[sticky entry] Sticky: Introduction Post!

Sep. 19th, 2010 07:27 am
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Hi there! I'm Sophia, and this is my journal. If you want to know more about me and about what you can find here, this is the place! )
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
I devoured this book in a single evening because I couldn't put it down, and then the next day I was just like I STILL WANT TO BE READING THIS BOOK because it was so great and I missed it.

This is the sequel to Zen Cho's first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, but with a new focus and new main characters, so you don't have to read the first one to follow this one. (But you should because the first one's great too! I think I like this one even more though.)

Muna wakes up on a beach with her sister Sakti, both of them totally lacking in memories of their prior life or what brought them there. They're taken in by Janda Baik's most powerful magic-worker, Mak Genggang, and for a variety of reasons Muna eventually ends up on her own in England, where she has multiple priorities, not all of them aligned with the British school for female magicians which has taken her in. And shenanigans happen, as is of course inevitable.

Featuring: Amnesia! Sisters! Multicultural magicians! Aunts who are also dragons! Queer interspecies romance! Fairyland! Questions of identity! AND MORE!

I found myself a little let down by the ending - not by anything that happened in the ending, because it was all great, but I think the pacing was somehow off or something, because I spent most of the book just like, totally delighted by everything, and then the ending just....happened. But overall that's a pretty minor flaw in an otherwise incredible book.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
In the wake of the Notre Dame burning, I've been seeing a lot of people saying things online that approximately boil down to: you shouldn't be sad about a historic building burning, instead you should be sad about this other specific issue which is obviously more important and isn't getting enough airtime.

And I have two different responses to this:

1. Shaming people for feeling sad about a recent tragedy is not an effective method for convincing them to listen to you about other things, no matter how important those other things are. Shame is not effective as a motivator to useful action - perhaps instead try building positively on the empathy that such people are demonstrating, to encourage them to think about other issues as well.

2. Excuse you, I already feel very sad about all those things too, feeling sad about one thing does not mean I have reached my Sadness Limit and need to stop, just today I cried while buying groceries because I passed a tiny protest for a local issue I care about, I promise you that I get overwhelmed by this world's many tragedies on a regular basis.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
I was in the mood to read more romance and library ebooks are so convenient, so I went browsing the historical romances my library has on offer, and opened the one that topped the list as most popular of the available-to-check-out ones. Which was this one. When I began reading it, it seemed relatively promising - serviceable prose, and a fun marriage of convenience premise. But the further I read the less I liked it.

The gender ideas the book espouses, for example, are kind of ugh. For starters, the female lead Wren has a bad case of Not Like Other Girls, and there's a distinct comparison between her and all the other wealthy young ladies hanging out for a husband who the male lead could have chosen from, as if she's the only one who could possibly be worth talking to. I do appreciate that Wren is forthright of speech and a competent businesswoman, but that doesn't have to mean that every other heiress in the world is a vapid know-nothing like this book posits.

And then there was a secondary male character, Netherby, who's described as small and pretty and with a strong interest in dressing well that toes near the line of becoming foppish. And the first time he's introduced the narrative makes it clear that despite all that he's not effeminate. Which like, okay, whatever, if you need to disclaim that to make a clear image of his character that's fine I guess. But then the book felt the need to protest against his effeminacy MULTIPLE TIMES MORE, as well as making sure it's clear that he's MASCULINE and DANGEROUS and I was like......so there's something wrong with a man being effeminate then, in the author's mind. THANKS.

And then for an added bonus there's a throwaway line about how Netherby was "trained in various Far Eastern arts by an old Chinese master" so that's some fun racism thrown in for no purpose. For the record, and I'm sure this won't surprise you, there are zero other people of colour mentioned in the entire book.

And on top of all this, the book's plot and relationship arcs just get boring by halfway into the book.

So. All in all I think that I won't be reading Mary Balogh again despite her popularity. And I've (hopefully) been taught my lesson about reading romances without first seeking out trustworthy reviews.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
These are the two sequels to Hate to Want You which I read recently, and the things I loved about that first book continue to hold true through these ones. EXCELLENT. And I was even interested in the romance between the leads of Wrong to Need You! (Still too much sexual attraction though. :P)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
The first indication I had that Pfeiffer might be more interesting than some of the other 19th century women travel writers I've listened to is when she first mentioned being in second class berths on her river steamship as she headed away from her home in Vienna. She was clearly not wealthy, unlike the majority of such writers!

But as I got farther, I was also impressed with Pfeiffer's matter-of-fact approach to describing all she sees and thinks about things. She is not afraid to state her mind, whether it's that she thinks more or less highly of things than the general opinion in Europe at the time. She tells you if a famed sight turns out to be nothing much to look at, and she also tells you if the people of a different race or nationality are actually - gasp - decent people!

