rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-03-20 11:20 am

First Chapter/Page Challenge

Warriors of Alavna, by N. M. Browne. Children’s time travel or portal fantasy. The first few pages, with a popular boy and an outcast girl stumbling into another world or time, grabbed me despite some irritating word repetition. (Yes, I got that the magical yellow portal mist felt oily the first two times you mentioned it.) Keep.

Can’t Catch Me, by Michael Cadnum. Fairy-tale re-tellings in a charming voice. Definite keep, probable read soon.

The Oracle Betrayed, by Catherine Fisher. Extremely vivid first chapter, in which a girl in a fantasy ancient Greece enacts a ritual involving a brass bowl full of scorpions, to bring death to a god incarnate and rain to her land. Definite keep, probable read soon.

The Complete Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper. Classic sf that I’ve never read. The opening had nice vivid worldbuilding, and also a playful tone, which I hadn’t expected. It seems fun. Keep.

Shadow Prowler, by Alexey Pehov. Epic fantasy translated from Russian. I have never read any Russian fantasy, so I was excited to read something different from American and British epic fantasy. Then I hit this, on page one: Fortunately, I have yet to run into the demons who have appeared in the city since the Nameless One began stirring in the Desolate Lands after centuries of calm.

Nevertheless, I persevered. And encountered this on page two: The rumor is that the artifact that has until now held the Nameless One in the Desolate Lands is weakening, and soon he will burst through into our world from that icy desert covered with eternal snow. War is approaching, no matter how hard the Order of Magicians and the multitudes of priests try to put it off. It's simply a matter of time. Six months, or perhaps a year—and then all those things they used to frighten us with when we were children will be upon us. The Nameless One will gather together an army and come to us from behind the Needles of Ice, and the horror will begin. Even here, in the capital, you sometimes come across devotees of the Nameless One. And I'm far from certain that the Wild Hearts of the Lonely Giant Fortress will be able to hold back the hordes of ogres and giants. . .

Unless someone wants to tell me that this is actually a brilliant satire, discard.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-03-19 12:49 pm

The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan

In which Lady Isabella Trent, alt-Victorian dragon naturalist and explorer, goes to Africa.

Needless to say, she learns about dragons, but also about herself. She’s already grown up quite a bit at the start of the book, and grows more during it, becoming less blinkered, reckless, and self-centered. This allows for a wider and more complex view of both the individual people and the cultures she encounters, but loses some of the humor of the first book, which largely came from Isabella being monomaniacal.

The first half of the book is largely taken up with Isabella traveling and meeting people and learning about the region’s culture and politics— but not, alas, its dragons. That part was interesting on a worldbuilding level, but slow. I also really, really wanted more dragons.

About halfway through, the plot gains a lot of suspense, some dragons appear, and I got more involved with Isabella’s character growth. The second half read very quickly, and had some fun surprises. But while the dragons were satisfyingly different from the ones in the first book, they play a surprisingly small role— more quest object than actual presence. Given how fascinating they were in the first book, I definitely could have used more dragons in this one.

While a solid story in its own right, the book does feel like a lot of it is there to set up later events. I’m looking forward to Voyage of the Basilisk, which I suspect and hope will have more dragons.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent (A Natural History of Dragons)

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent (A Natural History of Dragons)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-03-18 12:15 pm

First Chapter Challenge

I am trying to beat a path through my unread books, which have gotten really out of hand. As in, I have no room for new books. I am setting myself a challenge: to periodically pick up unread books, especially ones on overcrowded shelves that I don’t even know why I own the book in the first place, and read one chapter. On the basis of that, it either goes back on the shelf or to Goodwill. (Or— likely frequent outcome— I finish reading the book on the spot.)

Obviously, these notes are not remotely full reviews, but are merely for entertainment purposes. Feel free to tell me if you think I’m about to discard something I’d enjoy if I persevered.

Voices After Midnight, by Richard Peck. Author was famous in the ‘80s, but I never got into him. Two kids from 1988 time-travel to 1888. I know this because of the back of the book, but the first chapter-and-a-half didn’t get to it. Extremely, extremely dated, packed full of references that were new and hip in 1988. Also, dullsville. Discard.

