Currently reading: 6-13-18


I am actually only actively reading one book at the moment! Claire LeGrand’s latest release, Furyborn. I am sure it’s being marketed as a feminist epic fantasy (ah, yes: “The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women”) and I’m interested in that and how successfully the book fulfills that promise. I’m on page 283 of 494 and I keep waiting for a twist or a moment to coalesce the story and bring the two parts together. I suspect it’s coming soon? Anyway, it’s an interesting take on an YA epic fantasy, although I’m not sure I’m buying “stunningly original”–certainly the world is inventive and fascinating, but I pretty much always prefer a take on books that situates them within their historical context.

I think I’m making it sound like I don’t like Furyborn, which is not true at all! In fact, it’s probably my second-favorite fantasy read of 2018 to date (after Tess of the Road). I’m just always interested in how we market things and how that can strip books of history and context. Bringing me back to Joanna Russ, I suppose, and How to Suppress Women’s Writing--how do we forget the writers who came before, and what does that cost us? Anyway, it’s a thoughtful book, sometimes unexpectedly fun, and a surprisingly quick read despite its heft.

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Links: 6/9/2018

Just a few things I’ve found interesting recently. They are mostly depressing. Please enjoy this photo of my cat looking winsome while sitting at the dinner table.

Wimsey is also a fan of carnitas.

A post shared by Maureen E L (@elvenjaneite) on

This essay about Auburn softball is thoughtfully written in clear and cutting prose, but I kept feeling haunted by the question of how a female reporter might have written it, given the same access and background. How many times can you not see something right in front of you before you become part of the problem? [cw: abuse]

How we teach aspiring illustrators is part of the problem when it comes to the gender gap in kidlit award winners.

I’ve still only seen like half a season of The Americans, but I really liked this essay about translating the Russian dialogue and the specific language choices made. [spoilers for the finale]

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Favorite Tor.com Novellas

In the past few years, Tor.com’s novella line has really grown and strengthened. Here are a few of the offerings I especially enjoyed.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander: This one is really stunning; it’s all about history and alternate history and the stories we tell. The prose is beautiful and the story is powerful. There are a few threads interwoven and each of them is treated seriously and given its own significance.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson: I’ve had a very strong reaction to some of Johnson’s other short fiction, but I really enjoyed this one. Centered on an older woman, whose academic background reminded me a bit of Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night, this also features some interesting cats and lovely descriptions.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: A brutal, thoughtful take on portal fantasies and what happens afterwards. It’s probably my favorite writing from McGuire and I recommend it if you are interested in both stories and subversions of the stories.

Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor: Oh, the Binti trilogy! I love the writing in these books so much, the emphasis on diplomacy, on peacemaking. The scifi elements combined with a deep sense of history and culture and customs. Binti herself and her growth of over the course of the three novellas. There’s something really magical about these ones.

All Systems Red & Artificial Condition by Martha Wells: MURDERBOT. I love Murderbot so much, which sounds sketchy if you haven’t read these lovely space operas yet. But Murderbot is a disenchanted securitybot who just wants to protect humans and hacked its own governor module so it can watch entertainment feeds and doesn’t want to feel anything and I LOVE IT. The second novella is just as good as the first and I can’t wait for the next few. (PS, if you know Wells through the Murderbot novellas, please check out some of her other books; they are also excellent.

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Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker

It’s always fun to come across a book that makes you wonder if the author took a look in one of your old diaries. Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker is one of those books. I picked it up from our new book shelf at work, attracted by the cover, and was hooked by the first page. It seems that there’s a first book, Becca at Sea, which I haven’t read.

At any rate, this book takes place over one summer on an island in Canada (I believe near Vancouver? I was a bit muzzy as to geography), where Becca and her cousins have come to stay with their grandmother. Her friend Jane is there too, and she and Jane decide to put on a Shakespeare play (with the unwilling help of cousins) to raise money to buy a better sailboat than the one they currently have access to.

As a kid, this would have been absolutely catnip to me. I loved sailing and boats, and my siblings and I often spent part of the summer at our grandparents’ house by the sea, with our cousin. (Not, alas, on an island.) I read just about every nautical-themed book I could get my hands on and, though my exposure to Shakespeare was probably limited to Lamb’s Tales From, I would have sympathized deeply with the desire to put on a play.

As an adult reader, all the old nostalgic love for those things is there. But I also admire the way that Baker takes what on the surface is a rather adventurey story and makes it a vehicle for exploring Becca’s very late elementary/early middle school experience of life. This is the summer when she notices and is hurt by the death of the animals around her, even though it’s a natural part of life. The summer when her aunts are hurting and there’s nothing anyone can do to truly fix it. It’s not a morbid or a sad book, but it does go a lot deeper than the initial premise suggests, allowing the lovely descriptions of the island and funny moments with the other inhabitants to exist alongside Aunt Meg’s pain over her stillbirth and the burial of the bear.