Oh, she's still absolutely a white colonialist European about things, but like.....a notable improvement in this respect on other 19th century white women I've read, and I was pleasantly surprised. More often than not she actually seems to judge people and people-groups based on her personal experiences with them rather than solely based on received stereotypes! This should not be as revolutionary as it is.

She is kind of weird about finding it necessary to state the relative beauty of the women at each location she visits, which gets uncomfortable. From her comments about comparing her opinion to that of others, this seems to be something that's, like, a Thing in general amongst European travellers of the era? But that doesn't stop it being weird.

She semi-regularly gives updates about the temperatures she experienced in various locations, which I was fascinated by as it introduced me to a temperature scale I'd never heard of before - the Réaumur scale. The Réaumur scale sets freezing at 0 and the boiling point of water at 80 instead of 100, so it's juuuuuuuust similar enough to Celsius that you think you understand it. Unlike Fahrenheit temps, when it's obviously off enough from what sounds reasonable that I'm reminded I need to translate in my head. But when, for example, she refers to 35 degree weather as hot I'm like, yup, sounds right, hot but manageable. But no, 35 degrees Réaumur is FORTY-FOUR DEGREES Celsius! And the hottest temperature she ever records is 43 Réaumur which is just like....do I even want to know how hot that is?

(My fave fact about the Réaumur scale, learned from further curious googling, is that although its use has fallen by the wayside in almost all respects, it's still used specifically for cheese production in Italy and Switzerland, and candy-making in the Netherlands. Why those things in particular and nothing else??)

At any rate, I was impressed with Pfeiffer's personal qualities of bravery and willingness to endure hardship. Her travels sound honestly exhausting and overwhelming: she regularly has terrible sleeping conditions and little food, her overland journeys by horse or camel keep totally unreasonable hours in order to make the distance necessary, she experiences the abovementioned 43 Réaumur temperature weather, she tours a sometimes totally unreasonable number of things in a single day, and she sometimes cannot speak the language of anyone around her. (She's trilingual! But that only goes so far when all the languages you know are european ones.) I absolutely would not have been able to endure the things she did for the sake of her journey, but she found it worth all the trials.

Pfeiffer set off on the journey detailed in this book in 1842 as as a woman travelling alone. She felt the danger of the situation keenly enough that she was well aware there was a strong likelihood she would die on her travels and never make it home. And she did not have a lot of money, and wasn't upper-class with the privileges that affords either. But she felt strongly enough about her desire to see more of the world that she set off regardless.

This is only the first of several extensive trips Pfeiffer took, and according to the internet she eventually died of malaria contracted while travelling in Madagascar. But while it's a sad way to go, I'm honestly glad that she died of something directly related to her travels - travel seems to have truly been her passion in life, so at least it wasn't something else mundane that took her away from it. She knew from the start that travelling abroad may lead to her death, and she was clearly okay with that.

I'm excited to read more of her travels!

(But also: Does anyone have recommendations of 19th century travelogues written by women of colour? I really enjoy the genre of 19th century women's travelogues, but the colonialist point of view gets exhausting.)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Set in the modern-day amongst the Kazakh people who live in Mongolia, this is a middle-grade novel about a preteen girl named Aisulu who becomes an eagle hunter.

A beautifully written book with a lot of heart. I particularly loved the themes of being chosen as family, and what you will do for the people you love, and being accepted for who you are. The relationship between Aisulu and her brother, and Aisulu and her uncle and aunt, are particularly wonderful.

It's also the sort of book where questions of whether or not something is appropriation come up, as this is a book written by a white person about a culture not her own. It seems to me that Erin Bow did her due diligence, between her research, her summer living with a Kazakh family in Mongolia, and her multiple Kazakh sensitivity readers. But when I googled for other opinions, I found that the review in Kirkus at least dismisses the book as pure appropriation, based on the fact that the book presents Aisulu's community as being biased against girls being eagle hunters.

Which meant that then I felt I needed to do a bunch more research.

But the only resources I can find online discussing the subject in English are written by non-Kazakhs as well. I did manage to find brief quotes from two real life modern female Kazakh eagle hunters, Makpal Abdrazakova and Aisholpan Nurgaiv. Makpal said that she largely experienced encouragement in her desire to be an eagle hunter, and Aisholpan said that at first she faced opposition because of her gender but then was accepted. (Note that the movie about Aisholpan apparently makes exaggerated statements about the uniqueness of Aisholpan's being an eagle hunter, and the degree of opposition she faced, so I'm only drawing on what Aisholpan herself has said in interviews.)

So it seems from what little evidence I can find that the experiences Aisulu has in this book are plausible, as she finds opposition but also support from various people.

I am not Kazakh so I don't get the final say on whether this book is appropriation or not. But Erin Bow got a lot of direct Kazakh input into her book, so I think I'll trust to those people's input over that of an anonymous Kirkus reviewer.

