Wednesday reading 23 November 2016

What I just finished reading

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek; and

The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer – YA lesbian retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. Good scene-setting. I wanted to like it more than I did but it was fine, if not particularly exciting to me.

What I’m reading now

I’m midway through the first draft of an assignment that’s due Friday, about the time I get home from work, so all I’m reading is my notes right now. Sorry! Can’t wait until term is over. (I’m going to watch a million movies, clean my house, read some of my book backlog and replay the Ace Attorney games when the term is done.)

What I’m reading next

I’ve managed to buy no new books for three weeks straight. I feel pretty pleased with myself.

Midweek reading 20 October 2015

What I just finished reading

The Road to Somewhere: A Creative writing companion edited by Robert Graham, Heather Leach & Helen Newall (library book) – Like with all writing guides, I argued with a lot of it, though I appreciate that they several times mention what a great book Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer is.

The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing by Michelle Spring and Laurie R King (library book) – Pretty decent overview.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan – Okay, actually a DNF. The male love interest claims to be a virgin, but the author has a vastly different definition of virginity than I do, and it’s not the first book in the series so I felt a little lost at all the characters popping up all over the place. Other than that it was fine but after being unable to finish two of her books, I have to admit Callihan’s work is just not for me.

What I’m reading now

Still with the uni books.

What I’m reading next

Right now I’m so tired I don’t want to read. I just want to nap.

Reading Wednesday 5 October 2016

What I just finished reading

Authorpreneurship by Hazel Edwards (library book) – Read for uni. Nothing new to me, very little about treating your writing as a business, and read more like barely expanded notes than a decent non-fiction reference. Also, a lot of repetition of Edwards’ thoughts on speaking engagements.

The Perfumer’s Secret by Fiona McIntosh – It’s very rare I read a book of mainstream fiction and think ‘this would be better with more incest’. I wanted this book to be something different than it was and only finished it out of a feeling of obligation. It did make me think about what kind of infodumping I will accept in different genres and how much it annoys me when authors create suspense by having characters withhold information from each other for no valid reason.

Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey – At the beginning I was really enjoying this (and I’m not sure how much of that was because I was reading the above books at the same time and it was improved by comparison), then in the middle it draaaagged, and then the end redeemed the book. I may or may not get the next book. Miller falling in love with the idea of a woman he’d never met was a bit of a tired, sexist cliché, even if it ended up being plot-relevant. After a while, Holden seemed frustratingly naive. Nonetheless, I like the idea of space opera that bridges the time period between people beginning to leave Earth and far out space adventures (which is probably why I’ve watched Gundam Wing so many times). I also like ridiculous space politics, looks into everyday life on space stations and really imaginative fantasy monsters. And the end was really cool.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan (library book) – I wasn’t enjoying what I’d read of Milan’s regencies all that much because I’m not into regencies, but I read the previous two in this series so I figured I’d give this one a go. IT WAS AWESOME. Violet and Sebastian were delightful. Obviously, this is a bit of a fantasy version of the regency (but aren’t all regency romances a bit fantastical?), but Violet is like the awesome fantasy regency version of many nerdy women I know. Some strange pacing at the start, that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I enjoyed this very much.

What I’m reading now

More writing guides for uni and the current issue of Elle Australia at work. And the partially read pile of books next to my bed is embarrassingly large.

What I’m reading next

I’ve been planning to get on to reading Cam Girl so I could talk to a friend about it for ages, so I should probably get on that.

Midweek reading 25 August 2016

What I just finished reading

Sleeping with her Enemy by Jenny Holiday – It started off really well, with a heroine who decided to go to work when she was left at the altar – what a great characterisation note that is, for that to be a character’s place of comfort. After a while the pace slowed a little and it got a little cheesy, especially the Taylor Swift karaoke scene. Cute, though.

Dirty by Kylie Scott – (library book) As I said on goodreads, fun narrative voice and it was easy to read very quickly, but the ending seemed both too quick and too slow (in different ways) and a couple of plot threads got dropped. Also, rushing so quickly into one serious relationship, after one of her problems with the previous was she rushed in too fast without thinking, was kind of a downer element (though I know this is the nature of romance novels; they tend not to be about ‘and then the couple slowly got to know each other’s values and interests over several months and then progressed rationally’). I wanted more time for the relationship to make it believable, given that.