Sign of the Raven, by Julie Hearn. Another time travel children’s book, this one to the early seventeenth century, which also didn’t get to the time travel by the time I gave up. First chapter consists of a mom with cancer, lots of descriptions of a mysterious stench, and a protagonist I really didn’t like. Likely to be depressing and full of grossness. Discard.

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, by A. Lee Martinez. A minotaur girl in a Percy Jackson-esque world. The first page was funny enough to grab me, plus one rarely sees a female minotaur. Keep.

Anxiety and its Treatment, by Griest, Jefferson, and Marks. An intro to anxiety for people who’ve just been diagnosed with it, not a treatment manual, as I thought when I nabbed it from library discards. Too old and dated to be useful. Discard.

A Night Without Stars, by James Howe. This grabbed me enough to finish it, though I’m not sure I’d re-read. Italian-American, 11-year-old Maria has to have an operation for a hole in her heart. She’s scared and no one explains things to her clearly. At the hospital, she meets Donald, a boy her age with severe burns, whom the other hospitalized kids mock and ostracize. Donald and Maria bond over admitting their fear and being honest. Dated in many ways, which is too bad since it was obviously written in part for children who are facing surgery and probably wouldn’t be given to them now due to the datedness, but emotionally honest and sweet.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-03-16 04:23 pm

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells

A science fiction novel in an unusual subgenre: the main characters aren't human, and don't have human bodies. There are only a handful of these, mostly written by C. J. Cherryh, but I almost always enjoy them. It's surprising how rare it is to write solely or primarily from the POV of an alien.

I'm clarifying "don't have human bodies" because there's a lot of books that are technically from alien POVs but the aliens are physically identical to humans except for maybe having green blood or pointy ears. The effect of those books is quite different from those in which all the characters are giant cats.

In a world full of many non-human races, Moon is a lonely orphan shapeshifter, hiding his true nature amongst various non-shapeshifting people lest he be mistaken for the only shapeshifting race he's heard of, the predatory Fell. After he's unveiled and nearly killed, he meets one of his own kind for the first time since childhood, and learns that he is a Raksura, a member of the generally non-evil shapeshifting race.

"Won't you come back to your people? They'll all be delighted to meet you!" Needless to say, things don't go quite that smoothly.

I enjoyed the alien world of the Raksura, with their communal social organization, and I am a sucker for stories of lonely people finding a home, especially if they have no social skills and are basically feral. So I liked those aspects of the book. Minuses were flat prose that produced an unintended emotional distance, and that I dislike inherently evil races. The latter was, unfortunately, a major feature of the book.

The Cloud Roads (The Books of the Raksura)
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-03-16 10:45 am

Con Report/Grumbling

I considered not saying anything about the issues at ConDor, which I have enjoyed in the past. But then I realized that if the organizational problems was bad enough to make me decide to not accept another invitation to attend (and it was) I should probably say so. Because if I felt that way, probably others did too.

I do appreciate the invite! And the people were all very nice. This is not about personalities or harassment, but about organizational difficulties that could be fixed.

None of the panels I saw, was on, or heard of at ConDor were assigned moderators. Nor were the panelists informed in advance that this would be the case. I scrambled to create some questions once I realized this was going on, and other panels had people step up, assign themselves as moderators, and do the same. The panels I was on were fine, but I could see that system going very wrong very easily.

The program booklet had panelists alphabetized by FIRST NAME. Panel listings gave them named by first initial and surname. Trying to figure out who I am on a panel with took an inordinate amount of scanning.

The Guest of Honor for next year, David Gerrold, had his name misspelled in the program book. (On the back cover announcing next year's con, in huge bold letters.)

I was not informed of what panels I'd be on until a few days before the con, and had no opportunity to switch them around, as the complete programming schedule was not available until two days before the con.

The hotel complex the con is held in is immense and confusing, and the hotel signage is poor. Therefore, the con's signage should have been better to make up for it. There were very few signs for the con, when there should have been many.

I was lost for forty minutes trying to find registration. When I finally found it, it was in an unmarked room. When I informed registration that their sign was missing, they told me that it was on the other side of the door - the side which is invisible from the outside. I don't know what was stopping them from putting up a second sign, so it would be visible to people looking for registration, but no visible sign ever appeared.