And this truly is an excellently written book, definitely worth the read.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Okay so there's been some discussion of late in the romance community, apparently, about the relative lack of representation of books written by women of colour in romance-land's major award, the RITA. And like... I have a list of only three currently-writing romance authors I read on a regular basis (Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, and Rose Lerner) because it's intimidating branching out since I don't yet know enough about the romance industry to be able to find authors I will enjoy, and previous attempts to read praised-in-romance-circles romance novels didn't turn out well. So I tend to operate on a "recommended by people whose taste I trust" basis rather than reviews by people I don't know. But in the wake of the latest discussions I was like.....right, I should at the very least try out some books by some of the other major names that come up regularly in conversations about romance by POC.

And this was the one and only book that fit that criteria that my library had available as an ebook so this was the lucky winner! I was kinda disappointed because contemporary romance is not really my thing, but I decided to give it a chance regardless.

And uh, it turns out you guys, Alisha Rai is very deservedly praised. This was an excellent book!

So like, there are a few ways in which this book is not really for me, primary of which is that it has a lot more focus on the sexual attraction between the two leads than I, an Extremely Asexual Person, am at all capable of grokking. And in fact it felt to me like the sexual attraction got so much focus that the non-sexual features of the leads' relationship with each other got a bit of a short shrift. I don't feel like I was shown quite enough about what they like about each other as people.

But like, other than the romance (......I KNOW. I'M SORRY.) I really loved this book!

It's a story about a whole collection of really complicated interpersonal relationships within two families and between those two families.

The two families have a difficult history with each other because of a business relationship gone sour plus various other compounding situations over the years, despite having started out being about as close with each other as two families can be.

And within the families as well, beyond the fucked-up relationship with the other family, things are complicated within them as well, some for reasons that would have existed regardless.

I was just like. Super into this. All kinds of important platonic relationships with GUARANTEED HAPPY ENDING BECAUSE ROMANCE GENRE. Amazing.

(I still want romance-novels-without-the-romance to be a genre, I just want to read about people having complicated relationships with guaranteed happy endings, without it ALWAYS having to be about romance and sex, but I am getting off topic here.)

Anyway. In the scene where small spoiler, I guess )
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
A touring production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella came through my neck of the woods recently, and of course I had to go see it, since I grew up rewatching the 90's movie version over and over and over again.

My sister and I, in the lead-up to going to see the live theatre performance, watched all three of the made-for-tv movies of this musical. They all had their charms, but I don't think I'm biased in saying that the 90's version is the best of the three.

All three also had very different books, and rearranged the songs, and so forth. There isn't one canonical way that this musical must be told. The current live-theatre production of the musical, which has been touring for a few years now, is no exception. The book is totally rewritten yet again, adding new characters and even adding in an entire plot beyond just the romance aspect of the story.

And although I can see what they were going for with it.....I'm overall not a fan of the new book. There were some changes I really appreciated, like how Cinderella has multiple actual friends, but the added plot is just so over-simplistic that it seems silly.

The plot: the prince's parents have died, and a dude named Sebastien has been helping the prince rule until he is old enough to become king (he's never called a regent but that seems to be what he is). Sebastien is clearly taking advantage of the prince's ignorance and his trusting nature, and is doing some stuff that's not great for the people.

The people are upset that the country isn't doing as well as it was in the prince's parents' time! Poor people's land is being taken away from them!

Cinderella's friend Jean-Michel is a revolutionary trying to bring the prince's attention to the plight of the people. At the ball, Cinderella raises the issue with the prince, and after that he tries to pay more attention and figure things out. Eventually a solution is determined: they'll add a role of prime minister to the government, an elected official who acts as advisor to the ruler. The prince chooses two candidates to run for prime minister: Sebastien and Jean-Michel. Jean-Michel wins the election, and Sebastien cedes! Yay! Everything is fixed!

My questions: How malicious is Sebastien? What was he trying to do? Was he the one taking land away from the poor people, and to what purpose? Why does he just seem to give up and give in when he loses the election? What else is going on amongst the common people beyond the single oft-mentioned complaint of land being taken? Why is it seen as totally reasonable and not at all just a further extension of the ruler's power that the prince gets to choose who runs for election? Does anyone recognize that this "solution" only works so long as the king/prince in charge is generally a good person, which is no guarantee in a hereditary leadership position? ET CETERA. The princess fantasy only works if you don't draw attention to the ways in which hereditary monarchy is an imperfect method of governance, and once you bring that up you need to do a lot more to do right by it!

Moving on.

Cinderella straight-up forgives her awful stepmother with no indication of contrition from the stepmother, and forgiveness seems to be portrayed by the simplistic understanding that it means all of the past can just be swept under the rug. Um. That's...not actually the healthiest approach to the relationship between someone and their abuser.