Still, one of the cuter romance stories I’ve read recently that starts with the hero and the heroine connecting while she’s in her wedding dress on the day she was meant to get married. Kind of wish I could learn more about the nearly-groom and his love affair with the best man because that was an amusing twist.

Music Business: a musician’s guide to the Australian music industry by Shane Simpson and Jules Munro – (library book) Read for research. Obviously much more useful in an Australian context but helped reinforce a lot of what I read in Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business and also interesting to see the differences between business for musicians and business for writers.

The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law by Mark Pearson – One of my old textbooks. Read to brush up on my knowledge of IP law but this, the fourth edition, was published in 2011 so bits will inevitably be out of date.

How to Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona McIntosh – Writing guide, unabashedly about writing commercial fiction. General but useful overview including her tips on the discipline needed to develop a professional writing regimen.

Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell – Cute, initially long distance relationship between a professional gamer (Kai) and a military mechanic counting down to the end of his deployment (Garrett), and the troubles that arise when they meet. The way Kai’s social anxiety and Garrett’s search for a job in an economically depressed area interact is well done. I admit I skim-read or skipped some of the sex scenes, though. It’s sweet and the romance is convincing but I admit I didn’t really connect with it.

What I’m reading now

Women by Charles Bukowski – Misogynist but hilarious.

What I’m reading next

Some books on film analysis (my great love) and probably a textbook or two.

Mid-week Reading 14 July 2016

What I Just Finished Reading

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: the science of hedonism and the hedonism of science by Zoe Cormier – Interesting. There were some places I wanted more information and sometimes I felt things were dumbed down a little (as you’d expect from a popular science book) though from what I see on goodreads some people felt the opposite. I loved reading about how all three things in the title affect the brain and I think what I need to find next is some popular science books about hormones and neuroscience because that is interesting stuff. One of the best bits was Cormier musing on what music is, a thing you don’t realise is difficult to define until you try. Beautiful math is a charming way of putting it, not that I’d necessarily agree.

Liberator (Flights of Love book one) by Shelley B Mcpherson – I picked this up because it was free on Amazon and it sounded interesting. And, look, the basic plot line is interesting, it’s just that the book itself felt very infodump-y and took a long time to get to the point. Once it got there I was excited (and the sex scene was all the more swoon worthy to read for having had to wait so long for it) but then it ends abruptly. Which is probably what I should have expected for a part one sold on Amazon. It feels a bit like a pilot episode. I might pick up the next book at some point because I am intrigued to see where the story goes.

What I’m reading now

Idol by Kristen Callihan – This might just be a DNF. I suffered through the male lead’s sexism early on (why again is there something wrong with the groupies when he’s the one who goes through women like kleenex?) but I’ve gotten as far as the first sex scene and his dirty talk is cringeworthy.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – My friend wrote this!

Neuromancer by William Gibson – I should have read this when I was a teenager in the 90s. I would have loved it because I was well into that sort of writing style back then. I’m only up to about page 58 right now so we’ll see how I like it. It’s interesting to look at the different conceptualisations of what cyberspace would be like that came about back in ye olde cyberpunk days, before we were all expected to be on the internet. Yeah, we don’t talk about jacking in any more. But that thing where Case finds it difficult to find people that accept cash because most financial transactions are electronic? We’re definitely going that way. And it perfectly forecasts current meme and youth culture:

Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light: entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
– p58

I feel like subcultures on Tumblr rise up and vanish almost overnight and memes spread so quickly that they become old news within a few days. That’s often the interesting thing about reading older science fiction (and by older I just mean, not super recent): seeing the ways in which things did or didn’t come true.

What I’m reading next

I have a to-read list several shelves deep and at least 30 unread ebooks waiting for me, and that’s on top of everything waiting for me at the library. So your guess is as good as mine.

