Jul. 3rd, 2017

Book review: "The Wind off the Small Isles," by Mary Stewart

First, a curse on all incompetent blurb-writers; this is the second time in a month that I've encountered a blurb that gives away virtually the entire plot. Fortunately, I know better than to read the blurbs of books I'm guaranteed to read.

I first encountered Mary Stewart's novels on my mother's bookshelf when I was thirteen. Mary Stewart's Merlin novel The Crystal Cave is my favorite (and by "favorite" I mean one of my top five favorite novels), but her romantic suspense novels aren't far behind. I reread them every few years.

The Wind off the Small Isles is a 1968 novella that was "long-lost," which I assume means that someone eventually got around to tracking down Mary Stewart's published short fiction. The novella is romantic suspense, but - unlike most of her novels - it isn't crime fiction, which helps to shorten the storyline.

What suffers most from the shorter length, I think, is the romance. Even though Mary Stewart drops an appropriate foreshadow of love at first sight, it's rather difficult to see what draws the hero and heroine together, other than good looks and an ability to survive the travails of a volcanic island. Character development suffers especially. All that I gathered about the hero is that - like all Mary Stewart heroes - he is charming, handsome, intelligent, affectionate, and alarmingly competent in crises. All that I gathered about the heroine is that - like all Mary Stewart heroines - she is charming, beautiful, intelligent, affectionate, and alarmingly competent in crises. Clearly, the two are well-matched for each other, but there never seems to be any doubt about that. In a word, there is no conflict, which makes for a rather dull love story. The suspense is exciting, however, which helps to make up for it.

Where the novella shines is where Mary Stewart's stories always shine: in the combination of landscape and history. I always want to grab a map and encyclopedia after reading her novels, because she makes the setting as exciting as the characters. In this case, the setting is one of the Canary Islands, and the fun is in trying to predict exactly what aspect of the island is going to end up getting the heroine into trouble. In the meantime, the description of the island is lush, the minor characters are interesting in their own right, and the history is vibrant. This story made for a delightful lunchtime reading.

Jun. 19th, 2017

Book review: "Thick as Thieves" (Queen's Thief, Volume 5), by Megan Whalen Turner

No major spoilers for the series )

Feb. 15th, 2017

My January 2017 reading

Blurbs are generally stolen from the author or publisher.

Top pick of the month

Naraht: "Að fara til Íslands" [uploaded 2011]. Historical fiction set in England, Iceland, and the Arctic during the early 1930s. Slashfic of Mary Renault's The Charioteer; can be read without knowing the original canon. "He had spent last year's summer holidays working his passage to Iceland and back in a trawler." (Don't read the story header, except for the blurb; toward the end of the story, you'll enjoy the delightful surprise that I did.)

Original fiction

Naomi Novik: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) [2006]. Historical fantasy adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars. When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo - an unhatched dragon's egg - Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain's Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte's invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands - and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East - a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Noel Streatfeild: Theatre Shoes (Shoes #4) [1945]. Children's fiction (school fiction and domestic fiction) set during World War II. When their father is captured during the war, three children come to London to live with their grandmother and join their talented theatrical family in a school for stage training.

P. L. Travers: Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins #1) [1934]. Ill. Mary Shepard. Children's fantasy set in London during the early 1930s. Life was never the same again for the Banks family after the astonishing Mary Poppins blew in with the east wind.

Fan fiction

(Both these stories can be read without knowing the original canon.)

lastwingedthing: "as morning steals upon the night" [uploaded 2016]. Historical fantasy set during the early twentieth century. AU slashfic of E. F. Benson's David Blaize. Frank is even more special than David first realised.

Jay Tryfanstone: "The Very Secret Diaries of Saint Augustine" [uploaded 2012]. Historical fiction RPF set in the fourth and fifth centuries; can be read without reference to the canon, though it's way funnier if you've read St. Augustine's Confessions. "404. Correspondence Jerome continues. Infuriating. Do not understand why he does not see my point! Translation of 'gourd' vital to understanding of gospels."

Pleasure nonfiction

(This category is for nonfiction that I'd be willing to read for fun, though sometimes I peruse it for the sake of research.)

Mroctober: "Adventures of a Cat Slave" [2011]. Daily-life post only lightly fictionalized, as any cat's companion can testify. "Your master welcomes you back to his domestic holdings with a meow at the top of the steps."

Joseph Husband: A Year in a Coal-Mine [1911]. Adventure memoir. "Ten days after my graduation from Harvard I took my place as an unskilled workman in one of the largest of the great soft-coal mines that lie in the Midwest."

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Freelancer's Survival Guide [Third Edition, 2013; also online]. Business book for authors and other freelancers; includes lots of autobiographical anecdotes. Most people become freelancers without any idea of how to run a business. They learn in the school of hard knocks. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has taken the school of hard knocks and made it into one of the most useful business books written in years. (That's the official, effusive blurb, but it's true.)