Each updated version of this musical is made to speak to its cultural zeitgeist, and this is no exception, but the prince as an awkward disaffected millennial who doesn't know who he is or how to adult is clearly supposed to be relatable and instead is just offputting. And honestly the romance as a whole is suuuuuuuuper awkward.

A character is just plain named "Crazy Marie" which.....cool. Yup. Ableist slurs are great, right?

I liked some of the song order rearrangement (the placement of There Is Music In You was great), and some I really didn't (Do I love You Because You're Wonderful is put AFTER enough has happened that Cinderella has directly shown her wonderfulness and it came across like the prince was just dismissing her accomplishments!)

Overall though despite my complaints I still thoroughly enjoyed watching it, I critique 100% from a place of love. I had a grin on my face throughout.

Some of the things I particularly enjoyed about this production included:

- all the dancing, especially by the people in tight pants so you can admire the athletic accuracy of what their legs do, and most especially by the transformed fox and raccoon

- the music and the singing and all that, like, hard to go wrong I know, but it was great

- Cinderella's costume changes! Impressively-done stage magic!

- The bad stepsister. She was honestly great and possibly my favourite character in this production, just so very straightforward and unapologetic.

- Sebastien's long flowy coat looked glorious

- Seeing it with my sister!
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
This is a book that I have seen recommended so many times in terms that made it clear it would be extremely my jam. I kept on not reading it because my library doesn't have it, but eventually I gave in and put in the effort to ILL it.

DEAR INTERNET: You were right. This book is incredible. Lesbians, swordfighting, theological magic, and political intrigue in the 19th century: what's not to love???

A Ruritanian romance, this book is set in the nonexistent continental european country of Alpennia. Barbara is the duellist of the old Baron Saveze, which means she is his property. Her past has been kept a secret from her, but he's promised her her freedom and the truth about her family when he dies. SURPRISE, when he dies she's instead passed on to his goddaughter, Margerit, whom nobody expected to be the heir to his fortune. (The expected heir is, of course Extremely Put Out that he's inherited the title of baron but not the money.)

Now Margerit needs to learn how much life changes when you have mondo money (with both the privileges that entails, and the danger that comes with it when you are an unmarried young lady), and Barbara needs to make peace with the fact that she must continue to be a possession (since Margerit is not allowed to free her until Margerit comes of age).

Meanwhile Margerit and Barbara are both scholars interested in studying the divine Mysteries in a systematic fashion rather than just trusting to tradition. And there's a difficult political situation involving unclear lines of succession to the rulership, that the whole country is obsessed with. And the disappointed heir to Baron Saveze is hanging about causing trouble for Margerit.

There's a lot going on!

I love the slowly developing relationship between Margerit and Barbara as they learn to trust each other and love each other, amongst the complexities of the inequal social standing between them and the issues that causes.

The worldbuilding was strong too, and intriguing, and I absolutely believed in the world that was created in this book.

And I love that this is a book that's unapologetically about two women who are really competent at the things they do (SWORDFIGHTING and STUDYING and MAGIC), while also being imperfect at them. And even though neither of the main characters is the sort of person who is into society and clothes, the book also makes it clear that social competence is also a valuable skill and not one to be looked down on.

And I love all the interesting and well-developed secondary and minor characters. Each one clearly has their own personality and history and things going on. I particularly loved the practical-minded servant girl gunning for the role of Margerit's personal maid, as well as Antuniet, the aloof scholar-sister of the disappointed heir. Apparently the second book in the series focuses on Antuniet, which I'm delighted by, because when I finished this book the number one character I wanted to know more about was her! I suppose it's time for more ILLing.

All in all: highly recommended.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
This is a historical f/f romance novella set tangentially in Milan's "Worth Saga" series. One of the two lead characters, Mrs Martin, shows up briefly in a previous book in the series as a minor character, but this book stands on its own.

Featured: Mrs Bertrice Martin, an elderly widow who is entirely out of patience with men and has no more fucks to give but also nothing left to live for, and Miss Violetta Beauchamp, an impoverished "surplus woman" who's recently been let go of her boarding-house-manager position after 50 years and is desperate to get a bit of money so that she has something to live on. They are united in their desire to get back at Bertrice's Terrible Nephew who is a tenant in arrears at the boarding house in question.

This book is extremely good for an extremely specific mood, and that mood is "MEN ARE THE WORST." It is not a subtle book. But you know, sometimes you don't need subtle! Read more... )
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
I saw Captain Marvel the other night! A fun movie. I really loved Carol, and her storyline of finding herself and freeing herself.

I also loved her interactions with Fury, their whole dynamic was AMAZINGGG, plus also her friendship with Maria was lovely and also Monica! And I want to know more about Mar-Vell, she seemed super cool too.

