Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner

listen to the moonListen to the Moon is the third in Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston series. As in many historical romance series, it features a number of cameos from the protagonists of the other books, which is always a fun thing to spot! In this case, Lerner does something slightly unusual and features as her main characters two servants.

I’ve definitely read other historical romances with servants as main characters before. But they often tend to fall into a couple of patterns: distressed gentlewomen down on their luck, or illegitimate children of nobility, or people in disguise. In this instance, Lerner resists all of these patterns: John and Sukey are genuinely part of the servant class. They expect to be part of this class for the rest of their lives.

I very much appreciated the way the complexities of being a servant are shown, both within the characters and in the different experiences depicted. John, for instance, is well paid and highly trained, someone for whom work is a source of pride. Sukey works because she must in order to live, and she doesn’t have the same pride in the job nor the same prospects (which is a source of conflict in the story). But at the same time, there’s an inherent tension between the reality of being perpetually lower class and at the mercy of your employer’s circumstances, and having a sense of fulfillment from doing the job well. It’s not resolved, because it can’t be resolved; there are no simple answers here, and Lerner doesn’t attempt to pass off platitudes as wisdom. Instead, she shows us John, and Sukey, and Thea and Molly, and Mrs. Khaleel. We’re given a sense of some of the very small range of experiences, not a single story. We’re also shown that even a well meaning or kind employer doesn’t erase the structural inequalities.

In terms of the relationship at the heart of the book, I really liked the contrast between Sukey’s impetuousness and John’s exactness. It gives food for realistic and believable tension between them, though I occasionally did want them to just talk. I also liked the way John’s concern about his age and suitableness for Sukey relieved some of the worry about that inequality of age and power that might otherwise be there for me.

I also really appreciated the way Sukey was shown as a young woman who knows her own mind, who wants to be valued for who she is. Her anxieties and strengths both worked well for me, and I liked that she’s someone who doesn’t leap into romance and who’s aware of the potential costs to both love and marriage.

Perhaps the most resonant thread of the story for me was actually John’s struggle to come to terms with his family and how much of him comes from his father. This fear that he’ll be as tyrannical and feared combined with his desire for things to be done right was nicely balanced. Especially, I think, when we begin to see his genuine pride in doing things well at the same time as he wants to find his own way.

Having read this book twice, I do feel that there’s something a little awkward about the ending. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is–pacing? a shift in tone?–but I noticed it both times. However, as an overall story, I loved this one, and I found the emotional payoff of the ending to still be very rewarding. As usual, Lerner writes engaging and complex characters, and I really appreciated John and Sukey’s story.

Book source: review copy from author

Book information 2016, Samhain; adult historical romance

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My review of Lerner’s True Pretenses

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February 2016 releases I’m excited about

These are the February releases I’m really looking forward to reading. There are a few more I’m cautiously interested in that I haven’t listed here.

gentleman jole kingfisher little white lies criminal magic

Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip

Little White Lies by Brianna Baker

Peas & Carrots by Tanita Davis

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Dove Exiled by Karen Bao

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Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

gentleman joleThis is the 16th–sixteenth–book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. I’ve read every book and the related short stories at least once, and several of them I’ve read multiple times. And yet, every time I read a new Vorkosigan book I’m surprised. This one was no exception. I, for instance, did not realize that Aral and Cordelia meet in Shards of Honor on what will later become Sergyar. It gives a whole new emotional resonance to the whole Viceroy thing. Also the name. Also, ow. I’ve been informed by Twitter people that this was a known thing, but I somehow missed it.

Besides the fact that I am apparently lacking in reading comprehension skills,* Bujold is in fact doing something quite tricky here. We’re given (as far as I know) totally new information about Aral, and about his relationship with Cordelia, which runs the risk of feeling like a retcon. But here, Bujold sold me on both the setup and the personalities involved and instead it was a bittersweet echo of a character who still casts a long shadow in the series.

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is my favorite forever, and I really love that we finally have another book that’s about her. She’s so much different than her earlier, brasher self and yet she has an authority that has been deepened over the years. She’s acted in many ways as the moral center of the books, and in this story we see both the strength that gives her and the toll it takes. We’re in her head, and she has fewer pithy insights than in other books. In fact, Jole has perhaps my favorite moment, which is about her:

“And there was Cordelia, summed. Not the empire would have fallen, but people, just people called into existence or erased by the chances of her life. He did not know if she thought more simply, or more deeply, than anyone else he’d ever known. Maybe both.” (p. 215 eARC)

It also introduces Oliver Jole (Admiral of the Sergyaran fleet after Aral’s death), who I really liked as a character. I’m not saying much about who he is or the function he plays in this book, because I don’t want to spoil it. But I think Bujold did a marvelous job of contrasting his interior landscape with how he’s seen by other characters, most notably Cordelia. She plays with names a bit in this regard–when Cordelia thinks about him, he’s almost always Oliver, but in his own sections, he’s Jole. It’s the opposite of expectation, and yet it works marvelously well to convey her warmth for him, and his own reserve even where he is concerned.