Jan. 5th, 2016

My 2015 recommendations for reading, listening, & viewing; plus, authors' upcoming releases

For those of you who don't follow me regularly, I mostly read older fiction (late nineteenth century to mid twentieth century), historical fiction, historical speculative fiction (historical fantasy, etc.), juvenile fiction, and various types of gay fiction (especially original slash). But sometimes I read other stuff too.


Older writings )
Current fiction )
Blogs )
Podcasts )
Videos/TV/film (no spoilers) )

Do you folks know of any stories etc. to recommend?

Oct. 14th, 2015

Story recommendation (gay adventure): "Silver Bullet - Everest," by Rolf and Ranger

Rolf and Ranger: Silver Bullet - Everest (Falls Chance Ranch series; gay adventure; online fiction; also available in ebook formats through their forum, which anyone may join).

The novel tells of a long-time adventurer's quest to climb Mount Everest alongside his life partner. Amidst the dangers and joys of the journey, the protagonist realizes that he must come to terms with his inner demons.

A cracking good adventure and amazingly moving novel, due to the concrete details, slowly growing suspense, and careful pacing of the character development alongside the thrills of the climb. That Silver Bullet - Everest is a parallel novel to the breathtaking Silver Bullet - Ranch novel (the Ranch novel is first chronologically, if you want to read them in order) is icing on a very tasty cake.

Daily life: Series bible, trivets, ebook covers, decluttering books, & a book recommendation

"So, yeah, I'm thinking fanfic is a younger person's game - it's for people who can scan their Twitter, scroll through their Tumblr, bash out a Facebook status without looking, take a quick gander at their RSS feed, do an LJ update crossposted to their Dreamjournal, edit a fanvid and watch the next ep/installment of fill-in-the-blank before it airs anywhere, while doing whatever they do for a living and having a life. All at the same time."

--Heartofslash.


My professional work last month )
Series bible )
Covers and props; or, The Trouble with Trivets )
The final total after three months of decluttering books )
A book that passed my test for 'Gosh, I Must Buy This *Now*' )

Daily life: Series bible, trivets, ebook covers, decluttering books, & a book recommendation

"So, yeah, I'm thinking fanfic is a younger person's game - it's for people who can scan their Twitter, scroll through their Tumblr, bash out a Facebook status without looking, take a quick gander at their RSS feed, do an LJ update crossposted to their Dreamjournal, edit a fanvid and watch the next ep/installment of fill-in-the-blank before it airs anywhere, while doing whatever they do for a living and having a life. All at the same time."

--Heartofslash.


My professional work last month )
Series bible )
Covers and props; or, The Trouble with Trivets )
The final totals after three months of decluttering books )
A book that passed my test for 'Gosh, I Must Buy This *Now*' )

Sep. 1st, 2015

Daily life: Ebook publishing, online fiction posting, antique shops, book decluttering, & story recs

"The thing about reading fanfic (and original slash fic) is that you get used to that particular writing/reading culture after a while. You get used to the frank discussions of sexuality and kink, the close attention to diversity and social justice issues in the text, the unrestrained creativity when it comes to plot. The most amazing, creative, engaging stories I've ever read have almost all been fanfiction, and I think part of that is because there’s no limitations placed on the authors. They’re writing purely out of joy and love for the world and its characters, with no concerns about selling the finished product. The only limit is their imagination.

"Next to that, most mainstream fiction starts tasting like Wonder Bread, you know?"

--Cordelia Kingsbridge.


My professional work last month )
A few factoids about my latest Eternal Dungeon novel, 'Checkmate' )
Posting online fic again! Man, that feels good )
Prop-shopping at antique stores )
My decluttering of books last month )
My web addiction last month )
My family and leisure time last month )
A banner month for good reading )

Apr. 22nd, 2015

What I read in March 2015

More goodies )

Mar. 11th, 2015

Story recommendation (gay Western): "Falls Chance Ranch," by Rolf and Ranger

Rolf and Ranger: Falls Chance Ranch. Also available in ebook format (including stories not yet available at their website) at their forum and in the Files section of their Yahoo Group.

I originally thought this online fiction series was a domestic discipline tale. And then I thought this was a series like Maculategiraffe's The Slave Breakers, centered on a loving, hierarchically ordered, highly unconventional surrogate family.

It was the incongruity that was getting to him. People didn't generally have disasters while companionably eating muffins together.


The series Falls Chance Ranch (currently consisting of three completed novels, a work-in-progress novel, and numerous shorter works) is both these things, but in addition to that, it is one of the most powerful psychological studies of a man that I've encountered in fiction.