Also I think Carol is my not-having-to-smile-spiration. I really liked the things she did with her face. And something about this made me feel, like, weirdly comfortable in myself on my way home from the movie.

cut for brief discussion of antisemitic tropes )
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Wow, this is a powerful book. It's a memoir by a woman only a few years older than myself, which is weird, that I'm approaching an age that's old enough that people can already be writing memoirs by this point.

But that's not what I really care about with this book.

The author grew up in rural seclusion, raised by parents who were the sort of radical separatists who thought the Feds are out to get everyone, and that doctors and hospitals are evil, and the end times are coming, and by no means is a child to set foot in an actual school. Her family was loving, but challenging, in some extremely real and awful ways.

Read more... )

All in all: a very worthwhile read, which isn't something I often say about massively popular bestsellers getting recommended by famous people.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
It's Ann Leckie's newest book! And it's SO GOOOOOOOOD!

It's. Uh. Why am I so bad at writing reviews of the books I love the most? Okay. Okay! I can do this! This is a fantasy novel, set in the same general world as many of her short stories, which I had already read and loved.

This book is written in first person, but that person is talking to someone, so it's also written in second person. Which is kind of amazing and I love how this conceit plays into how the story is told.

The "I" of the story is a rock. More specifically, Strength and Patience of the Hill, a god who is in the form of a rock. The "you" of the story is Eolo, a soldier from a rural background who is aide to Mawat, the heir of the local, uh, rulership sort of position. It's complicated. He's definitely not a prince.

Because gods have to be careful about what they say - everything they say must be true, or they will drain their power in the effort to make it true - it makes for an interesting perspective on Eolo, because Strength and Patience of the Hill can never just forthrightly assume Eolo's internal processes, so there's something of a distancing from Eolo even as he's one of the main two viewpoint characters. Which creates an interesting effect, where Eolo honestly seems more of a cipher than any of the other characters in the story, despite his actions and reactions and other people's reactions to him being firmly foregrounded, which is weird and kind of cool how it ends up working. Eolo's clearly a guy with a lot going on beneath the surface and I want to know more! (meanwhile I very early on gained an extremely good sense of the kind of person Mawat is, possibly because he's really not that complicated. Oh Mawat.)

The story goes back and forth between two narratives, which are slowly brought closer and closer together until the one leads into the other. One is Strength and Patience of the Hill's history, starting loooooooooooooong ago in ancient prehistory, through the introduction of humans, and language, and the development of religion, and what it means to care about other beings. The other is the story of what happens in the immediate aftermath of Mawat arriving back in town expecting his father to be dead very soon and himself to take up the mantle of the Raven's Lease, but instead his father has disappeared and his uncle has usurped the role. (Yes, this is something of a Hamlet retelling, and with some really fun reversals and recontextualizations!)

Read more... )
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)

I currently don't have any backlog of book thoughts to post for the first time in, uh, a very long time. I'm used to my problem being TOO MANY BOOK POSTS, not too few, and it feels super weird!

I have read only two books all February because I just have not felt at all motivated to read. I have five different new library books out and can't make myself read past the first few pages of any of them. I dug out a familiar and well-loved book and got maybe 20 pages in and was like....eh. I tried pulling out a book I read only once many years ago and loved, to reread, and couldn't even get myself to crack it open. I dunno. Sometimes I just go through periods like this, where reading Actual Published Books just feels hard and I don't know why.

I LOVE READING. DEAR BRAIN: PLEASE LET ME READ AGAIN.

(Looking back at my stats from previous years, it's not uncommon for January or February (or both) to be lower reading months, so maybe it's part of the natural cycle for me and winter just sucks or something. But I still don't have to like it.)

sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
This is a romance novel of the civil war in the American South, but focused on all the different kinds of people who opposed Confederation. I think this is my fave so far of the Alyssa Cole books I've read. Still don't love everything about it, and in fact have a significant argument with one thing the book does, but....overall worth the read.

The two main characters: Marlie, a free black woman who left her black mother as a girl to live with the white half of her family in hopes of a better life, and finds herself both sheltered and stifled in her family home; and Ewan, a white Union soldier whose lack of emotional affect has led his superiors to see him as ideal for the role of torturer.

I liked Marlie a lot, and her difficult emotions about her relationship with her mother as well as her white family members, and her commitment to her work as a healer.

I liked Ewan too, but I really didn't like the decision to make him a torturer. Like. He is doing it for the good of the Union, and doesn't enjoy it, but he believes it's worth it in support of the cause, and the narrative clearly thinks his work is useful despite it being awful.

