful novella, and At Last Comes Love, the third in the Huxtable series, was much better than First Comes Marriage (granted, it also has rape in it, but at least isn’t so blase about it).

In related news, I gave Carla Kelly a second try, and Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career was far better than my first attempt at reading her.  The ending was still pretty ridiculous– Kelly seems to think she needs to pack in unnecessary drama at the end when a simple conversation would suffice.

One surprising book that turned out to be a keeper is a 1940 YA book (library discard) entitled The Fair Adventure by Elizabeth Janet Gray.  Despite the cover and title, it is not actually an Adventure book– I was expecting spies or treasure or something, but nope, it’s a slice of life coming of age book.  It is about a girl from the South who has just graduated valedictorian from high school and more than anything wants to go to (a renamed) Bryn Mar. It’s full of her relatives saying sexist things.  And yet… Despite being decades earlier than the wonderful Dinny Gordon books, it has a lot of the same themes (though not as good on race issues) and is quietly subversive.  Worth a read!

 Anything you want to add to your reading list, Grumpeteers?  Anything we should add to ours?

In which we talk about good books that are great to read

#1:  BTW, *all* of the Survivors’ Club books I’ve read so far have been delightful.  It is a fun fun series.
#2:  I stayed up late reading The Escape.  It was so good!  I was impressed with how Balogh managed to work everything out neatly at the end of The Escape.  Not TOO neat and tidy, but everything turned out in the end!

#1:  right now I’m knee deep in the first one I think the Escape’s been the best so far, but I seriously enjoyed the first two.
#2:  who gets together in the first one?
#1: Hugo, Lord Eames.

#2: Big ups for disability representation. I was impressed.
#1: YES! and she’s obviously done her research on the disabilities, even the mental health ones, which you will see in Flavian Lord Ponsoby’s story
#2:  excellent.  He has the stutter, and doesn’t Hugo have the PTSD? At the end of The Escape is a short story called “The Suitor” about Vincent, too.
#1:  Hugo mostly came to terms with his disability in the 7 years between leaving the war and the book starting. But there’s another mental health story that rings really true in the first book
#2: Excellent.
#1: You know I’m going to have to get the series.
#2:  Phillippa Dean is supposed to go marry Vincent the Viscount, but her heart is set on old flame Julian Crabbe…. CAN TRUE LOVE WIN THE DAY?
#1:  oh man oh man.  We meet Phillippa Dean at the beginning of Vincent’s book and her engagement is mentioned in his book near the end. They’re all so good. Vincent is a good guy.
#2:  well we already know who Vincent marries

#1: Get The Proposal (Book 1) next that’s the one I am thoroughly enjoying.  It also has a lot of commentary on class and culture and some signs of the end of the victorian age. The only thing it’s lacking is more stuff about agriculture.  I mean, it talks about agriculture, but doesn’t get into the weeds like I like.  Heyer does a good job getting into the weeds there.
#2:  if you want long tracts about agriculture you can always read Anna Karenina
#1: ugh, no thank you
#2: so many cabbages
#1:  I wrote a paper in college on Emma in the midst of an agricultural revolution
#2:  you are delightfully nerdy
#1:  My prof was especially impressed with me noticing that the only time Harriet says anything sensible is when she’s talking about agriculture.
#2:  you are one smart cookie.
#1:  That semester I was taking three classes that spent large portions of time on 19th century England.  Only my math class was exempt.
#2:  in college I wrote snarky-ass papers about how much I liked the characters in the V.I. Warshawski Novels by Sara Paretsky.  Especially Lotte, the Austrian Jewish doctor who performed free safe abortions
#1:  I have not read Sara Paretsky
#2:  I dunno that you’d like her. Chicago-based private eye VI Warshawski solves mysteries. If you like detective novels they’re good.
#1:  My mom left a bunch of similar themed books here the last time she stayed.  They haven’t been light enough for me to want to get into them
#2: yeah, they’re probably not fluffy enough for you right now
#1: it must be a sub-genre, mystery novels with abortion doctors in them.  My mom left one series about a historical midwife who solves crimes, I think.  They’re all just a little bit sordid
#2:  oh, hunh.  I didn’t know that.  This character’s main trait isn’t that she does abortions though, it’s that she is a great friend
#1:  mostly they seem to be early 20th century.  Wait, does this have an Australian mini-series based on it?
#2: no
#1: have you seen that?
#2: not that I know of anyway.  What series?
#1: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries I think set in the 1920s.
#2:  no, these ones are later than that
#1:  we saw two episodes and it was really high quality but too sordid for me
#2: these [Paretsky] ones are like in the 1990s
#1:  ah, the ones my mom left are all 1920s-1950s
#2: and I think (IIRC) that the friend is not specifically an abortion doctor, just that she knows how to do abortions and so she does them (in addition to other doctoring).  The VI Warshawski ones are like 1990s. If I’m thinking of the right series, she goes rollerblading.
#2:  hunh! Never heard of those but it does look like lovely production values
#1:  I suspect you will love it.  Australian.  Really interesting because the upper-crust all have British accents, but the normal people have Aussie accents.
#2:  actually I think I have heard of the book series but not read them
#2: I will probably enjoy that, you’re right

