May 2016 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery
Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorehead
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand
A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand

Other books
Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry: If you want to know a lot more about Rey, do check this out! Fry is a great writer who knows his Star Wars stuff (he’s written a number of other Star Wars tie-ins). Be prepared, though–there are definitely some punches to the heart in these pages.

Captain Marvel: Stay Fly
Captain Marvel: Alis Volat Propiis
: I like Captain Marvel. I’m not entirely sure I like where her arc is going? But I’m willing to keep reading anyway.

Freedom & Necessity by Emma Bull and Steven Brust: This is an odd book–it skirts right around the edges of being fantasy, and reminds me a bit more of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond books than anything else. I liked most of the characters quite a bit but occasionally wanted to tell James to stop being so self-absorbed and annoying. It’s not exactly what I expected or wanted, and yet I find myself thinking of it later with a lot of affection. (Also, I love that it illuminates a lesser known moment in history.)

Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuire: Perfectly okay urban fantasy, which I mostly read because I’ve heard that the series as a whole is amazing. I wasn’t super invested in this first book, but I will keep reading at least a few more.

Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan: (reread) I normally love Courtney Milan’s books, but I have to admit that this one didn’t work that well for me–the main characters never quite came alive.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: (audiobook, reread) So, if you have a chance, definitely listen to this audiobook. Woodson’s narration made her words and story come alive. I liked Brown Girl Dreaming a lot when I read it the first time–I flat out loved it this time. Laughed, cried, smiled.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia: This was the first in a string of books I liked and also didn’t like as much as I expected to. I know several other people who LOVED it (here’s Jenny’s review) and I do see why, but it also just wasn’t my reading experience. I did finish, obviously, and I did like it–but I’m a bit troubled by Minnie’s characterization, and I wasn’t super impressed by one of the twists, and I just wish I loved it the way everyone else does. The end.

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw: I really, really liked this one–I think it’s a positive and honest depiction of being a fangirl. I also appreciated that Breslaw shows us a character who’s feminist but who’s also still learning–who messes up and judges other girls and has to overcome that very real human tendency. I didn’t flat-out love it, but I would definitely recommend for people looking for a light & also thoughtful read.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi: I’ve been meaning to read this one for awhile and I ended up really liking it. Koyanagi builds a complex and fascinating world, and the main character, Alanna, is wonderful. It’s also inclusive–Alanna is described as Black, has a chronic illness, and is gay, and some other spoilery stuff. I’m not an authority on any of those identities, but they seemed to be well handled. This is a nice science fantasy kind of book, and I’m happy to recommend it.

A Tangled Web by Lucy Maud Montgomery: (reread) Ughhhhh, there’s so much racism. And ableism. And weird romances where we’re supposed to cheer for the characters but I just wanted to yell: GET OUT! I did love Margaret, and Aunt Becky, and dang Montgomery can turn a phrase. But this was not my most successful re-read ever, although the people I was reading it with are wonderful and there were many knives emoji used.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: I absolutely loved 9/10ths of this book–it’s slight but packs a lot in, and is probably my favorite thing I’ve read by McGuire so far. (I mean, if Feed had not been followed by its sequels, that would be my favorite.) But I wasn’t–expecting? hoping for?–the ending that we got, and I think the slightness of the book worked against it in that regard. Overall, however: YAY.

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle: So–so I liked this book, and I liked Quinn, and I think Federle is a good writer who has a specific & unique voice that I enjoy a lot. But I have two quibbles. First, I recognize & respect what Federle is trying to do in the depiction of Quinn’s mom, but I’m not sure it works. Second, I think it wants to be both a serious book and a lighthearted book and it isn’t quite one or the other, or evenly balanced between the two.

Peas & Carrots by Tanita S. Davis: review coming on Friday!