Short reviews 3 July 2016

Roller Girl by Vanessa North – (ebook ARC via Netgalley) I didn’t really connect with this one. It was okay – the writing is competent, the characters are pleasant, and it had the obligatory break-up-and-make-up romance arc. I’d call it a three star read but I put my feeling of being under-whelmed down to (a) it turns out I am the only queer woman on the plant with absolutely no interest in roller derby; (b) there were several references to Tina’s friends who were the main characters of previous books and yet these references were sketchy enough that even I was confused, and there were so many new characters with the roller derby stuff; and (c) everyone was too nice and several scenes didn’t really have interesting tension. I certainly didn’t want to read a book about shitty things happening to trans people but on the other hand this often felt like an after school special full of teaching moments. But other people may love it, so give it a go, anyway.

This Tender Melody by Kianna Alexander – (bought ebook) DNF at 30%. Again the problem of everyone too nice so several scenes didn’t have that kind of tension I look for in a book.

I also recently returned a library book for being too tense all the time, so it’s a delicate balance.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Acquired how: bought paperback

Carol is a curious book. Originally published as The Price of Salt under the pen name Claire Morgan, Carol is equal parts lesbian romance, suspense thriller and coming of age story. It’s hard to know how to categorise this book, which is going to make tagging by genre tricky.

I watched the film earlier in the year so I was eager to read the book. Though there are changes in the adaptation, both versions of Carol are remarkably similar. Therese is a sales assistant in the toy section of a department store; Carol is the elegant woman who comes to her section to buy a toy for her child’s Christmas present. The connection between them sparks a relationship that changes the course of their lives.

Therese is 19 and an aspiring set designer. She seems crushed under the weight of her life, almost paralysed with fear of being stuck working at the department store forever like her co-worker Mrs Robichek, pushed into wearing clothing she doesn’t especially want, and dating a boy – Richard – that she doesn’t especially like. The atmosphere in the early chapters is claustrophobic. When she agrees to a trip with Carol halfway through, I could only feel a sense of relief.

Carol is more mysterious. She seems more remote and frequently cold. Her actions are easily explained by her divorce drama but Therese doesn’t really see or understand it (at least, until the end, and even then she expects Carol to choose Therese over her child).

My experience of reading this book was necessarily influenced by having seen the movie first. There were plot moments I was eager to get to, which made me frustrated, at times, with parts of the book prior to that (hardly the fault of the book). The movie also benefited from giving the audience Carol’s point of view, so that she was more of a rounded character and less of an idealised object, and her fears of losing her daughter were given more weight. Because the book, on the other hand, is limited to Therese’s point of view, Carol remains frustratingly out of reach for much of the book. Though her motivations become clear to the reader with time, they remain opaque to Therese for much of their relationship.

And Therese is so very young – 19, and the kind of 19 that makes it difficult for her to sympathise with Carol’s fear of losing custody of her daughter. This book is as much about her slow maturity toward an adult identity as it is about her first romance. In Carol she seems to be looking for a mother figure as much as a lover, which is equal parts creepy and fascinating.

And yet for all that, I enjoyed this book immensely.

My copy of the book has an afterward from Highsmith, talking of the letters she received from fans so happy to read a lesbian novel with a happy ending. Frankly, even in 2016, that’s something I get excited about.

Review: Loud is How I Love You

Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown
Acquired how: bought ebook

I read what feels like a lot of the rock romance novels, because I like romance and I like music, so I tend to assume those two things will go great together. In practice, a lot of those books are really dramatic New Adult novels (and I’m not overly eager to relive my late teens and early 20s) and/or about the bad boy fantasy. I’ve never understood the bad boy fantasy, so I can’t get into that.

This book is definitely not about the bad boy fantasy – it’s a friends-to-lovers story (that’s the stuff I love) and Travis tries to portray himself as more responsible than Emmy.

It is definitely a New Adult novel about people in their early 20s making ill-advised choices due to hormones, misunderstandings, bad communication and back-and-forthing because the heroine feels she can’t have all the things she wants and dicks the hero around a little. And yet I liked it anyway.