While I do admire the depth that the story reaches, and the handling of the various sadder moments in a way that felt just right for a sensitive tween reader, I do want to mention that the story at the same time feels limited. Everyone is white, and one of Becca’s aunts is a doctor with an AIDs center in Africa. Ultimately, Jane and Becca decide to give the proceeds of their play to this aunt, for her research and to help save the grandmothers and children there. In that sense it feels like a very old-fashioned book, and not in a good way. I really wished that this storyline had at least been counterbalanced with the presence of some people of color on the island or in the main story itself, or with someone more mature than the kids providing some pushback to the white saviorism there.

So, ultimately this is one that I personally really enjoyed both on a nostalgic level and  as an adult reader–there are some really funny scenes, some really heartbreaking ones, and a keen description of both the nature world and Becca’s growing awareness of life. But I also had some reservations about it, so I’m not entirely sure who I’d recommend this book to. All the same, if you also love anything set by the sea, or quiet books about growing up, this might be a great fit.

Other reviews of Becca Fair and Foul:
Kirkus 
Kristin Butcher
A Year in Books

Previously on By Singing Light:
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (2017)
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (2016)
Diana Wynne Jones reading notes: Howl’s Moving Castle (2015)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014)

 

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May 2018 books

This was a light reading month for me, mostly because we were moving! (Therefore, also a light posting month here.) 

Ms. Marvel: Damage Per Second G. Willow Wilson 5.25

Goldie Vance vol. 3 Hope Larson 5.25

Becca Fair and Foul Deirdre Baker 5.25

The Only Harmless Great Thing B. Bolander 5.13

Sunny Jason Reynolds 5.13

Artificial Condition (Murderbot 2) Martha Wells 5.12

Mighty Jack Ben Hatke 5.6

A Traveller in Time Alison Uttley 5.5

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner (reread) 5.4

 

Total books read: 9
Total rereads: 1 (The Boxcar Children, which was for work)

Favorites:

  • Sunny
  • Becca Fair and Foul
  • Artificial Condition
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing
  • Goldie Vance
  • Ms. Marvel

(Okay, yes that’s basically all of them; I REGRET NOTHING.)

 

 

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Anniversary Guest Post: Jenny from Reading the End

Believe it or not, May marks 12 years since I started blogging here at By Singing Light! To mark the occasion, I asked a couple of friends to write a guest post for me about their favorite reads from 2006. The second is from my pal Jenny who blogs at Reading the End. Somehow we only met a few years ago, but we’re clearly kindred spirits since the book she picked is one of my favorites too!

On the Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta

In the early years of (my) book blogging, books would show up in one place and then spread across the tiny book blogosphere like a wildfire. It would be like when the first season of Stranger Things came out and suddenly everyone seemed to be watching and talking about it. Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road was one of those books. It was originally published in Australia in 2006 and then in America in 2008, right in time to catch me as a baby blogger. (I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and I was emphatically not one of the cool kids.)

Taylor was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven years old, and she’s been at the nearby boarding school ever since. Her only real friend is a woman called Hannah who lives near the river and writes stories about children who used to live there in the 1980s. But Hannah has disappeared, and there’s a territory war in Jellicoe, and Taylor’s forced back into proximity with the boy who betrayed her three years ago.

Here’s the thing about Melina Marchetta, and this has been consistent across every book of hers (eight of them) that I’ve read. First you start her books and you think “okay, I could be interested in this.” Then you keep reading and you think “eh, actually, the characters are undergoing rather too much suffering for no good reason, and actually maybe I will stop reading this and read something else instead.” And then — if you persist — there comes a turning point, before which you are fine and normal and going about your day as usual; and after which you are a collection of exposed emotional nerve endings who wants to organize a major nationwide rally to ensure that none of the spiky angry characters in this book ever experience another moment’s turmoil.

It is quite a trick, and I have never elsewhere encountered anything quite like it. On the Jellicoe Road was my first exposure to Melina Marchetta, and as I said, I wanted to like it, so I could fit in with the cool crowd. (NB, this was ridiculous, because book bloggers then and now are overwhelmingly lovely welcoming generous people.) Halfway through, I was leaning towards DNFing. Halfway plus a few more pages through, I was prepared to turn my house into a sanctuary for wayward boarding school escapees. This is what Melina Marchetta does to you. Often it’s the characters who seem the nastiest that turn out to be the best ones of all.