Hopefully ConDor will fix these issues for next year. Unless I hear that they have, I won't be going back.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-03-11 05:44 pm

The DeMaury Papers, by Isabelle Holland

Completely forgot to review this when I finished it, can now barely remember it. Moderately entertaining but uninspired Gothic in which the heroine spends 90% of the book sorting papers in a spooky attic and searching for her perennially missing dog, with occasional interludes in which someone whomps her over the head, shoots at her, or ties her up.

The concluding explanation of what the hell was going on is less amusingly deranged than one might hope from Holland (author of the deliciously wacky Trelawny, in which twin brothers impersonate each other until she didn't know which was which), but did manage to bring in multiple villains, an exploding car, international intrigue, a completely pasted-on-yay romance, and surprise!secret Israeli agents valiantly uncovering an incomprehensible plot by anti-Semites. Why this was all going on at a lonely British house and involved the heroine and her dog, only Holland knew.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-03-04 12:00 pm

Podcast Interview

Sherwood and I were interviewed on the Outer Alliance podcast by Julia Rios. Please feel free to ask follow-up questions here. (Spoilers are clearly stated in the interview, in "skip ahead a few minutes" format.)
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2015-02-26 09:22 am

Partner (the new Werewolf Marines book) is in stores now!

It's the sequel to Prisoner, which is FREE at all stores.

DJ Torres, the dyslexic werewolf Marine, and Echo, the genetically engineered assassin who is probably not a platypus shifter, return! Can they take on a shady government agency armed only with a playlist of the world's worst songs, the dubious assistance of a pack of dysfunctional made wolves, the power of love, and a whole lot of stolen weapons?

Features banter, movie and music references, about two bingo cards worth of hurt-comfort, PTSD and other mental illnesses (warning: suicide attempt), Russian meat jello, adventure, comedy, and way more sex than in the first book.

If you contributed to the posts requesting songs with odd subjects or terrible songs, some of your nominees appear in the book.

Echo has devoted her life to protecting her sister.

In all her years as a genetically engineered assassin, Echo never met anyone like DJ Torres before. The captured werewolf Marine offered her trust, friendship, love, and the hope of freedom— not only for herself, but for the frail clone-sister she won’t leave behind. But will Echo’s dark secret destroy their hopes for the future?

DJ Torres would give his life to save his buddy.

DJ has spent his life accomplishing the impossible. But now he’s faced with a dilemma that threatens to crush even his bright spirit. DJ can’t rescue his captured buddy without fleeing the lab. Echo can’t flee the lab without abandoning her hostage sister. Will DJ be forced to choose between his best friend and the woman he loves?

Will love keep them together or tear them apart?

Still held captive by the shady government agency running Wildfire Base, DJ and Echo are forced to go on a series of missions, from undercover escapades at an excruciatingly elegant diplomatic party to a desperate battle in a terrorist compound. Their relationship grows stronger under fire… until they are confronted with a terrible choice.

Partner has a happy ending and no cliffhanger.

You can get Partner as a $3.99 ebook here: Amazon. Amazon UK. Barnes and Noble. Kobo. Apple.

The paper version will come out later. You can also get it direct from me by Paypaling the cover price to Rphoenix2 at hotmail (NOT gmail.) If you feel so moved, you may add a tip/patron gift, but that is absolutely not necessary. I only mention it because several of you have mentioned thinking that the prices of my self-pubbed books are excessively cheap.

Please consider reviewing it. If you do, please mention that it's a sequel and the first book is free.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-23 03:40 pm

Frozen, by Meljean Brook

This short paranormal romance sounded right up my alley: two characters snowed into a cabin while battling hell-hounds and a curse! But it didn’t make much use of these delicious elements, other than the curse. Instead, it focused on the consent issues inherent in the old sex pollen trope. (Outside forces compel the characters to have sex.) Unfortunately, that didn’t work either, due to a combination of bringing up the issues without actually delving into them, plus a truly astounding amount of “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Olivia once shared a sizzling kiss with her co-worker Erik. He then shoved her away and proceeded to freeze her out for the next six months. Then she has to bring some documents to his woodsy cabin in the dead of winter. Next thing she knows, her car is wrecked, Erik has revealed himself to be part frost giant, and they’re both snowed in with a lot of poorly explained supernatural baddies banging down the door.