Other posts
Ten years at By Singing Light!
essay: Finding new people, finding my value
essay: Pop culture & me
booklist: Musicians in fantasy books
booklist: Alternate takes on portal fantasies
What I’m reading 5-11
What I’m reading 5-25

Me elsewhere
On the Myrrhbearers

TV & movies
Hinterland/ Y Gwyll: I’m not generally a fan of the genre that might best be described as “sad white male detectives” but for some reason I do like Hinterland. I had almost finished the first season, so I wrapped that up and went on to the second. I have to say that despite generally liking the show, the last episode of the first season really annoyed me–it seemed to fall into all the lazy tropes of the genre. What I do appreciate about Tom Mathias is that he reaches out to people, but in this case the way he reached out was super unethical, and the consequences were super annoying and boring. In short: I like this show, but be better, please.

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Pop culture & me

parks4ham(source)

If you were to go back in time and tell teenage Maureen that adult Maureen was interested in pop culture, I’m sure the response would be a perfectly teenage mixture of sneer and bafflement. I was one of those kids who leaned hard into being different (which is fine) and disliking anything the kids around me liked (which is not so fine). If it was big, I turned away.

In fact, part of the reason I still haven’t read the whole Harry Potter series–I know. I KNOW.–is that it was popular and therefore bad. (Also my parents asked me directly not to read it. So I read Poul Anderson instead. It’s possible this was a mistake.) In short, when it came to pop culture, I have a history of being a bit of snot.

At any rate, it’s taken me until well into adulthood to respect and embrace both pop culture and the idea of pop culture. Nowadays, I find the whole thing fascinating. Although I certainly pick and choose which aspects I’m interested in engaging with, I do consider myself a part of the whole web that makes up pop culture. There are a couple of reasons for my shift in thinking.

For one thing, nerdy stuff–the stuff I’ve always been interested in–has become more mainstream. I find the kinds of things I want to read and watch are more likely to be considered part of pop culture, and since I’m no longer a snotty 13-year-old, this is pretty thrilling.

But more importantly, I’ve come to see pop culture as less about the thing that’s being consumed and more about the people you’re consuming it with. The process of sharing your love of [insert tv show/movie/album/book] builds a shared language: jokes, references, crossovers to other favorites. They’re about being able to say, “RIGHT IN THE FEELS” or “I feel like your inner April and inner Leslie are fighting” (as I memorably said to my boss) and knowing that the other person is going to get it. It is fundamentally about that common sharing & understanding.

I don’t want to pretend that pop culture is a utopia, by any means. We can and should critique real and important issues, including what is considered pop culture, the consumerism that inherently drives a lot of it, the effects of various (mis)representations. But I also don’t want to pretend that people aren’t already doing that. The same people who create the memes and jokes also point out that Rey is missing from Star Wars toy sets, or that Doctor Strange is a racist mess. It’s not an either/or.

And it’s also helpful for me to realize that I’ve been part of it all along. From my Lisa Frank folders to the LotR fan videos on, even when I thought I was so apart and above it all. At some points in my life this realization would have been distressing; now I just think it’s a little funny and a little encouraging. I was never quite as alone as I thought.

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Currently reading 5-25

night watchWhat I should be doing is rereading Night Watch and crying.

Actually, I’m rereading A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery, which occasionally makes me want to cry for different reasons. (Peter Penhallow is so awful.) I somehow lucked into being part of a librarian Montgomery book club which has been a highlight of the past month.

I’m also reading Gillian Bradshaw’s Horses of Heaven, which is one of the the last Bradshaw books I haven’t read. I’m finding it a bit slow, without the clarity of character & time that her best books give.

And I started Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here on my lunch break yesterday. As I tweeted, this was a horrible mistake as all I want to do is keep reading it. I’m liking it as a portrayal of fan culture, as a look at a character who’s trying to be feminist and not always succeeding, and as a story with a strong friendship between girls. There are aspects that seem somewhat annoying, but I suspect that they will be addressed.

(Would I feel that same way if some other readers I trust hadn’t liked this one? Not sure, and definitely something I’m thinking about.)