And that’s, I guess, my pitch: Read Melina Marchetta and explain how she does this, because it’s quite a trick, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s almost a decade since I read On the Jellicoe Road, and I’m no closer to figuring out how Melina Marchetta does the things she does. But I know that I love it.

The happiest of blogging birthdays to my friend Maureen—who has been around longer than I have and who I should have known about and made friends with way sooner than I did—and thanks for letting me come on the blog to yammer about my Australian YA crush.

Jenny blogs and podcasts at Reading the End, where she rejoices in reading the ends of books before she reads the middle and no, she cannot be talked out of reading this way.

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Anniversary Guest Post: Katy Kramp from A Library Mama

Believe it or not, May marks 12 years since I started blogging here at By Singing Light! To mark the occasion, I asked a couple of friends to write a guest post for me about their favorite reads from 2006. The first one is Katy Kramp, who blogs at A Library Mama and is a pretty good egg. Enjoy her post!

It’s a tricky thing, tracking the history of a friendship, especially one that’s taken place almost entirely online.  I know that I know Maureen through book blogging; I don’t remember when I started following her blog, though I know that I was attracted by her also loving Tam Lin by Pamela Dean.  The first mention of Maureen on my blog is from 2014 https://alibrarymama.com/2014/03/17/spirit-singer/ , when I went to her city of residence for the Public Library Association Conference and met up with her for dinner.   I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read on her recommendation at this point, and know that if she likes a book, I probably will, too (even if I haven’t yet worked up the courage to read Code Name Verity.)  You can read her guest post for my blog here: https://alibrarymama.com/2015/07/31/guest-post-top-10-heroines-with-maureen-of-by-singing-light/

In celebration of Maureen’s twelfth year of blogging, here are the fiction books I blogged about in 2006 that I still remember with fondness.

 

Bloody Jack  by L.A. Meyer. Read by Katherine Kellgren (teen) – This is the story of a young British street orphan who disguises herself as a boy and joins the Navy to escape a life of prostitution. There’s some sharp social commentary here, as well as a rollicking adventure.  The series carried on until L.A. Meyer’s death, with Jacky having increasingly far-flung and improbable adventures, meeting famous people and pretty boys all around the world. This was also the book that turned my love and I on to astonishing and tragically also recently deceased narrator Katherine Kellgren.  Her vocal range is on full display here, with accents from all over Britain and America, as well as folk songs sung with their proper tunes in different character’s voices. My love and I are both excited that our son, now a teen, is old enough to start listening to the series with us.

 

For Camelot’s Honor  by Sarah Zettel (adult) – This is the second of Zettel’s Paths to Camelot series, where Zettel very loosely reworks older Arthurian stories into a cohesive tale of the battle for Camelot in four books, each with a different heroine and the developing relationship with a different one of Arthur’s nephews.  This book stars Elen, the daughter of a Welsh king, and Sir Geraint. Although written for Harlequin’s Luna imprint, romance isn’t generally Zettel’s focus, so even though there is a developing relationship in each book, politics, character, and world building far outweigh the sexytimes here.  This is another series I’m due to reread.

 

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (middle grade) – Few and far between are the realistic fiction series that I keep up with, but I fell in love with the Penderwicks and their modern take on the old-fashioned large family adventure on the first reading.  In this book, four sisters, their father, and their pets travel to the summer house they’ve always rented, where they befriend a Boy, much to his mother’s disgust. I hear that the Penderwicks at Last, coming out this May, is the last in the series – but I can always hope they’re wrong.

 

His Majesty’s Dragon: a Novel of Temeraire  by Naomi Novik (adult) – It’s more British Navy at the height of its power, but with dragons. Really, how much more do you need to know?  I admit that I lost track of the series after about book 5, but those books have earned a place on our shelves at home. I still keep track of Novik’s writing and am very much looking forward to her new book, Spinning Silver, coming out this July.

 

Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke (middle grade) – 2006 was the year that a friend travelling to Germany for business was kind enough to bring me back the original version of Inkheart, which I’d read in translation.  My son was still small enough to be in my arms most of the time I was reading, and it turns out that this book has some pretty juicy vocabulary, enough to be challenging for my 10-years-out-of-Germany brain, especially since I didn’t have a free hand for a dictionary.  Funke, though, writes fantasy that’s darker and richer than a lot of middle grade fantasy. In this book, Meggie learns that her father has the power to read books to life when he reads the villain of the fantasy book they’re reading into their world. Her adventures cross back and forth between the real world and the book world.   Though Funke has written many other books, this is still my favorite of her novels. I’ve read it twice in English now, as well as the once in German, and look forward to listening to the audiobook again when my daughter is a bit older.

 

Thank you for the space, Maureen, and here’s to many more happy years of reading and blogging friendship!

Hooray! Thank you for sharing your favorites, Katy!

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