And this just plays into the same old lies that torture works. No. Torture is both ineffective and immoral! So there is never any excuse for it, no matter the situation! I am never going to be a fan of a narrative that upholds these kinds of wrongheaded ideas about torture. (Hello yes I am on this soap box again, as I am every time I read a book involving torture)

Or maybe it's just that the narrative considers Ewan a good man despite this. He is an adult person capable of making his own life choices and his own moral judgements and he is willing to do the torturing, and him experiencing negative feelings as a result of what he agreed to do doesn't actually lessen his culpability.

Almost directly after finishing this book I found myself rereading a novel-length fanfic wherein one of the romantic leads is himself a torturer. And as I was reading it, I realized that I am totally fine with the author's choices in that romance because the narrative acknowledges that the person who chooses to obey orders and use his skills to torture people for the good of his country is, like, not actually an uncomplicatedly good guy! And in A Hope Divided, Ewan.....is. Apparently. Despite the torturing.

Honestly this makes me feel kind of like the author is infantilizing Ewan a bit, as if he's not morally responsible for the choices he made to involve himself in torture, it's the fault of the people above him who told him to. Which is particularly uncomfortable in the context of Ewan being clearly written as autistic, given a general tendency amongst allistic people of discounting the agency of autistic people.

So in my opinion either A Hope Divided should have the whole torture thing removed, or Ewan's entire characterisation would need to change, for me to be wholeheartedly in favour of the book. And I like Ewan, so I'd rather the former!

Sigh. If you ignore everything about Ewan being a torturer I actually really did like this book. And you might too, depending on how easily you can put aside the torturer thing......!

C'MON ALYSSA COLE, I WANT TO LIKE YOUR BOOKS, YOU KEEP COMING SO CLOSE.

(my next Alyssa Cole is gonna be the novella Let It Shine, which I've heard good things about, so maybe that'll be the one. I want to also read Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, but the pricing for that novella ebook is absolutely outrageous if you are Canadian: $8 CAD as compared to $2 USD if you're american -- more than three times the cost, even taking into account exchange rates! -- so probably I'm not going to read that one unless my library gets it. And I've put in a request but the local library has never yet made a purchase I've recommended so I'm not holding my breath.)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
I was reminded recently of the enjoyment I sometimes get out of deciphering a new fandom through reading the fic. An author I enjoy started writing a bunch of fic for a fandom I'd literally never heard of before. And at first I ignored it, because reading in an unfamiliar fandom is also a lot of work, but eventually I noticed that the fic output involved a lot of tropes I like, so maybe it was worth giving it a shot?

Anyway that's how I ended up accidentally reading every extant fic posted on ao3 for a pairing consisting of a villain who's a crocodile man, and a minor character who dies in the movie in question. As you do!

Some fandoms are much more approachable from this method than others. I'm reminded of the days when I was first getting into Due South and trying to figure out what was up with Ray. (For those not in the know, there are two very different characters who both go by the name Ray Vecchio, both of whom are regularly shipped with the show's other main character.) The whole situation was completely confusing to decipher through fic alone and I spent a LOT of time being deeply befuddled and I think I ended up having to ask someone for help.

My most recent adventure was totally straightforward by comparison!

If this post is going to have a point, I guess a reasonable take-away is that you should also consider reading through the GQ Edwards/Waylon Jones tag? It's pretty fun! And pretty quick to read all of!

Maybe start with the kiss i would have spent on you, it's a five things fic featuring five different tropes the dudes experience: tied together, amnesia, truth serum, time loop, and meeting your AU self. A delightful buffet of tropes, all in one fic!
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
A YA novel about fairies, and a teenage girl who's a portrait artist specializing in the fair folk despite the inherent danger of associating with them.

I was more and more into it the further I read! I particularly enjoyed Gadfly's role in the plot, and have a lot of feelings about Aster, and I love Isobel's family. (I love how the fact that Isobel's younger sisters used to be goats is just....a fact of life, not a This Will Become Relevant plot point!) The way that fairies were portrayed in this book were definitely interesting, and appropriately non-human, which I appreciated--though I feel like the love interest, Rook, was less so than the others. Which was too bad but also I totally understand how it would be challenging to write a romance between a human and someone who's Very Fairy.

Also, you can tell I'm getting old because the idea of a 17 year old being a) the Best Ever Portrait Artist, and b) old enough to be making certain spoilery choices ), is a little like.......Isobel, maybe slow your roll a bit?

Oh well, despite any quibbles I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Also, it's the kind of book where you can flip to the end and read the last few pages when you're halfway in, in order to spoiler yourself, and yet still be left with the incorrect impression of the true scope of what's going to happen in the book and what it means for the characters. I'm always kind of impressed when this is the case!
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)

A trope-sorter has been making the rounds of late, wherein after clicking on tropes a bunch you end up with a list of 25 tropes going from your most to least favourite. And [personal profile] sylvaine created a second version that focused on gen tropes, since the original had a lot of shippy tropes -- and then had the idea of using the lists that result from either trope sorter to create rec lists of fanworks you've loved!