 

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Where I’ve been

IMAG0808I disappeared for a week! I had the best intentions in terms of posting here, but it didn’t happen. (Best laid plans & etc.)

Anyway, as you may already know, I was moving into a new place! It’s a duplex in a different area of the city & I think I’ll like it a lot. At the moment it’s rather full of boxes.

So, posting should start again here this week. I started unpacking my books and promptly had to overhaul my organizational system. I know you’re all shocked.

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What I’m reading: 5-11

The Bantam edition aka the only right cover, creeper Barney and all.

The Bantam edition aka the only right cover, creeper Barney and all.

Actually, at the moment I’m not reading a ton–I’m in fact returning all of my library books so I don’t run the risk of (HORROR!) losing them while I move.

I am allmmmmooosssst done with my reread of The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery. I’ve been doing a virtual book club for this one with some other librarians and it’s basically the best thing ever. I was interested to see how this one held up for me. Answer–pretty well! Valancy’s journey is one that still means quite a bit to me.

And I’m reading Kate Cotugno’s 99 Days as an ebook. I started this one awhile back, thinking it was going to be a nice teen romance, which is what I really needed to read at that point. It turned out to be much deeper, but in a way I couldn’t handle at that point. So now I’m picking it up again and liking it quite a bit.

I’ll be picking up The Perilous Gard here soon, for podcasting purposes and also because The Perilous Gard.

And that’s about it for now!

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Musicians in fantasy books

Today I’m taking a look at fantasy books which feature musicians–I’m less interested in this case in the generic bards that litter high fantasy, and more in books where there’s a specific, deliberate relationship to music. (These are all books I’ve read! If you know of others, let me know.) This is a bit of a subjective criterion, and probably Patrick Rothfuss should be on this list, but I couldn’t quite decide. When it’s done well, this is one of my favorite themes–the mix of magic and music can be a really powerful thing to explore.

masks and shadows seraphina 7ae48-cover_of_fire_and_hemlock

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston

The Dalemark Quartet (esp. Cart and Cwidder) by Diana Wynne Jones

Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

All Our Pretty Songs  by Sarah McCarry

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip

Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

 

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Finding new people, finding my value

I have some thoughts about community and finding people, which were sparked by last week’s anniversary post and some of the comments on it. I mentioned this on Twitter, and wanted to make sure I came back and actually talked a bit more about them.

So, I have a number of close friends from the blogging/online world who I’ve known for a long time now. Most–if not all?–of them came via the Sounis Livejournal community, so we’re all Megan Whalen Turner fans and we’ve hung out in the same small corner of the internet for a long time.

I love this, and them, so much.

At the same time, in the last maybe two years, I’ve started to actually take myself seriously. This is definitely a process and a journey rather than a done deal. But what I’ve noticed is that when I started to learn to take the work I produce here (and elsewhere) seriously, I started to find new people. People who in several cases had been there all along.

(How I managed to Live On the Internet, loving the same things, knowing the same people for this long without already meeting them, I don’t entirely know.)

Maybe it’s simply learning how to look outward rather than inward, maybe it’s learning how to have confidence that reaching out won’t be rebuffed. Whatever it is, I’ve found recently that although my long-term friendships are as important to me as they ever were, I’m also hopeful about the future. I feel almost as if there’s a never-ending well of new people to meet and share excitements and criticisms with.

Whatever it is, it seems like it’s taken some sort of internal shift which isn’t and perhaps never will be complete. Which is the sort of thing that would really annoy me if someone said it to me. If you’re struggling with community, it’s not your fault. And yet at the same time, it’s true. I’m always surprised and grateful that anyone’s interested in my words, but these days I’m also more sure of the value in them. (The surprise comes when others recognize it too.)

So, I suppose what I want to say is thank you. And also, I hope we all keep looking for new people to connect with; I hope you keep finding the friends that enrich your lives.

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