But it gets worse! Erik is under a curse, the nature of which he won’t explain except to repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly, demand that she shoot him in the head before he hurts her. After a lot of repetitive arguing, he finally tells her that the curse means he will be compelled to have sex with her in his part frost giant form, which is extremely well-hung.

She’s totally fine with this, since he’s now acting nicer, she’s had a crush on him all along, and she thinks he and his giant frost dick are super-hot. She does attempt to explain this, but gives up due to getting convinced that the reason he’s so dead-set against having sex with her is that he doesn’t want to have sex with her. Meanwhile, Erik is convinced that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, so any curse-driven sex they have will be rape. The “you need to kill me” argument repeats about five more times.

Some plot happens! They have sex! It’s a bit exhausting and rough but otherwise delightful! (His ice junk isn’t that big. It sounded a bit bigger than Liam Neeson’s.) Regarding consensuality, Olivia enthusiastically consents. Due to the curse, Erik doesn’t have a choice, but he would like to have sex with her under better circumstances and the reason he doesn’t want to have sex is that he can’t bring himself to believe that Olivia is actually consenting.

But due to Olivia again not being quite as direct as she probably could have been (by which I mean that she didn’t repeatedly bellow into his ear “YES I WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU I AM CONSENTING I AM CONSENTING THIS IS TOTALLY CONSENSUAL I LOVE FROST COCK YES I SAID YES I WILL YES”) and Erik again leaping to the worst possible conclusion, he decides that the curse-driven sex was rape and she hates him. She decides that he hates her and hated having sex with her. Then they finally manage to have an actual conversation and clear all that up. The end!

A very smooth, conversational, easy-reading style doesn’t save this paranormal romance from the Scylla of Stupid Decisions and the Charybdis of Communication Failures. Olivia was interesting but underdeveloped; Erik had very little characterization at all. As for exploring consent within the sex pollen trope, it probably it needed to be either much darker or to dig into the issues much more. “Murder/suicide or mildly rough but awesome sex that both parties would like to have with each other anyway” is right up there with “Cake or death” in terms of non-dilemmas.

The purpose of the sex pollen trope is typically guilt-free enjoyment of dubcon fantasies. You get all the trappings— “I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help myself,” roughness, neediness, sex with someone who’s otherwise unavailable, swept away by passion, animal urges, spontaneity— without anyone being a rapist.

I have seen sex pollen fanfic that does explore consent issues, but it tends to go very dark. Typically, the characters really didn’t want to have sex and feel terrible afterward, or even if they did want to, they think the circumstances made it rape and feel terrible afterward. Neither scenario makes for a happily-ever-after without a whole lot of post-climax work.

Meljean Brook is a writer people keep reccing to me on the strength of good/unusual worldbuilding, lots of action, interesting characters, and cracktasticness. I will definitely try some of her other books! I think this was a bad one to start with. Other reviewers who didn’t like it mention that it’s very atypical of her usual style.

Frozen
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-18 11:32 am

Trade Me, by Courtney Milan

Tina Chen is a poor Chinese-American woman attending college with Blake Reynolds, a young white billionaire man. One day Blake opens his mouth in class once too often, to be mildly condescending about poor people. Smarting from the thousand other remarks from others that have come before, Tina lays into him and tells him that he couldn't survive two weeks of her life. To her amazement, he offers to trade lives for a month.

I love trading places novels. But oddly enough, the "trading places" storyline is minor. We see very little of Tina experiencing a rich person's life, and only a little more of Blake struggling to survive Tina's life. I would have found this disappointing, except that what we get instead is also satisfying: two young people with complex, likable, yet difficult families balancing their family duties with their inner struggles and a slow-burn love affair. It's a romance that reads more like a mainstream novel; the romance aspect takes second place to the family dramas.

