Guest post!

I have a post up today at my friend Katy’s blog, talking about some of my favorite heroines. I cut my list to 10 names, but here are a few that were on my extended list.

Ekaterin from the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold

Charis from Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Brandshaw

Ida Mae from Flygirl by Sherri Smith

Tilda from Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Roza from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Otter from Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

Anna from Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Ista from Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Laura Chant from The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Clearly I could have easily tripled my original as this is only half of my brainstorming list!

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Made & Making: July 2015

  • Oat Buttermilk Quick Bread from Crabtree & Evelyn: This was good but not outstanding; I made the recipe as written and I think it was a bit on the dry side.
  • Blueberry pancakes: You may have notice a blueberry theme. They’re just so good, especially in any recipe with yogurt or sour cream! Here it’s buttermilk. I made one pancake with some dark chocolate chips added and that was quite nice as well.
  • Sweet Peach Tea: Okay, so I really used this recipe as more of an inspiration. I sliced up a peach and put it in the bottle I’ve been using for iced tea, then added the rest of my normal iced tea fixings. It was pretty good, although the peach flavor took a day or to come out.
  • Bees Knees Cocktail: This was simple & really good (I cut the gin in half for a pleasant drink rather than a ~COCKTAIL!~). I also made an Arnold Palmer with rose ice tea and lemonade that was pretty amazing.
  • Mushroom Scallion Quiche: I used this recipe and made a few changes: baked the quiche without a crust, added some bacon (because yanno, bacon), used cheddar cheese, and added an egg.
  • Summer Vegetable Soup from Moosewood Cookbook: A nice creamy vegetable soup; I made it pretty much as written and found that it also worked well for leftovers. As with many Moosewood recipes, the flavorings could stand to be punched up a bit for my personal taste.
  • Tarator (Bulgarian cucumber-yogurt soup): This is really a perfect summer-time soup. I didn’t have dill and left out the walnuts, but it was delicious and a great fast, cool meal.
  • Radish, Apple, and Celery Salad: This salad was interesting because I don’t normally love the components (except for apples), but they worked perfectly together here. The only issue is that it didn’t keep at all–eat this one right away!
  • Ricotta and Herb Stuffed Tomatoes: I thought I was really going to like these, and then somehow I didn’t. I’m not sure exactly why; on the face of it they’re great and I can’t pinpoint what about the filling didn’t work for me. I may try again.
  • Blueberry Boy Bait: I love the ridiculousness of the name, and the actual cake is SO GOOD. Buttery and delicious, with a little bit of cinnamon. I added more berries than the recipe called for but otherwise made it as written. And then I ate all of it.
  • Yogurt Ice Cream from Home Made: I had middling success getting this ice cream to actually freeze properly in my ice cream maker, but it tasted pretty good!

Knitting & other crafts
I FINALLY FINISHED the cable-knit blanket I’ve been making for a coworker. It was fun but also blankets are really large. So now I just need to deliver it to its recipient. Here’s a bad picture of it:
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I’m also finishing up a quilt square for a friend’s baby quilt. I think it’ll be pretty cute!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish characters

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

This week’s topic was a fun one; I had some trouble coming up with characters at first, but I ended up finding a few.

Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane from Gaudy Night, etc by Dorothy Sayers: Sayers books are masses of allusions in general, but  Peter and Harriet basically conduct their courtship by quotation.

Eugenides from the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner: At first glance, Gen doesn’t seem particularly bookish. Then you remember that at one point he lives in a library and spends his days copying old texts.

Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: It’s Catherine’s love of gothic fiction that gets her into trouble, after all.

Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Full of references to Jane Austen, to the Bronte sisters, Greek myth and poetry–Cassandra’s story certainly counts here.

Margaret from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: I don’t feel quite as strongly about Margaret as a bookish character for some reason, but since she was brought up in a bookstore and books and stories are central to her life, I’m including her anyway.

Verity from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: I struggled quite a bit with whether Verity worked here, or if it’s Julie that’s really book-oriented, or whether it’s both (this makes more sense if you’ve read the book). But in the end, it’s Verity’s narrative that’s a carefully constructed nest of allusions and references.

Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: Like Gen, Howl doesn’t at first glance appear to be particularly book-oriented. Then you remember that his curse is literally just a John Donne poem (and he references Raleigh and Shakespeare as well).

Alan Ryves from the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan: Book in one hand, gun in the other. (Seriously, he is always reading and I love it. Also Alan. I definitely love Alan.)

Sophie from A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper: I think the biggest reference is actually to I Capture the Castle, above, but certainly Sophie, introspective & book-loving, fits here.

Everyone in Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: Janet herself, of course–and the book is one giant reference–but pretty much all the characters read books and think about books and talk about books and quote books in a wonderfully nerdy way.

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Patricia McKillip reading notes: The Bards of Bone Plain

Note: Throughout July, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing books by Patricia McKillip. While I don’t think there are any huge spoilers below, I can’t swear that there are none, so tread with caution if that’s something you’re concerned about.

bards of bone plainThe Bards of Bone Plain is one of Patricia McKillip’s most recent books, first published in 2010. It’s one that I haven’t re-read very often, perhaps because it’s so new.

Many of McKillip’s books take place in some version of a fantasyland that seems vaguely medievalish. In this instance, she broke away from that pattern a bit, as Bards takes place in a world that has thermoses, trams, and steam cars. It’s sort of a McKillip-y version of steampunk, which is to say it’s not very much like the normal idea of steampunk at all.

The narrative structure of this one reminded me quite a bit of the structure of Alphabet of Thorn. Like that book, here we have the narrations of Phelan Cle, Princess Beatrice, and Zoe. Alternating with their narratives is the story of Nairn, told through Phelan’s paper, ballads about Nairn, and finally Nairn’s own narration. I like this structure and I think McKillip uses it quite effectively here, although for me the transitions lacked some of the tension that I saw in Alphabet of Thorn.

McKillip also returns to some favorite themes in this one. First, there’s the idea of the transmutation of history into legend; as with Alphabet of Thorn we are given the legends initially and as the story unfolds we are invited into the true history. In this book especially, the theme of legend vs. history ties in to an overall question of the modern country and the way it interacts with its own past. There’s a sense here that the past lies just under the surface of the trams and cars. And many of the traditions of the past are certainly present. But at the same time, it seems that the meaning of them has been lost by the beginning of the book; that only the form is still carried out.

There’s also a lot about hidden power here, even stated fairly explicitly. It’s in the country itself, in Nairn, in the modern-day bards. Declan can see it and tries to bring it out, but the country remains fairly prosaic. And of course, since this is McKillip, everyone has hidden talents and identities. Jonah, most obviously. But Beatrice, who feels herself split into two princesses–the fluffy, dutiful one and the one she identifies with, Phelan with his unknown talent for music, Zoe and her ability to see magic between the lines. Even Declan, whose true motivation is withheld for most of the book.

McKillip returns to riddles as well, which perhaps tie in nicely with the idea of hidden meaning. While they’re not as prevalent as in the Riddle-Master books, they certainly appear here, often in connection with Nairn or the lost past of the bard’s school. Indeed, the idea of Bone Plain itself is a riddle for most of the book.

Many of McKillip’s books are set against a time of change, of transition. This is true here, although not as obviously as it sometimes is. First, in Nairn’s time the story revolves around the creation of the modern kingdom of Belden, from five kingdoms conquered by King Oroh. And then in the modern Belden, there is a transition, but it takes place within the bards, not within royalty. It’s here that the struggle for the country, and against Nairn’s ancient foe, happens.

I also noted and really liked the connection to the living, natural world. The clearest example happens early on, when Phelan visits Jonah at the dig site: “Like them, he watched the water for a ripple, a sign, direction. Water spoke, broke in a delicate froth upon the worthless clutter it had dredged up and laid like treasure upon the mud. Reeds stirred; a breeze had wakened. It would blow off the mist, the marches of that tiny, private patch of timelessness.”

So in one sense, Bards of Bone Plain turns on the idea of history, and knowing it rather than relying on legend (and yet, the legends sometimes turn out to be disconcertingly true). But in another, it’s really about forgiveness: both forgiving and being forgiven. And perhaps most especially, forgiving oneself. As Jonah says, “I thought I was rescuing my son. That wily harper fooled me again. I seem to have rescued myself instead.” For me, the ending–especially the revelation of Declan’s motives–worked really well.