#1:  I want to read the stories of some of these other characters too [in the Survivors’ Club].  The glimpses of backstories are so interesting that I’m certain there must be another series that gives them full attention.  I love the way Balogh has created an entire world and we see people in it multiple times.  Even if there are still more young attractive dukes than could ever be possible.  I wonder what book is Lily’s story
#2: mmm delicious dukes
#1: this one has a lovely way of showing the same scene from both the hero and the heroine’s perspectives. Aiee, I just hit the part where the reader is firmly convinced that they’re perfect for each other.  Balogh is CLEVER.

Recent (YA-heavy) library picks

Tagged by Diane C. Mullen (middle grade/YA): interesting writing style.  Kid from the urban projects does graffiti, learns about art in small-town boonies.

This One Summer (YA graphic novel): written by two cousins.  Two girls weather the ups and downs of summer by the lake: family and friends in turmoil, swimming, horror movies, sleeping late, bonfires on the beach.

The Escape by Mary Balogh (historical romance): in the style of Venetia in that the characters are mature and they fall in love believably over time with minimal drama the old fashioned way, by getting to know each other– but you know, with sex (which is unlike Venetia).  A widow finds love with a disabled war veteran.  Very sweet.  Also read some earlier Balogh and it wasn’t as good (heroines who want/need to be mastered blech), but still entertaining if you can suspend disbelief.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us By Murray Carpenter (nonfiction):  the book podcasters loved this one.  It will definitely fill you up with “did you know?” facts that you can foist on people at parties.

Midnight Never Come (The Onyx Court, Book 1) by Marie Brennan (fantasy).  The first in a series, but I don’t feel the need to read the rest, although I have read and will read others by her.  I’ve read quite a few takes on the “faeries in Elizabeth’s court” trope and I generally like them; this one more than most.  Just the right amount of politics. I have also read a couple books in Brennan’s “Lady Trent’s memoirs” series that starts with A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, and I’m about halfway through her first novel, Warrior (Doppelganger).  (#2 thought Natural History started out great but then lost steam… she skimmed through much of the second half or so and doesn’t plan to read another in the series.)

Lumberjanes Vol. 1 (YA or adult graphic novel):  First collection of the comic by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen.  Not a library pick but rather a thing I now own.  Acclaimed for being awesome!  Smart girls at summer camp, “Friendship to the max,” and strong women role models.

In further long-regency (that’s romance novels set in the long 19th century, even though the regency is only a small part of it) news: #2 found Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly to be ok.  It would have been better without the large amount of drama condensed into the end.  The book didn’t need it and would have been better without it.  #2 does NOT recommend Mary Jo Putney (particularly Never Less than a Lady) as when one is reading regency novels, one does not need or want graphic descriptions of rape and torture (even if the actual rape/torture happened in the past).  UGH.  Putney seems to get some sadistic pleasure about describing it over and over again, each time more graphically.  Unfortunately the amazon one-star reviews didn’t warn me in advance, so I didn’t realize the graphic descriptions were coming and was still feeling warm and fuzzy about Balogh’s emotionally damaged heroes and heroines healing each other, or I would have stopped reading earlier.  As a “spoiler” (because can you really spoil a regency?) in the last chapter BOTH of these books (the Kelly and the Putney) have the heroine magnanimously forgiving the villain whose actions forced them into premature protective (‘cuz men can’t damage other men’s property!) marriage with the hero.  Unnecessary.

Tell us about good books in the comments!  Any kind.


What’s on your iPod?

This video because I am a huge nerd.  Also this video (NSFW!) because it is the funniest thing in the whole world.  Kanye’s song Power.  Albums and songs by Monty Python, MC Frontalot (quite a lot of songs), U2, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (singing Handel), Kathleen Battle, Michelle Branch, OAR, old Madonna, TMBG, Jessie J, Jonathan Coulton, the Muppets, P!nk, the Police, the Lion King, and the complete soundtrack of Labyrinth.