As far as the plot goes, all I’ll say is that at one point I said on Twitter, “Miles is going to explode.” And then by the end of the book I realized that no–the person whose reaction I really want to see is Ivan. Because he might not survive. (I am giggling to myself right now.) As usual, Bujold mixes SF technological advances with the social and personal reactions to those advances in a way that I find plausible and thoughtful.

This is not as light a book as Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (although there are certainly humorous moments!), partly because it is dealing with the aftermath of grief and the facing of mortality, partly because Cordelia and Oliver are not Ivan and Tej, or even Miles and Ekaterin. I loved the story that Bujold gives us: surprising, moving, and thought-provoking. It doesn’t retcon Aral so much as shade him in, and it gives Cordelia a resolution that I found wholly satisfying.

* When I was in 7th grade & obsessively re-reading Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, I somehow managed to skip over a paragraph with a Very Important Plot Point the first, oh, six or seven times I read the book.

Book source: eARC downloaded from Edelweiss

Book information: 2016, Baen; adult SF

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Top Ten Tuesday: Historical & futuristic settings

top-ten-tuesday
This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

I’ve divided my list up into a couple different categories this week! Also, I’m thinking primarily of YA with these; there may be a ton of adult books out there that I’m not as aware of.

Historical settings I love

  • The Victorian era: I know there’s SO MUCH historical fiction set in this era, but I want more. Especially books that come at it a little sideways, that look at people and stories that usually aren’t told.
  • Elizabethan/Baroque: This was a time of such huge change and innovation that it lends itself to some great historical fiction. As with the Victorian era, I’d love to see more books that look at marginalized stories.
  • WWII: Because WWII was such a huge, complex event, there are thousands of stories still waiting to be told, and I want all of them. I’m not very interested in the military aspect, but I am especially interested in the experiences of women of all kinds.
  • Roman Britain: Rosemary Sutcliff is probably about 90% responsible for this (Gillian Bradshaw is probably the other 10%), but I want it.

Historical settings I want to read more of*
*Accurate, respectful portrayals only

  • Medieval Russia: I have read a number of books set in Russia, and I don’t usually like them (see: accurate, respectful portrayals). But Medieval Russian history is kind of wild, and I think a really good, well researched book set then would be amazing.
  • Europe during the 1840s revolutions: This was such a tumultuous time and I’d be so curious to see what a really great YA set during this era could do with it.
  • The Great Migration: This is such an important period in US history, but it often gets skipped over. I’d love to have some amazing stories dealing with it.
  • Cold War Era Germany: I’ve heard some stories from friends of my godparents that are really hair-raising. I know there have been a few YA books coming out about this point in time, but I’d really like to see more.
  • The Georgian era: I’ve been really enjoying Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies series and I’d really like to see more books set in this time period, which had a lot going on historically and character-wise.

Futuristic settings

I actually only have one here: all kinds of societies that aren’t based on modern white Western patterns. Why does so much SF assume that today’s US society is automatically going to be the model for all future worlds? Our world right now is so diverse; extrapolate from that.

 

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January 2016 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Picture Book Monday
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Ships of Air by Martha Wells

Other books
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: I don’t think this is her best book, although part of the problem is that Garden Spells is my favorite of her books and therefore any sequel is going to have to really impress me. This one–felt a little slight. I certainly enjoyed it, and as usual her writing is lovely, but I didn’t find it as deep or touching as her others.

Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold: Review for this coming soon!

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith: I really liked the worldbuilding for this one, and the overall setup of the characters and plot. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s doing some fun, interesting things.

The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley: I…didn’t like this one much. Which is sad, because it was my last unread Judith Merkle Riley book, but it didn’t have the subtle humor that I love about her other books, nor was I super invested in the characters.

The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill: I feel like I was more excited about this one in the abstract than I actually was in terms of the book. Partly this is because I didn’t connect well with the characters, and didn’t feel super invested in the plot despite the marching band on a cruise ship setup. I did finish it, for whatever that’s worth.

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner: Review coming soon!