And I’ll also note that I loved Beatrice! I realize that the story never really looks very hard at the fact that she has the freedom to do many of the things she chooses, but in this specific instance I’m willing to overlook that. I really enjoyed her stubbornness and strength of mind; the fact that she doesn’t despise the people who aren’t like her, but also doesn’t let them make her over into their own image.

This wasn’t one that absolutely blew me away, but it is a story I really enjoyed reading again and that I think has quite a few subtle strengths to it.

Book source: personal library

Book information: 2010, Ace Books; adult fantasy

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Links from around the web 7-22-15

I really liked Liz Bourke’s post on “Conversations Founded on False Assumptions“: “Examining what we like, what we admire, and why we like it, is the work of a lifetime. But if we don’t, we end up reinforcing structural inequities as though they were the natural way of the world—and there’s nothing natural about rendering invisible people who’ve been here all along.” However, I have it on good authority that the comments are DOOM! DOOM!!

Related, somewhat: Renay wrote an amazing post on the weight of genre history and canon for Strange Horizons. I highly recommend reading the whole thing. “In SF, this pressure feels doubled because it feels like there’s a push to value stories by and about men more but also a keen pressure to be educated in the genre, the genre lines, and the fandom’s history itself. You don’t just need to read Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Herbert, Card…but you need to be able to contextualize them, too, if you want to have critical chops or be taken seriously.”

And this interview with Noelle Stevenson was really great, I thought! (via Stephanie Burgis)

On a more serious note, this article from The Guardian on the hidden history of British slavery is really important.

Artwork: I love this; also this; this is so beautiful and fairytale-esque

Queen’s Thief fanart: Lilies; the dog watch of the night

THIS HOBBIT FANART IS NOT OKAY. NOT OKAY AT ALL.

These cats are trying to jump. They’re just not doing it very well.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse books

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

Today’s topic is “Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters”. I feel a bit weird giving my opinion since I don’t belong to any diverse groups. However, I’ve tried to pick books that are written by people from the groups they represent and that are well regarded by those groups. If you spot anything iffy on my list, please feel free to let me know. Also, if you’re a minority blogger and are posting a TTT list today, feel free to link and I will signal boost here & on Twitter!

ms. marvelone crazy summerthe crossoverthis side of homegreatgreene

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson: I’ve talked before about how much I love Ms. Marvel. I’m fairly new to the world of Marvel comics, and her story is so fun and rich with layers and emotions. I love how her faith and her culture inform who she is, but how Kamala is also her own person making decisions and doing the best she can. (Also her sense of humor is amazing.)

One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia: I’ve been a fan of the Gaither sisters ever since I first read One Crazy Summer. Delphine is probably my favorite, because I’m also an oldest child and get the worry of trying to take care of younger siblings. But I especially love all three of them together, and the music they make when their voices ring out.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: I was lucky enough to be in the room when the Newbery Award was announced this year, and I think I screamed, I was so happy. I often feel that books in verse for kids are lacking in either the verse or the story, but in this case Josh’s voice and Alexander’s poetry and the beautiful story all combine to make something amazing.

This Side of Home by Renee Watson: This is a wonderful story about growing up and finding out who you are in relationship to family and friends. It’s also about gentrification and the effects that can have on the community that is being changed. Watson writes an incredibly thoughtful, nuanced book, but it’s Maya that really stands out.

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson: I absolutely loved this middle-grade heist story, which took some of the key plot points of the great heist stories and translated them to middle school. It’s a fast-paced, fun story, and the group that Jackson assembles is diverse in more ways that one. Bonus: there’s a sequel coming out soon! (YAY.)

love is the druggrand plan to fix everythingagencyakata witchgabi

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson: In a world that’s almost ours, Bird is a student at an elite Washington DC school. She’s not entirely happy with where her life is going, but it’s good enough. Then everything turns horrible as a virus shows up in DC and the city is shut down. I found Johnson’s second book to be very powerful, both in the ideas its examining, and the way the subtle way the characters are portrayed. It’s a what-if book that also takes into account the realities of our world.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami: Dini! Dini is amazing and wonderful. If you ever need a book where happy endings and lovely coincidences are assured, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and its sequel, The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic are great. They’re truly some of the most entirely enjoyable books I’ve ever read.

