Recover Reading: non-mysteries

I didn’t only read mysteries while I was recovering, even though it might seem that way. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the other books I went through!

I had read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan in its original incarnation, as a serial published on her blog. So when the book was announced, I was excited to revisit it, but also curious about how the story might change in a different form. As it turns out, the heart of Elliot, Luke, and Serene’s journey remains unchanged, but the book is significantly revised and expanded from the original. It remains one of my favorite recent takes on portal fantasies and just as hilarious and heart-rending/warming as I remembered.

Then I picked up The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I had expected. I was looking for a Hornblower/Aubrey-esque airship escapade, and I do think that’s what it wanted to be. But for me it seemed a bit too grim and the characters never quite solidified. However, several people I generally trust thought it was great, so I do recommend checking it out if a female captain of an airship sounds like a hook you’d be into.

I’ve been reading through Helen Oyeyemi’s backlist and–going strictly off of what was available on Overdrive at that moment–picked up What is Not Yours is Not Yours. While I think I prefer the spooled-out surrealness of Oyeyemi’s novels, this was overall a pretty strong short story collection. I especially liked the way characters from one story would appear in another, lending a sense of cohesion and purpose to the book.

Since Frances Hardinge is one of my favorite authors, a new book by her is always an exciting time! Her latest, A Skinful of Shadows, is strange and sad and lovely–not surprising, from Hardinge. Though I found the historical aspect of the setting less potent than Cuckoo Song or The Lie Tree, I loved Makepeace and her bear, as well as the shape the story took. Surprising and hopeful and lovely.

I had tried reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway at least once before and hadn’t managed to finish it. This time I kept going and was mostly rewarded. I liked it quite a lot, except that the story seemed somewhat awkwardly caught between wanting to be a light teen romance and wanting to explore some deeper and harder relationships between parents and children. Ultimately I’m not entirely sure how I felt about it as a whole, but I don’t regret reading it.

Finally, I picked up Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake. I had mixed feelings about a couple of aspects of Hadley’s characterization, but overall I really liked the way Blake took a somewhat implausible plot and used it as a base to explore different kinds of relationships and growth. It wasn’t always an easy or comfortable read but I did appreciate it–a good one for teens looking for a story that’s a little challenging in terms of theme.




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Some favorite quotes


This was meant to be a Top Ten Tuesday post, but alas, time got away from me. I still had some picked out and thought I’d go ahead and share them. I’ve also shared some other favorite quotations in the past, so I tried to stay away from sharing the same ones again in favor of quotes from some of my favorite reads from the past few years (though I couldn’t resist a few perennial favorites).

“To subdue one’s self to one’s own ends might be dangerous, but to subdue one’s self to other people’s ends was dust and ashes.” Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

“She knew exactly where she was, and who she was, and what she was.” The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

“There was a space inside me, cupped and still. It was small as cupped hands; it was large as the sky. It was untouched and it was touch itself. It was empty and it was full. I held love there, like a treasure. I held my own name.” The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow

“It’s a dark place, not knowing.
It’s difficult to surrender to.
But I guess it’s where we live most of the time. I guess it’s where we all live, so maybe it doesn’t have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, cozy up to it, make a home inside uncertainty.”  We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

“I want to see the world and write stories about everything I see.” The Pearl Thief, Elizabeth Wein

“It was exactly like Sam had said, about how we had to see people because sometimes the world made us invisible. So we had to make each other visible. Words were like that too. Sometimes we didn’t see words.” The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“[h]ope, like a desert aloe. Hope, stubborn and bitter to the taste. That hides water. That bears the drought. An ugly plant with the power to heal.” The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar

“This is what happens, when things are not quite a fairy tale. You go into the woods to find your story. If you are brave, if you are fortunate, you walk out of them to find your life.” Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

“I am only myself, muscle and bone, stubborn and jealous and sometimes too mean, selfish and in love.” All Our Pretty Songs, Sarah McCarry

“Word magic. If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. How can something as fragile as a word build itself a whole world?” Chime, Franny Billingsley

“In the end it’s only ever been one step, and then the next.” Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I could Reread Forever

This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. You can find out more and follow along there!