Taken on its own terms and without any outside knowledge whatsoever - say, read by someone who doesn't know anything about the romance genre and hasn't read Milan before - Trade Me is simply a very enjoyable novel. If you happen to have any outside knowledge at all of a number of things, specifically Courtney Milan, the romance genre in general, and its current trends in particular, this is still a very enjoyable novel which is also spectacularly unusual.

It's a solid novel which, solely on the basis of quality, could have been published traditionally. Except that it couldn't be, because it's the first book in a set of three and the second novel is about the romance between an Asian-American man and a Latina trans woman. That book will be the only novel I'm aware of published as mainstream genre romance with a transgender main character. I can think of a few genre romances with Asian heroes. Every single one is historical, and most were written by Jeannie Lin.

Trade Me has a Chinese-American heroine. This wouldn't be extraordinary for a mainstream literary novel, but this is marketed as a romance novel. That's wildly unusual.

And then there's its weird relationship to various subgenres. The premise is about trading places, but the book isn't at all a fish out of water story. It's a romance with a billionaire hero that uses almost none of the billionaire romance tropes. I had expected it to be a deconstruction of the genre, but it's not that either: it doesn't engage at all with those tropes, one way or another. What it is a deconstruction of is American attitudes about class and wealth.

Oh, yeah, and the hero has an eating disorder. The hero. Not the heroine. Milan is usually extraordinarily good at depicting mental illness, so I was a little disappointed with how it's treated here: it's a problem until he goes into therapy, and then it drops out of the story. I think she does better in her historicals because the characters don't have the option of therapy, so they're forced to grapple with it all the way through. I appreciate the message that therapy is helpful and that your girlfriend is not your therapist, but sadly it removes most of the dramatic interest from that storyline - the therapy is mentioned but not shown, so the whole storyline just ends. There's nothing wrong with the storyline, it just feels shallow compared to how she handled similar issues in her historicals.

However, if you've been meaning to try Milan but were put off by historical inaccuracies, there are none here as it's a contemporary. It has much (not all) of the quirky charm of her historicals, and a stellar supporting cast. I was actually more interested in the protagonists' families than I was in them.

It's also the only billionaire romance I've ever read where I believed in the hero's company. Cyclone and its gadgets are characters in their own right, and I absolutely believe that the Cyclone Vortex would cause a stir equivalent to the iPod.

Trade Me (Cyclone Book 1)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-12 11:30 am

For any Werewolf Marines fans...

Partner is finished, polished, proofread, and DONE. It has been turned in for formatting, and will be published once that's complete.

Prisoner is currently free at all e-book vendors. Hopefully that will lure in some readers.

If you enjoyed the banter and hurt-comfort in Prisoner, there's lots more in Partner.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-11 10:00 am

Brontosaurus BDSM, Werewolf Marines, and Serious Social Issues: Self-Publishing in the Wild

I have an article on the reasons why people self-publish as a guest-post at Charlie Stross's blog. If you were one of the beta-readers, I added stuff to the post that's up now.

You are welcome to comment either here or there. However, if you comment here, one topic is banned. It is whether or not Amazon is evil. It is not banned at Charlie's blog, so feel free to discuss that over there. I just find it a dull topic, since nobody ever seems to have anything to say that doesn't summarize as "Why don't the writer-sheeple see that Amazon is evil?!!!"
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-02-09 12:14 pm

Requires Hate/Requires Love

If you are not already aware of the Requires Hate situation, there is a full report here. Briefly, a person who writes under the pen name of Benjanun Sriduangkaew was revealed to be the notorious harasser Winterfox/Requires Hate/Lesifoere/many other aliases.

For over ten years, Requires Hate made death threats and rape threats, and stalked and harassed many people, including myself. To date, she has not responded to my public request for her to promise to leave me alone.

She engaged in a systematic campaign to destroy the careers of writers whom she apparently saw as her competition, primarily women writers and writers of color, by abusing and intimidating anyone who reviewed their books, harassing and threatening the writers themselves, attempting to get the writers professionally ostracized, and engaging in blackmail. (The blackmail link goes to an anonymous report; however, I have personal knowledge of the blackmail and vouch for it.)