The Mystery of Art by Jonathan Jackson: One of my goals this year is to read 12 Orthodox books. I…argued a lot with this one in my head, which I think is partly because I wanted it to be something different (not fair of me, I know) and partly because it was pretty surface-level.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge: I’m not sure if I technically read this book, because the copy of the ARC I had is missing the last chapter & a half. Since this is not my fault, I’m counting it anyway.

Updraft by Fran Wilde: This is a lovely fantasy with a really unique world and some nice writing. I was really intrigued by the society and the way it’s set up, as well as by the idea of the towers. I believe there may be a sequel coming, and I’ll be interested to see where the story goes.

Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Strohm: A very light but also quite fun YA read about a girl working at a living history museum. I love this, as someone who spent most of her teens volunteering at one! It doesn’t delve at all into the complexities of living history museums and the stories they tell, but as a quick, fun read I’ll get behind it.

Other posts
Some reading and blogging resolutions
New additions to my TBR
10 favorite alt-history mysteries
Links: 1-14
Links: 1-27
Queen’s Thief news
Bullet Journal update
Making without context
Made & Making

TV & Movies
Star Wars: I saw it for the third time with a couple of people and loved it just as much as the first two times. STAR WARS.

Galaxy Quest: I had been meaning to watch this one for awhile and after Alan Rickman died, I decided it was the time. I enjoyed the commentary on fandom and geek culture a lot (reminded me a bit of DWJ’s Deep Secret), and of course Rickman was wonderful.

Father Brown: The first season of the recent BBC adaptation. Well, “adaptation”–G.K Chesterton is rolling in his grave. I don’t mind that it was changed, but I don’t think it’s particularly good as either a retelling or its own thing and I don’t intend to watch more, despite Mark Williams.

Jane the Virgin: I’m about halfway through the first season and loving it!

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Made and Making: January 2016

I have to admit that it’s a bit weird writing this post just after what I wrote yesterday. But here we are, nonetheless.

Cooking

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Beef shortribs with vegetables: I sort of made this up–browned the shortribs, then added them with vegetables and cider to the slow cooker and cooked it on low overnight. Good with rice or mashed potatoes

Baked Potato Soup: This was good but not quite as good as I was expecting. Still, when you add a bunch of sour cream and green onions, pretty much everything tastes nice.

Mushrooms on Toast: SO GOOD. The mushrooms were delicious on crusty toast, but would be equally good on pasta or potatoes.

Cabbage and Mushroom Galette: I love slightly homely dishes like this, where the taste is so much more than the sum of its parts. This was really lovely and I definitely want to make it again.

Fried Rice: I based it on this recipe, although I added a number of other vegetables and some leftover pork, sliced.

Tartiflette with Cod from Home Made Winter: I made this with a salmon and blue cheese variation. Really good! And something I wouldn’t have thought of making on my own.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin and Coriander: I used a store-bought garam masala because I am not talented enough to make my own. This is such a good recipe!

Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese: This such a simple recipe–toast, crumbled blue cheese, sauteed leeks–but it’s really tasty, especially if you’re a fan of leeks (which I am).

Knitting

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Damask: I finished knitting this shawl for myself just before Nativity, which was really nice! It turned out really well, although I left out the bobbles towards the end because 1) I was concerned about how much yarn I had left 2) I’m not very fond of the way bobbles look and 3) I dislike knitting them quite a bit.

Chevalier: I’m knitting this for a friend and am always done. Did I mention that I’m going to be knitting shawls for friends all year? This is the first, and I’ll talk about it a bit more when it’s to its eventual owner.

 

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Making without context

This post was sparked by thoughtful conversations with Liz, Kelly, Beth, Marie, and Jenny. Thank you all!

When I was six, my mom taught me how to knit. We made knitting needles out of wooden dowels and beads and she showed me how to make the loops: Up through the front door, run around the back, down through the window and off jumps Jack. When I was older, I took up knitting as my own: I knit a sweater and then another one, and then I was teaching myself cables and lace from books we had, with my mom’s help. I learned about the history of different forms and techniques, and knitting’s modern history. Currently, several (most?) of my local friends are knitters and we talk about our projects, asking each other advice when an issue comes up. We trade tips and ideas and compliments. I read and appreciate all the expertise present on Ravelry–there’s someone else who’s made this, who knows how much yarn the project actually needs, who has a variation that I like even better than the original. Knitting is not only what I create; it is who I listen to and learn from; it is the community of other women who knit.

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The maker movement has become hugely popular in the last ten years, and it has swept libraries across the country. There are Maker programs, Makerspaces, circulating Maker items. A lot of times there is a pressure, conscious or unconscious, to be involved in the movement regardless of staff expertise or time/budget limitations. There are many neat things about the Maker movement, but it’s often talked about as if it’s the salvation of libraries. (Others have said smart things about the devaluation of Children’s & Youth Services, which has often done similar programs for years with less funding and recognition.)