One of the biggest changes to my reading habits is how often I reread books. I used to be a huge rereader, and I still think of myself as one. But I think the pressures of all the new awesome books that come out mean I reread less often now than I used to, as well as having less time to read in general. Nonetheless, here are my top ten that I’d reread any day of the week. I’m sure I could have come up with a different list on a different day!

  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • Among Others by Jo Walton
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Imperial Raadch trilogy by Ann Leckie
  • The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells


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I wish there were more books from…

The other day I started thinking about a very particular reading experience: I discover a new author, start reading their books, enjoy them hugely, and then find out after four or five that there are no more. And not just that, the author has stopped writing, or passed away, and so there will never be any more. These are a few of the ones I thought of–I left off anyone who wrote a lot (Diana Wynne Jones) or who is just writing very slowly (Megan Whalen Turner).

Franny Billingsley: I know that Billinglsey writes quite slowly, so perhaps we will be surprised with another book someday! I love all three of her published books a lot, but especially the beautiful, spiky, healing Chime. 

Elizabeth Bunce: Bunce has only published three books, despite winning the Morris award for A Curse Dark and Gold. I actually preferred her duology, StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon.

Sarah Caudwell: The author who prompted this by writing the four Hilary Tamar books and then writing no more.

Susanna Clarke: I had heard that Clarke was working on a sequel to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but it’s been fourteen years and so far there’s no sign of it. There is a collection of short stories called The Ladies of Grace Adieu, but for me it doesn’t quite scratch the same itch.

Elizabeth Marie Pope: Two books–TWO BOOKS–but they are both gems, especially The Perilous Gard which I have loved whole-heartedly since I was about 12.

Judith Merkle Riley: Riley’s books are delightfully fresh & funny historical fiction, so I remain quite sad that there are only six of them. Even though that is more than most of the other authors I’ve featured here, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Kate Ross: Another mystery writer, who sadly passed away very young but wrote some pretty delightful Regency mysteries about a dandy named Julian Kestrel.

What about you? Are there authors you long for more books from?


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Recovery reading: mystery round-up

As previously mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries recently–so much so that I’m just going to go ahead and do a quick post on all the others I read or reread during January.

I started off with Agatha Christie, who I can usually count on to be engaging and whose books I have read enough times that it didn’t really matter if I was napping or loopy. Therefore, I zipped through: Death in the Clouds (not her strongest mystery in terms of characters, which she’s seldom interested in anyway), Nemesis (I love Miss Marple, but the attitudes towards sexual assault in this one are, uh, not great), The Mysterious Affair at Styles (ah, lil baby Poirot, before she had really figured out his characterization), and Towards Zero (actually one of her strongest mysteries in terms of writing–and fascinating for its depiction of gaslighting). PHEW! I pretty much just picked whatever was available on Overdrive at that moment and had mixed success but really no regrets.

Then I moved on to Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January books. I’d read the first one already and started the second (Fever Season) but set it down. I finished it and read Graveyard Dust and then decided that while they’re good, the plot was taking too long to get going for my current state, and the atmosphere was a little too bleak. I may come back to them at some point, we’ll see!

Wanting something a bit lighter, I then picked up the first in Charlene Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series–Real Murders–and really liked it. While I think the first book is by far the strongest, I did read most of the series, except for one that was checked out and another that was all about babies (A Fool and His Honey) and therefore not what I wanted to read at that moment. They’re light and competent enough, which made them perfect for zipping through. It is interesting that Harris kind of writes herself into a corner at one point and then just up and kills off a character to write herself out of it. Also, apparently there are some Hallmark adaptations?! I am curious, but uncommitted.

I also reread Murder is Bad Manners, the second in Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong series of middle grade murder mysteries and A TRUE DELIGHT. It was the only one available on Overdrive and I only own the first book! Alas.

Then I asked for recommendations on Twitter, having run out of ideas on my own, and got some good ones. Kate suggested the Sarah Caudwell books I talked about last time, and Charlotte mentioned the Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman. I had read those–or at least, as many of them as I wanted to–but I hadn’t read her standalone A Nun in the Closet which I devoured late one night when I couldn’t sleep. It was extremely charming, and surprisingly thoughtful, and altogether lovely. I also tried her two books about Madame Karitska, The Clairvoyant Countess and Kaleidoscope, and liked them fine. A Nun in the Closet is definitely still my favorite. I’m kind of laughing just thinking about it.