So I've used the tropes that end up in my top-8 for each of the two trope sorters to write a 16-item-long tropey fic rec list. I managed to never use the same fandom twice, aww yeah, so hopefully there's something for you in this recs post!


GEN-ONLY TROPES VERSION

1. Time Travel
of deserts and droids, by songstress
Star Wars, Rey & Anakin
Rey accidentally time-travels, and realizes that Jedi are even more weird than she had ever imagined.

2. Political Intrigue
The England Suffrage Association - WerewolvesAreReal
Temeraire series, Perscitia & Lady Wellington
It is very nice to have dragons on Parliament, but Perscitia has a few concerns.

3. Found Family
A Cry Answered - imperfectcircle
Pacific Rim, Mako & Stacker
Scenes from the year after Stacker and Mako first meet.

4. Always a Different Sex
peace for our time - snowdarkre
Harry Potter series, Harry & Pansy
The first time Pansy saw Harry Potter after the war ― saw her in person, not just in the rags that called themselves newspapers these days ― was at Olixea Kildare's Atholl House for the Tragically Orphaned Charity Gala, and Potter was wearing the exact wrong thing.

5. Magical Realism (e.g. animal transformation, woke up a different sex, bodyswap, age regression...
take my name and just let me be - verity
MCU, Bucky & Natasha
Bucky becomes Natasha. Natasha becomes the Winter Soldier.
(full disclosure: this one was written FOR ME but seriously it's brilliant)

6. Possession/Mental Connection
On Solitude - toft
Aubrey-Maturin Series, Jack & Stephen
Jack and Stephen accidentally become telepathically bonded, but Stephen still has to complete his mission in Minorca.

7. Sleepovers/Stuck In A Tent Together/Bed Sharing
Lemmings - Sholio
Highlander, Methos & Amanda & Duncan
One avalanche. Three Immortals, freezing to death. And they're really annoyed about it.

8. Historical AU
The Lark Ascends - Carmarthen
Les Miserables, Cosette & Valjean
"Euphrasia ate like someone who never had enough food—Valyanos recognized it, with an inward shudder, from his time in the mines, before the arena and his wooden sword—methodically scooping soup into her mouth with the bread and cleaning the bowl with the crust until not a single chickpea remained, nibbling the apple down to the barest core." Valjean and Cosette in Roman Gaul, 38 B.C.E


BOTH GEN & SHIP TROPES VERSION
(I've made nearly all these recs shippy, to balance out all the gen above, but really I couldn't rec anything except Aral Vorkosigan's Dog for the "Loyalty Kink" one)

1. Fake Dating/Fake Marriage Accidentally Turns Into Feelings
Facades - Penknife
Pirates of the Caribbean, Sparrow/Elizabeth
Two years after AWE, Elizabeth has a clever plan to claim her inheritance. She just needs someone to help her with one little detail ...

2. Unusually Specific Occupation AU, Like, The Author Clearly Has The Same Job
There's a very specific fic I'm remembering that I want to rec for this square, because it was the first fic I ever read that really encapsulated this trope. It was an SGA fic set in an aquarium, and I cannot find it in my bookmarks! If anybody else remembers this fic please tell me what it was called and who wrote it? EDIT: It's been found! Wide Open Ocean, by Setissma

3. Magical Connection (Telepathy, etc)
Solid Copy - thefourthvine
The Losers, Jensen/Cougar
Jensen shifted his gaze to Cougar. “I really thought that if I ever had to say the words ‘telepathic disaster,’ it’d be a lot cooler than this is turning out to be.

4. Royals/Political Marriage Turns Into Feelings
i have named you queen (listen) - Damkianna
Original Work, Princess/Princess
Jummai is a princess without a throne—but she has no intention of leaving to others what is rightfully hers. She needs a wife with an army, and gets one; but her wife seems impervious to her tactical charm, she keeps making mistakes, and her cousin still wants her dead

5. Found Families
The Young Chants - ryfkah
Chrestomanci Series, Christopher/Millie
Christopher's family expands.

6. Loyalty Kink
Aral Vorkosigan's Dog - Philomytha
Vorkosigan Saga, Aral & Illyan
Illyan is assigned to watch Aral Vorkosigan during the Escobaran war. Soon he has to choose between his duty and his conscience, and the consequences rapidly get beyond him.

7. 'Groundhog Day'/Karmic Time Loop
One More Time With Feeling (or, Charlie Brooker and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day) - marginaliana
British Comedy RPF, Charlie Brooker/David Mitchell
December the seventh, 2009. Recording day for the Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Charlie wakes to the sound of his mobile.