What is maker culture? According to Wikipedia, it represents:

a technology-based extension of DIY culture that intersects with hacker culture which is less concerned with physical objects (as opposed to software) and the creation of new devices (as opposed to tinkering with existing ones). Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses a cut-and-paste approach to standardized hobbyist technologies, and encourages cookbook re-use of designs published on websites and maker-oriented publications.

There’s a really telling word in there: predecessor. On the one hand, reading too much into a word choice on Wikipedia is perhaps a mistake. On the other hand–I’m going to make that mistake, because as I see it one of the major flaws of the maker culture/movement is its ignoring of the already existing and active history and culture of different crafts and arts. These things are not dead, as “predecessor” implies, and when maker culture doesn’t acknowledge and respect the other cultures of creation which are already present, it falls short.

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My first memories of creation are pretty clear. I remember my mom teaching me to knit. I remember my mom teaching me to bake bread in my own little loaf pan. I remember my mom teaching me to cross-stitch on a piece of gingham so I could see the squares. In all of these activities, there’s one constant which is: my mom was teaching me and I was listening and learning.

But also: I was learning that all of these skills she taught me required work and time. There are many crafts I don’t do, either through lack of particular interest or through lack of knowledge/time. However, when someone else makes a gorgeous felted toy, or hand-painted bureau, I have some small sense of the skill and work involved and I respect it. There’s a sense of appreciation, of collaboration and support rather than competing to be on the cutting edge. As my friend Marie said:

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There are certainly individuals who include arts and crafts within Makerspaces and culture–I’ve heard of libraries with spinning wheels, for instance. And yet, as a general usage, maker culture tends to be STEM-dominated and with a male-oriented ethos to it. I don’t have problem with STEM, except that it’s often assumed to be better than arts and crafts, and naturally on the way to replacing them. And more, even when arts and crafts are included within maker culture, they tend to be subsumed and reinvented, not recognized on their own.

For instance, knitting is not generally considered part of maker culture–unless it’s done with a 3-D printer. Why is it that a sweater knit on a machine is awe-inspiring and innovative, but a sweater knit by a girl is a symbol of “a domestic art from before the freedoms of feminism”? Why is it that what women have created, learned, and taught for years and even centuries suddenly becomes worthy when a male-led and dominated movement discovers it?

I have an answer to these questions.

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I don’t want to give the impression that I’m anti-technology, or even tech programs in libraries. For one thing, the internet has made learning crafts more open, by providing people across the world to learn from (helpful diagrams and YouTube videos have saved me more than once). Many of the tech-based programs are really neat in and of themselves (as far as I’m concerned, Makey Makey is wizardry).Nor am I anti-innovation when it comes to crafts. However, there’s a saying I’ve heard in regard to writing which I think applies here: you have to know the rules before you can break them. You should know the history and culture of a craft before you change it.

This is where I see maker culture as an issue. Rather than pausing to learn the history of a craft or what shaped it, maker culture wants to recreate it so it can be produced (as long as you do it exactly right). It creates an expectation of production rather than listening, replacing the relationships between people with a pressure to stay on top of flashy technology which often doesn’t last very long.

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I don’t want to say that crafting is some kind of utopian ideal; there are definitely issues of class and race that can’t be ignored. But if that’s true, it’s true of the maker movement as well, which posits a kind of surface egalitarianism while ignoring the work on which it is predicated. (Who exactly is making these 3-D printers, for example, and are they being lauded as makers?) For me, the value of crafting as I’ve experienced it is not only in gaining skills and the confidence to try new things, but in gaining respect for what other people do, in listening to and learning from their expertise and in passing it along whenever I can. It’s in respecting all the many ways we create, not just the ones that are popular at the moment.

Finally, I want to say that I certainly use the terminology of making, both at work where many of my craft programs are under the umbrella of “Make It,” and here where I call my monthly roundup of crafts & food “Made & Making.” It’s not that I want to claim I am somehow better and purer, and that anyone who’s involved in the maker movement is wrong and bad–indeed I don’t think there’s any inherent opposition. Rather, maker culture and the way we talk about it tends to erase the history and importance of traditionally female creation while promoting male-driven tech-oriented creation. When I want is not the dismissal of the maker movement, but a recognition both of the importance and validity of listening and learning–not from experts, but from each other–and of the long history and strength of what is too often dismissed as women’s work.

 

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