I finished up with a reread of a couple of the Vicky Bliss books by Elizabeth Peters–Borrower of the Night and Street of Five Moons, whose cover always misleads me into thinking it takes place in Egypt instead of Italy. I like the Vicky books just fine, and I appreciate all the Lord Peter Wimsey homages, BUT I do get fairly tired of Vicky’s insistence on the trials of being tall, whereas short women are always evil and charm all the men in the story into thinking they’re so frail and helpless and feminine. Can’t we just agree that the patriarchy is terrible for everyone and leave it at that? Signed, a small woman who resents being talked down to.

All in all, the mystery reading was probably the highlight of my recovery period. It was kind of the perfect genre for being engrossed in without too much emotional complication. I’m back to work tomorrow, but I might still be on a mystery kick for a while, so if you have favorites, let me know!


A year ago: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Two years ago: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Three years ago: Fifteen favorite heroines

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Recovery reading: Sarah Caudwell

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately–for whatever reason, it’s a genre that has been exactly what I wanted while recovering from last month’s surgery. I actually asked for recommendations on Twitter and got some great suggestions. So far my favorites from that list have been the Hilary Tamar books by Sarah Caudwell, which my friend Kate suggested. They’re so delightful! I was extremely sad that there are only four of them and had to ration them out a bit so I didn’t just read all of them in two days and then regret it.

Now, I’m sure that not everyone will enjoy these books to the same degree that I did. They’re centered around the legal profession in London, with an ironic and somewhat distant narration style that reads almost like a 19th century novel. The setup is a bit predictable after the first book. The characters are mostly well-of, upper class, white Britons. I suspect that you’ll read the first page or so of Thus Was Adonis Murdered and know instantly if this is a book for you or not.

But if it is a book for you, then what joys await! Hilary’s narration is actually really funny under the dry tone, and the actual plots of the mysteries are quite engaging and twisty. The books are erudite and abstract, but they also have a keen sense of observation and understanding of people and what motivates them that keeps the story from becoming dry. Caudwell also had a deft hand with description, which makes the settings of her stories come alive. All in all, my main memory of the books is of vividness and humor, which is partly because of that same detached tone.

Also, when I looked up Caudwell Wikipedia pointed out that Hilary’s gender is never specified, which I had not previously realized. Either because Hilary tends to be a name more associated with women in the US or because I’m me, I had instinctively read them as female (Jo Walton completely disagrees). It may also be because of the sympathetic air shown towards the various difficulties Selena and Julia undergo. Regardless, I felt there was an undercurrent of feminist sensibility in the stories, which also kept the plots from falling into tired tropes.

As I said earlier, my only real complaint about these books is that there are not more of them. Sadly, Sarah Caudwell died in 2000 (and had not published a novel for 11 years before that). At least it’s possible to read & reread the existing books with (at least for me) great enjoyment.



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Favorite books of 2017

Well, my 2017 ended on a different note than expected–with major surgery that I’m still recovering from, preceded by almost a month of being in pain, during which I was basically useless. So I hadn’t even begun to think about favorite books of the year until quite recently. In terms of numbers, 2017 was a dismal year: several major life events and the Trump administration will have that effect. But dang I read some good books.

Unlike other years, I’m not going to write about why these particular books are my favorites. I have found that so often I just say the same thing over and over: it touched me, it opened up a new world, the characters made their way to my heart. But I will say that if I had to pick my absolute favorites, there are two that have been haunting me ever since I read them. The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar and How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ are both brilliant, beautiful, challenging books that moved me and made me feel seen, stronger, more myself. I highly recommend both. (And obviously all the rest of these as well.)

Middle Grade

Lumberjanes vol. 6: Sink or Swim
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon & Dean Hale
Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

Young Adult

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Adult Fiction

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke
A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Lucy & Linh by Alice Pung
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
All Systems Red by Martha Wells


Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley
How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ


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