The rest of the review )

Mar. 2nd, 2015

What I read and watched in January and February 2014

"I went on to wonder what it really would be like to share a house with one of the heroes from some of my favourite gay books? . . .

"Laurie from The Charioteer . . . is far too intellectual for me. It'd be all 'But Aeschylus said . . .' Sod Aeschylus. Have another gin and tonic, for gawd's sake.

"Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisted. Argh! No no no no no no no. He'd turn up, pissed as a fart, having left his family and he'd stay for some indeterminate time, taking up the best bedroom, making me make tea and quails eggs (you try and get them in Great Yarmouth, I just challenge you) for him and Aloysius and inviting his bitchy friends over to eat me out of house and home."

Erastes: You Like the Book - But Could You Live With Him?


The goodies )

Nov. 19th, 2014

Story recommendations (WWII naval narratives): Alistair MacLean

Reprinted from my Goodreads account.
H. M. S. Ulysses )
The Lonely Sea )

Oct. 6th, 2014

Story recommendations (m/m suspense): Cordelia Kingsbridge, Jane Seville, and Dani Alexander

Well, it's clear by this point that I'm not going to do a proper job and post new story recommendations at either my Buried Treasure recs site or my Goodreads account, so let me try to get them to you in this fashion instead.


Cordelia Kingsbridge: suspense and twists )
Jane Seville: suspense and guns )
Dani Alexander: suspense and bunny slippers )

Oct. 12th, 2010

New recommendations of books on gay relationships, masculine culture, and an alternative history

I've posted an update at my recommendations site, Buried Treasure, with reviews of the following:

* E. F. Benson's David Blaize at King's
* Thom Magister's The Slave Journals and Other Tales of the Old Guard
* James Buchanan's Hard Fall
* Christopher White's Skipjack: The Story of America's Last Sailing Oystermen
* C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

Jan. 1st, 2010

Daily life: Still worrying about e-publishing matters

"If B&N wants to maintain a 20th century business model, they should start selling sculptures. I figure they've got at least ten years before consumers get hold of 3D printers and scanners, and force them to invent new ways to make money on [Rodin] downloads."

--John, commenting on the LendMe feature of the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader.

Background to my entries )
Writing: Rape, torture, and therapy (with spoilers for KatBear's 'Jailbait' )
Writing: Google Book Settlement redux )
Writing: More news on Google Editions (with my summary of the various options available to e-book self-publishers) )
Writing: Summary of my sales this year )
Simplicity: Reworking my monthly schedule again )
REVIEW: Recommendation of Syd McGinley's 'The Complete Dr. Fell, Volume Two: Found' )
Simplicity: Getting my messed-up schedule back in order )
Writing: I've been bittorented )

Nov. 22nd, 2009

Daily life: Trying to figure out ways to improve my wordage

"Look, I do know this: stories matter.

"Sometimes they come to me in the middle of the night, I wake up and I know there was once a person with a name, a history, a life -- and sometimes they died a hundred years ago and sometimes they haven't been born yet, but they're so real, they're right there, like I can touch them. I write them, when I can, and grieve them often, in ways I've learned to be smart enough not to talk about.

"At times that bothers me, the silence I feel obligated to that comes with storytelling. It bothers me when I write, which is one manner of inhabiting a character, and it bothers me when I act, which is another. But I've learned to live with it because stories, and the people they are about, are, in the telling, more important than me.

"I'm just a translator, a medium, a canvass and a liar. Their stories matter so much that in the telling of them, all I can wish is to disappear.

"And I love them so much, the people I tell into being.

"Which means that when it comes to the business of awards my gut says, honor them. Not me. Not writers. Characters. Stories. Honor them."

--RM

Background to my entries )
Writing: Man, oh, man, I'm offline for a month, and the entire e-publishing world changes )
Simplicity and Writing: My time online; plus, the Prison City stuff I found )
Writing: For your amusement, the Nautical Telegraph Code )
Writing: The Lambda Literary Awards discussions in the blogosphere )
Simplicity: Getting back on track )
Writing: Squee! My name was mentioned at Yule Treasure! )
Home: What happens in today's society when you aren't geek central )
REVIEW: Recommendation of Rudyard Kipling's 'Stalky & Co.' )
Writing: Monthly totals )
Writing: My Muse moveth )
Writing: My Muse really moveth; plus, Rosemary Sutcliff and P. G. Wodehouse )
Writing: My Muse slows down a bit; plus, turn-of-the-century romantic friendship fiction )
Writing: Triumph! The Turn-of-the-Century Toughs world is now the Mid-Atlantic )
Home: Reasons why I often feel I'm a conservative )
Writing: Not-quite-good-enough writing )
Writing: My unfocussed Muse )
Writing and Mentoring: I've decided to make my winter schedule my year-round schedule )

November 2017

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