I am posting to state that I have reported her to the police. I previously didn't say so publicly because I didn't want to give her the pleasure of knowing that she succeeded in making me fear for my life. However, I believe that the chances of her retaliating violently against me or others, whether in person or by hiring someone, are lessened if she knows that the police are aware of the situation. If any harm comes to me, a detailed report is on file documenting that I have a longtime stalker with a history of threatening death and violent attacks, including acid-throwing.

Supporters of Requires Hate often try to garner support for her and suppress discussion of her abuse by saying that speaking out against her is inherently racist because she's a woman of color, and that to support women writers of color, one must support Requires Hate. This erases the many other women of color in the field - a number of whom have been abused by her. Despite her efforts to suppress other female writers of color, she is hardly the only one.

Marginalized people are often unfairly persecuted and falsely accused. It's reasonable to be suspicious when you first hear claims that a woman of color is abusive. But marginalized people are people, and some people are abusive. Some marginalized people are abusive. Supporting abusers is not justice.

If you would like to do something positive, I suggest that you make an effort to read and review the works of writers with marginalized identities, and to promote the writers themselves whenever possible, such as by considering them as convention guests, lecturers, columnists, and so forth. There are very genuine obstacles in their paths that non-marginalized writers don't face, and they could use your support. Also, I very much doubt that Requires Hate will revive her campaign of harassing reviewers, so it should now be safe to review again.

If you're not sure where to start, here is a non-exhaustive list of sff/mythic fiction writers with marginalized identities of various kinds. The majority are women writers of color. Writers who were targeted by Requires Hate are starred. Please consider purchasing and/or reviewing at least one book or story by one of these writers, or by another writer of your choice.

*Saladin Ahmed
*Athena Andreadis

Samhita Arni
Samit Basu
Joseph Bruchac
Joyce Chng/J. Damask
Zen Cho
Aliette de Bodard
Tananarive Due
Zetta Elliott
Andrea Hairston
Nalo Hopkinson
S. L. Huang
*N. K. Jemisin
Alaya Dawn Johnson
*Caitlin Kiernan
Yoon Ha Lee
Malinda Lo
*Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
*Karen Lord

Lyda Morehouse/Tate Halloway
Shweta Narayan
Ty Nolan
Nnedi Okorafor
*Cindy Pon
Michelle Sagara/Michelle West
Sofia Samatar
Cynthia Leitich Smith
*Kari Sperring
*Tricia Sullivan

Judith Tarr
Shveta Thakrar
*Liz Williams

If you want to talk about Requires Hate, feel free to email or PM me. Please do not discuss her in comments. Trolling and off-topic comments will be deleted.

I am enabling comments ONLY for the discussion or recommendation of works by marginalized writers other than her, and for topics related to that. (My book reviews are tagged by author: surname.) Feel free to state a subgenre or tropes that you like, and maybe I or other commenters can rec something for you.

Please note that you don't necessarily know exactly how people identify, so stating the nature of a writer's minority identity is not necessary. Let's not do any identity-policing or arguing over whether any given identity is sufficiently marginalized to be called that. Definitions differ, so we can all decide that question for ourselves.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-07 01:10 pm

The History of Publishing

Sherwood has a guest post at Charlie Stross's blog on the history of English-language publishing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It began when [Curll] first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of "physic" (think ExLax) into his drink.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-02-03 04:33 pm

Biggles Learns to Fly, by Captain W. E. Johns

Johns was one of those British men of a certain era with a biography that sounds that it can’t possibly be true, featuring more heroics, odd incidents, narrow escapes, and prolific writing than one would expect from any twelve reasonably adventurous people. He was a fighter pilot in WWI, where he had a number of exciting incidents, including accidentally shooting off his own propeller, culminating in being shot down and taken prisoner. He then became an RAF recruiting officer, and rejected T. E. Lawrence for giving a false name. Mostly after this, he wrote 160 books, including 100 about ace pilot Biggles. (I cribbed this from his Wiki article, which is well worth reading.)

These books were hugely popular in the UK for while, and are probably still easier to find there. They were also reasonably popular in India when I was there. I virtually never see them in the US, and had I known this I would have obtained some before leaving India. They weren’t huge favorites of mine, but I did enjoy them and they are excellent for researching early aviation and fighting tactics, such as they were; Johns notes that WWI pilots were not formally taught to fight, but had to learn on the job. Casualty rates were high.