The Agency Series by Y.S. Lee: Part-Chinese girl detective in Victorian London. That should be all I need to tell you, but in fact I’ll go on: Mary is a stubborn, complex character, the mysteries are engaging, the romance is swoony, and the covers are AMAZING. (Seriously, Candlewick put so much work into getting the details right; I am very impressed.) The last book in the series was just published, so now is the perfect time to read them all.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: So in a lot of ways this is a classic coming of age story, where a young girl finds out that she has magical talents and learns to use them. Sunny was born in America, but she lives in Nigeria, and that influences the everyday details of the book, as well as her magic and how she learns to use it. This is a lovely story, with beautiful descriptions of the magic Sunny encounters.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: Gabi’s diary, written throughout her senior year, gives the reader a window into her life as she processes all the different changes she and her friends are facing. I loved the way this one gave us this unfiltered view into a teenage girl–I really identified with having a diary as the one place I could really say what I was thinking. And Gabi’s navigation of the different cultures and expectations she finds herself in was especially strong, in my opinion.

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Women at war: Noah’s Ark and The Bletchley Girls

Once again, I’ve managed to accidentally read two books in a row that contrast nicely with each other. Both of these books deal in some way with women during WWII. The first is Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s memoir of her activities as one of the leaders of the Alliance circuit of the French Resistance. The second is Tessa Dunlop’s look at different women’s activities and experiences while working at or around Bletchley Park.

Fourcade’s memoir is intensely personal, and filtered through her own opinions and reminiscences about the Resistance and the people who made it up. The English version, called Noah’s Ark, is a translation and abridgement of the French original, which made me wish I read French well enough to try that. (I don’t at all.) I was interested in the various figures that Fourcade shows us, although I almost wished that I had read an overall history of the Resistance first. I felt I was missing various contexts and that we were really getting her opinion about people and events.

While Fourcade doesn’t focus a great deal of attention on this, she does talk a bit about the fact that as a fairly young woman (I believe in her mid thirties) she stepped into running a massive organization, in the middle of a war. She had to learn to command the respect of those who were more directly risking their lives. And it carried a great cost for her personally, as she ended up apart from her family and unsure of whether she would ever see them again.

For me, perhaps the most emotional part of the book came when she described the fate of Leon Faye, one of the main agents for the Alliance circuit, who attempted to escape from the Gestapo headquarters in Paris with Noor Inayat Khan. I had heard this story before, but had been pretty much entirely focused on Noor’s part in it. So it was quite unexpected to find her suddenly here.

At any rate, this was a fascinating, heartbreaking, informative book, but it was most certainly a memoir, recounting a particular person’s viewpoint and opinions. I would like to find a good history of the Resistance to compare it with.

The Bletchley GirlsTessa Dunlop’s The Bletchley Girls is a little different in scope and approach. She made a point of finding and interviewing the Bletchley girls who are still alive (or were at the time of the writing) rather than relying on published histories. She weaves together the reminiscences of fourteen of the young women who worked at Bletchley Park. The overall effect gives the overview of women’s roles at BP a personal touch.

I suppose that, like most people, I have a fairly glamorous–or at least, vaguely exciting–image of Bletchley Park. And perhaps if one of the women who worked most closely with Dilly Knox or Turing were alive to give her testimony, that would be more present. But the accounts Dunlop collects show that for many of these young women, the strict secrecy and compartmentalization of the Park gave their work a monotonous flavor. Most of them didn’t really know until after the war how vital their particular work was.

While in a certain way this is slightly disappointing, it also helps dispel some of the mythos that surrounds Bletchley Park. Some of them loved it, and others were bored in the moment but appreciated the overall work. Some simply hated it. But interestingly, for many of them their work at BP changed the course of their lives. Not necessarily in dramatic ways, but by giving them opportunities, by introducing women who became life-long friends.

Because both of these books are primarily centered around personal accounts and memories, neither is entirely focused on the overall role of women in the war (Dunlop is more so). However, they both of course provide a picture of some of the many reasons women did enter the war, and how they made their way.

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