Podcasts about books and video games and other nerdy stuff and general stuff (some from maximumfun.org).  A photo of my cat.  A photo of my coolest pair of shoes.  A cartoon.

#2 does not have an ipod.  It is very sad.  Hir DH mostly keeps audio books on his mp3, and the occasional wait wait don’t tell me podcast or splendid table podcast.  We outnerd #1.  NPR nerdz!

What about you?


Angry Robot Army?

I dunno, man, it sounds kinda militaristic.  But yet!  AR Books!  So on-point!

Angry Robot Books publishes an extremely good-ass library of books. They have one of the highest hit-rates for me of books they publish that I read and own.  (#2 not so much.  #2 craves light and fluffy.  #2 does like Matthew Hughes though.  But he’s the only author on their list she is both familiar with and enjoys reading.  There’s no denying that, for example, Lauren Beukes is quality, but bad things happen to people in her books.)

They also publicize in areas that I see, and that helps.  Their ebooks are DRM-free.

The unusual thing for me is that I very rarely pay attention to which publishers are putting out which books.  Authors, yes; publishers, almost never (sometimes if it’s Subterranean Press).

I seem to be squarely in Angry Robot’s target audience, and they seem to be reaching me pretty well.

I like their books but I wish there weren’t an “army”.

Books of theirs that we have liked and/or found interesting and/or have read and/or own:

And more are on my wish-list, too!

There was a brief panic that a 2 of their imprints (which I’ve never heard of) are closing, but not the whole press.  Honestly I didn’t know they HAD imprints until I saw that post.  Their press release said, “The core Angry Robot imprint is robust, however, and we plan to increase our output from 2 books a month, to 3.”

So… yeah?  Keep rockin!


Grumpeteers, have you read any Angry Robot books?

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Who are your favorite authors of color?

Excelsior Bev recently asked her students who their favorite African American authors were, and we thought that was a fun question, but that we’d broaden it a bit.

#1:  Alexandre Dumas (Jr) hands down– though I didn’t know he was black until recently!   He’s not so great with his female characters (who are either paper dolls or evil villains), but his books are so much fun that I forgive him.

After that I know there are a lot of worthy POC authors who write amazing award winning serious fiction (and I did like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Their Eyes Were Watching God, but as worthy books, not fun books), but I really like popcorn books.  I really do.   So that means people like Lisa Yee and Justina Chen.  I also love almost all of A. Lee Martinez’s books.

Scalzi had a post the other month talking about the “read just women and people of color” challenge someone was doing, and I asked for recommendations for fun light stuff, but the only person who replied has a very different definition of “light” than I do (pro-tip:  Stephen King is not light).  That post also indicated to me that romance novelist Courtney Milan is a POC, which I didn’t know (I like her stuff!).  Recommendations for light stuff welcome in the comments!  (I did read some Marta Acosta light vampire stuff, and it was ok, but not worth owning.) (#2 owns the first but not the second book.)

#2 ZOMG, N. K. Jemisin all day long.  Saladin Ahmed.  Justina Chen Headley (again).  Y. S. Lee.  Nnedi Okorafor.  Dia Reeves.  Michelle Sagara (her stuff sometimes makes #1 cry on airplanes).  Gene Luen Yang.  I recently read Sofia Samatar’s award-winning novel and liked it.

And, as everybody should already know, Octavia E. Butler is objectively one of the best science fiction authors of all time.  (But not light!)

Start there!

Of course, we’re of a couple of minds about these segregated lists.  Well, not really.  It’s just a nuanced stand.  We hate the need for these separate lists and we wish that people would be included on the regular lists of “best of” because many *belong* there.  However, society isn’t there yet, so these lists are a way for people to broaden their horizons so that they can come into contact with amazing authors they wouldn’t normally read.  Being on one of these segregated lists should in no way preclude someone from going on the more general lists of “best of” and we should think really hard when we make a general “best of” list about composition to make sure we’re not running into implicit biases.  A standard procedure is to think about the best POC or female etc. author not on the general list and to compare him or her to the worst person on the general list (iterating to the next underrepresented person etc.).  More often than should be the case, that person really belongs on the general list too and was not included because of subconscious biases.  Eventually, thinking about people from underrepresented groups while making the list rather than after the list is made becomes more automatic.

One place where there are plenty of authors of color is the banned books list.  Boo.

Got anyone else we should read?  Spend your tax refund on books!  Or save it and use your library.


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