8. Body Swapping
me and you - surexit
Disney's Hercules, Hercules/Meg
Meg is having fun. Hercules isn't.

sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Does exactly what it says on the tin. A non-fiction account by a young British woman in the late 19th century who travels to what was then Burmah (currently usually called Myanmar) for a half-year visit to her sister and brother-in-law who are living there. And what's this! A 19th century travel writer with a sense of humour! I was all astonishment.

Here's an excerpt from Ellis's introduction to give you a taste of her general style and humour:

Towards the close of my visit to Burmah I was dining one night at a friend's house in Rangoon, when my neighbour [...] asked me if it was my intention to write a book. At my prompt reply in the negative he seemed astonished, and asked, what then did I intend to do with my life? I had never looked at the matter in that light before, and felt depressed. It has always been my ambition to do at Rome as the Romans do, and if, as my questioner clearly intimated, it was the custom for every casual visitor to the Land of Pagodas either to write a book or to "do something with his life," my duty seemed clear. I had no desire at all to undertake either of the tasks, but as there was apparently no third course open to me, I decided to choose the safer of the two, and write a book.


The book is full of Ellis's irreverent musings on the various things she sees and experiences, and she by no means spares herself. The passage in which she describes her first ever journey by horseback in her life is pretty funny and not particularly flattering!

Of course, she is also a 19th century white british traveller so there's a certain amount of the racism (and classism) you'd expect from such a source, especially from someone trying to be funny. It's most pronounced in the chapter called "The Burmese," in which, among other things, she spends a great deal of time discussing the deficiencies of Burmese servants. And I mean, she did spend the entire previous chapter detailing the ridiculousness of the local Europeans, but it's still....not great. Sigh.

Being who I am, I of course googled the author when I was shortly into this book. And I was sad to see that she dies young, in childbirth. This is part of the problem with reading about real historical people - you can find out what happens to them after the events of the book, and it's not always a happy ending.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
It's long past time for my annual short story recommendation list! In which I tell you about 10 stories I read in the last year-ish that I think are particularly worth reading, and link you to them. As always, all the stories are SFF because that's my jam.

Here's this year's stories! (and by this year I mean from summer 2017 to summer 2018, whoops, writing story summaries/enticements is hard)

1. And Her Eyes Sewn Shut with Unicorn Hair, by Rosamund Hodge
You can tell from the title that it's not going to be a happy story about unicorns. But it's fascinating, and I love the worldbuilding, as you get drawn deeper and deeper into the awfulness of the situation. And also SISTERS.

2. The Effluent Engine, by N.K. Jemisin
A steampunk AU about Haiti and New Orleans in the time relatively recently after Haiti's revolution, featuring women who are SPIES and INVENTORS. Amazing.

3. Fandom for Robots, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
A delightful story about an elderly robot in a museum who discovers the joys of fandom!

4. Krace Is Not a Highway, by Scott Vanyur
A robot designed for rating the safety and repair conditions of highway surfaces faces the apocalypse as the sole companion of a human, and learns how to deal with, gasp, humans having emotions. I love the extreme outside pov, where the reader can see so much more into what the human is experiencing than the robot is at all capable of understanding.

5. Oshun, Inc., by Jordan Ifueko
An immortal who serves the Nigerian goddess of love, working on making the romantic match between humans that'll make her career. A fun read.

6. Sour Milk Girls, by Erin Roberts
In an orphanage where girls who are admitted usually have their memories of their previous life taken from them, three girls who have been at the home long-term react to the latest new addition to their number. I like how although the narrative makes us sympathise with the viewpoint character, it also doesn't soften any of the difficult things about her or the others.

7. Strange Waters, by Samantha Mills
A fisherwoman blown off course spends years trying to sail back to her family before it's too late, taking imprecise time-travelling currents back and forth across the centuries. I'm fascinated by all the glimpses of this world, and how having occasional time travellers telling them what to expect from the future is just....normal. And also I have a lot of feelings about the main character.

8. The Sun God At Dawn, Rising From A Lotus Blossom, by Andrea Kail
In a future where museums create living copies of famous people of history as exhibits, a young Tutankhamun writes letters to Abraham Lincoln. The reader only sees the one side of the correspondence, but you can see so much of what's going on through the letters regardless. And as the boy grows, he also grows in his understanding of the modern world around him in all its complexities and problems, and how they relate to his own existence.

9. Umbernight, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
A colony on a planet that's occasionally subjected to dangerous radiation, and a hurried cross-country trip trying to get back to safety before it's too late. The kind of story that totally immerses you in the setting - amazingly evocative and intense.

10. unfurl/ed, by Jes Rausch
It's a story from the perspective of an orbiting solar collector. Which you wouldn't necessarily expect to work but totally does. Does wonderfully interesting things with pov!

(Click my annual rec list tag to see my recommendations from other years!)

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