November/December Reading

This list contains some loooooong books and some sets of books, so there are fewer titles overall. Also, holidays, personal upheaval (getting better), picking up a time-sucking mobile game or two, etc.

 

Fantasy, SF and Related Genres

The Apocalypse Triptych: The End is Nigh / The End Is Now / The End Has Come, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey – I had waited until all three books came out, because the preface to the first one said that they would be a set of ongoing narratives – parts 1, 2, and 3 in each. That didn’t pan out, for some reason. Some threads disappear partway through, some are one-shots, etc. Also, probably in order to be fair to all the authors, the order is shuffled from book to book: 1A, 1B, 1C… 2X, 2Q, 2D… 3P, 3R, 3U. So it was aggravating to try to read through in order, but I gave it my best.

This is an anthology, so you have the usual gamut from great to welp-I’m-out. And some of the 3-parters varied amongst themselves; a few lost or gained steam from part 1 to part 3. In the end, I liked the concept of pre-, during-, and post-apocalyptic stories, even if the threads didn’t weave through all the way.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal – Won’t lie, I needed something short after knocking a couple of very long titles off my list. This was sad and lovely, and one of my favorite kinds of things: a story about people.

A Writer’s Life by Eric Brown – Also a short piece. A writer is haunted by the strange career of another writer from decades before. From the Literary Fantasy bundle that Storybundle did a while back.

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty – Chick lit / urban fantasy crossover. Fun concept. I enjoy contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy, but I’m tired of grimdark and private eyes right now. This started out as fun, getting increasingly bonkers as it went on. So much explaining, though. That’s inherent in a Book One, I suppose.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – Saying “this is my least favorite Rowell novel so far”* is like saying “this is my least favorite flavor of ice cream.” It doesn’t mean a lot. Fantasy is not quite the right genre for this; it’s… magical realism? domestic drama? Shrug. There’s a time-hopping phone and a crumbling marriage, and people make Bad Decisions. I’m a little amused that it’s a book about a landline phone in the cell phone era, and it’s also the first paper book I’ve read in months, apart from graphic novels. It felt weird carrying it around.

* I have not read Carry On yet.

The Hues, vol. 1 by Alex Heberling – Book one of a webcomic/graphic novel about an alien invasion and a (diverse!) group of girls (with varying body types too!) who manifest magical powers. Too soon to tell much about where the series is going, but I enjoyed it so far. I’ve always really liked the artist’s work at anime cons, and I’m glad I picked up the book.

The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M. Ross – Epic fantasy + polygamy + “timidity and domesticity can mean strength” + lost technology + shady conspiracies. That’s the fun thing about indie publishing – authors can mix up tropes and genres at will.

By no fault of the book’s, I got as distracted as a magpie in a glitter factory over the psychological/sociological elements. “Wait wait why does she still love her whalloping toolbox of an abusive husband? He was cartoonishly childish from the get-go, and even after he starts beating and raping her she’s like ‘Sigh! He’s so dreamy! I wish he loved me more than he loves my sister!’ What’s wrong with her? Aaaagh seriously Jonnor is an ass, Mia, were you dropped on your head as a child? Whyyyyyyyy.”

Despite my lingering unease about Mia’s decision-making abilities, the story was interesting to follow, with info-dump-free worldbuilding that leaves more plot to unfold across the rest of the series. There’s a lot to unpack across all of the societies that come into play. Finally, one of my usual dreads with epic fantasy is thin characterization, which was not a problem here – protagonists and antagonists (and mixes of both) have a range of personalities all around.

Romance

The Brothers Sinister box set by Courtney Milan

Here’s my trajectory into this series. Flash back to a year or so ago. I don’t know enough about historical romances yet. Courtney Milan is well-regarded/reviewed and seems to be very thoughtful about her choices of characters, settings and ideas. And hey, the first book was on sale at the time. So here we go.

Oh, this isn’t Regency like the majority of historicals; it’s Victorian. That’s cool, though. Moving on.
…books pass…
So the theme of this series is that all the dudes went to school together (brothers in spirit) and are left-handed, hence the title. OK.
…books pass…
After The Heiress Affair I thought: Uh, there are some oddly anachronistic ideas in this series. I know there were a few people who would look past a Scandalous Past or a penchant for reading or an abundance of *ahem* bass or a desire to give women the vote, but… there are so many of them in this series. So many. Everywhere. It’s like every main character was airlifted from 2015.

People ACTUALLY thought women were inferior back then, that’s just how it was. History. Historical. If you want the pretty dresses, you have to face the fact that everyone was backward by today’s standards. You have to accept that your heroes/heroines would have thought that people of color were subhuman. You have to accept that your heroes/heroines thought women were useless and needed to be cared for like small children. That was just how people thought. Otherwise you’re just visiting a theme park, slapping a pseudo-historical veneer on modern ideas.

Sidebar, though: That all applies to fiction set on Earth, in a timeline at least passingly similar to ours. If you build a fantasy world from scratch, you add in all the grossness intentionally and lovingly. Yes, Game of Thrones fans, I’m looking at you. (And I read ASOIAF, too. I just admit that it’s horrible to women on purpose.)

Back to the TBS-reading thought process.

All right, well, the box set is on sale, and I was really looking forward to The Countess Conspiracy. I’ll bite.
…reading on…
OH.
OH, that’s kind of the actual theme of this series, isn’t it. This string of progressive-for-their-times ideas and people. The bluestocking, the BBW, the suffragette, the astronomer – all would be “normal” these days, but back then they’d be exceptions to the rule.

Ahaaaaaa. Now I gotcha.

And I love that theme, but feel like I’m cheating when it comes to historicals. It’s like all the fashion of historicals with none of the soul-crushing ideology. I know that there were suffragettes and bluestockings etc. back in the day, but there are so many of them in this series, and they all know each other. It’s like a cadre of time travelers.

So I am torn: I love the series, but I also feel like this isn’t The True Historical Romance Experience. It’s the Historical Romance Experience with all the crap I don’t want taken out (rapey heroes, fainty heroines, retrograde notions about purity and respectability). I feel like I’m getting away with something by reading it. In other words, I like it more than I think I’d like the subgenre as a whole. It feels like Historical For People Who Don’t Like Historicals.

Now, I came out of this still feeling like I don’t know much about historicals, so I’m sure I am being unfair. This is worth revisiting to me, once I have more books under my belt. I’ve got half a dozen historicals on my TBR pile, so I will get to them.

Having said all of that: Of the series, my favorite is The Countess Conspiracy, because science!! and a handful of tropes that I like, but mostly science!!. They each stand pretty well alone in my opinion – minor characters cross over all the time, and the build-up to the big reveal in The Countess Conspiracy is pretty cool, but starting at the beginning doesn’t seem absolutely required.

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev – After trying for a year or so to read romance and never really finding my knock-out every-one’s-a-winner niche, I think part of the problem is the set of tropes. This book took the romance world by storm a couple of years ago, and I wonder whether some of that is because it operates on a different set of tropes than most Anglophone romances. Dunno. Granted, I was annoyed by a few of the tropes here (yes, we get it, she likes food and stays itty-bitty), but at least they were different tropes than the ones that usually annoy me.

Writing & Publishing -and- Other Nonfiction: None this time around.

Totals: 129 on the TBR list at the beginning of this fortmonth two-month period; 121 at the end.

In light of my enormous rant about historicals up there, I feel I should focus on reading the historicals in my TBR and learn more about the subgenre. January/February is my least favorite time of year, so this should brighten my winter – or at least give me a lot to think about.

Happy reading!