Why? Well:

  • Emmy was worried that if she continued giving in to her passion for Travis that various horrible things would come true – and then they did. The heroine’s fears seemed founded in reality and given that these fears revolved around important parts of her identity, it made sense to me.
  • Unlike most rock romances, this book is actually about the music. The writer, Mercy Brown, is a musician from New Jersey just like the characters, and so the description of life in a college band felt true. The characters know about and care about musical instruments, they rehearse, they play gigs, they are part of a scene and so forth. This is the kind of stuff I read these rock romances for.
  • This is one of the ways in which New Adult can shine – this book was as much a coming of age story as it was a romance. Emmy’s internal turmoil about reconciling her admiration for her late father with feeling abandoned by him and the way she dealt with revelations regarding same was integral to the book. It made sense that there could be no romantic resolution with Travis until she’d dealt with her unresolved issues about her father, because that was a huge part of what was holding her back. That made her refusing to commit to Travis even though she loved him less annoying.
  • This is a comedy and the wacky hijinks and description of the other players in the music scene really lightened things up.
  • There’s a small but wonderful moment about the power of stories and the way they connect to things in our lives.

There were also some issues with the book that kept me from truly loving it:

  • Sometimes the wacky comedy hijinks got too much.
  • And the romantic drama really was dragged on for a long time.
  • There were some things I thought may have been anachronisms, possibly intentional, but to be fair my memory of the 90s is a bit shaky. But I do remember coming of age in the 90s meant growing up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis so the moment of (spoilers) unprotected sex without long discussion beforehand shocked me.

Still, I enjoyed it, and I think a reader who wants a book that captures the zanyness of the American college experience as well as the highs and lows of an indie band, with a sexy romance to boot, could do a lot worse than to read this book.

Review: Act Like It

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
Acquired how: bought ebook

I feel like everyone reviewed this book a while ago and I kept meaning to get around to it, eventually. I’d look at it in my unread books queue in my kindle app and think, when I have the time, or, when I’ve finished all those other things. Well, finally I’ve read it, and it’s delightful.

Absolutely delightful.

A lot of romance is about the big drama and big emotions – and that’s great – but sometimes it’s also about the big misunderstandings and the yelling and chest-beating nonsense and all that really teenage stuff. Sometimes I just want people to act like adults, you know? One of the best things about this book is that Lainie and Richard do act like adults. They know what they want and go after it. When they get cross at each other it’s for good reasons and it’s neither cause for loud yelling arguments nor swept under the rug. There’s plenty of exciting things happening in this book and plenty of fun dramatic tropes but I didn’t worry that either of the main characters was going to get carried away with acting like a dickhead and ruin the fun.

Act Like It is about two theatre actors in London having to pretend to be in a relationship for PR reasons. Of course, it turns real and things get sexy and feelingsy fast. I love that trope. I never get tired of it. Of course, along the way there’s all sorts of wacky hijinks, including punch ups between silly men, unflattering gossip news articles and interpersonal drama sabotaging performances.

But while all this frivolous nonsense (of the kind I like) is going on, Lainie and Richard act like mature adults about it. Sure, they don’t have 100% of their lives sorted out. They get in moods. They make bad decisions. But through it all they felt like real people who acted appropriately for adult professionals with careers. Which is pretty great. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

Review: Trade Me

Trade Me by Courtney Milan
Acquired how: library ebook

What a good book. I tried a couple of regency romances by Courtney Milan, and though they were well written, they didn’t grab me. Not knocking the writing, just noting that historical romances aren’t really what I’m into, and when I do go historicals I’d rather not read regencies.

And then I read Trade Me, after everyone raved about it last year, and it was just as good as I expected it to be.

First of all: these young people talk the way real young people talk (or, at least, the way they talk in tumblr posts when I’m secretly browing random blogs). Technology is integrated into their lives the way technology is integrated into everyone’s lives in real life. Cyclone really was strongly reminiscent of several big tech companies.

The main characters – Tina and Blake – are such caring, deep-thinking characters. Blake is so constantly stressed in a way that rings true. Tina’s poverty strongly reminds me of periods of my twenties, when you’re wondering how to make $20 without dying of malnutrition.

I haven’t read a whole bunch of billionaire romances but if I did I suspect I would be disappointed. Milan gets the way privilege and power structure a lot of society. She gets the way money – having it or not having it – changes the way people treat you. I’m glad I got to read a book where someone like Tina Chen gets the billionaire and teaches him something about the rest of the world on the way.

I loved the drama at the end – just ridiculously intense enough to be a wild, funny ride, but not so much that I rolled my eyes and walked away.

I only wish I’d read this last year when everyone else did so I could have joined the discussion at the time.