Biggles Learns to Fly is a solid, if episodic, adventure story; the interest is in the very realistic details. It takes new pilots time to learn to spot enemy aircraft while flying, even when a more experienced gunner is screaming that they’re on top of him, because they’re not used to scanning in three dimensions. It fascinated me to read the details of such early, primitive aircraft and aerial warfare. Pilots communicated with hand-signals, and Biggles was sent on his first combat mission after something like ten hours of solo flying.

Here’s an excerpt from the very last page, after yet another heroic action. Major Mullen shot a glance at Biggles, noting his white face and trembling hands. He had seen the signs. He had seen them too often not to recognize them. The pitcher can go too often to the well, and, as he knew from grim experience, the best of nerves cannot indefinitely stand the strain of air combat. The Major sends him off for a week’s rest.

This is what we would now call combat stress (acute stress in civilians), which may or may not be a precursor to PTSD. (It becomes PTSD if it doesn't go away.) I found it interesting because of how matter-of-fact and sympathetic Johns is, depicting it as something that happens to everyone and doesn’t reflect badly on Biggles. Some other writing from WWI sees it as a sign of cowardice or mental/moral deficiency. Possibly he would not have been so sympathetic if Biggles wasn’t back in reasonably good shape after his rest. Or possibly the RAF had a different attitude. Then again, the book was written in 1935. Benefit of hindsight?

That's also a good example of the tone in general; emotions are noted but not dwelled upon. We only get enough of anyone's interior life to make their actions make sense.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-02-02 01:13 pm

Two musical questions

1. What are the instruments playing in this song before the vocals come in? An organ? And... a piano? Chimes? Glockenspiel?

2. Please name a few songs with unusual subjects. Ideally, not pure novelty songs like "Mommy Got Run Over By A Reindeer."
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-30 02:09 pm

Recent Romances: The Heiress Effect, Summer Campaign, The Other Side of Us

Catching up on book notes; spot the theme!

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister), by Courtney Milan. Heiress Jane Fairfield has tons of money and suitors, but is determined not to marry; in my very favorite part of the book, she fends off her suitors with a combination of social obnoxiousness and spectacularly hideous dresses. Her sister Emily is shut in by her guardian due to epilepsy, but sneaks out and meets a sweet Indian law student.

A very enjoyable romance distinguished by excellent characterization, including of the minor characters, plenty of comedy, and good banter. I liked all the characters individually, but the heroines were much more interesting to me than the heroes, so this worked better for me as a novel than as a romance. It's the second in a series, but I accidentally read it first.

Look elsewhere for historical accuracy, though Milan does often use snippets of actual history: the hideous dye which plays a role in the story actually was a recent invention. Anjan could have been doing what he was doing in England at that time, but I don't think everyone would have been anywhere near as accepting of his romance with an English woman. The discussion of colonialism, the rights of disabled people and women, and other social issues are all important and true, but also a bit anvillicious. That being said, in terms of the actual portrayal of people with disabilities, both mental and physical, Milan is outstanding.

The Other Side of Us , by Sarah Mayberry. A woman filmmaker still recovering from disabling car crash injuries moves in next door to a man with an adorable dog. She too has an adorable dog! It must be fate. I liked the realistic treatment of her disabilities, but there were too many stupid misunderstandings for my taste.

Summer Campaign, by Carla Kelly. Genuinely heartwarming romance between Major Jack Hamilton, just returned from years at war and struggling with PTSD, and the bizarrely named Miss Onyx Hamilton, who is illegitimate and so considered lucky to marry anyone, let alone the vicar whom she doesn't love. (The name is explained, but still.) She is set upon by highwaymen! He is shot rescuing her! She does such a good job nursing him that he asks her to come nurse his dying brother. And their relationship slowly blossoms.

The social situation probably isn't historically accurate, but the medical details are. The characters' emotions and the slow growth of intimacy and love are very realistic and believable. If you're tired of insta-love and relationships driven by lust, this is the book for you. Kelly is one of the few romance writers who has heroes who are not particularly handsome, out of shape, etc. Her characters are ordinary people who value each other for their personality and kindness.