October Reads

Well, I thought October was going to be a busy month for reading, but what with one thing and another I didn’t end up getting around to much? Pretty much everything I did read was great, though!

I started the month with The Mermaid’s Madness, the second in Jim C. Hines’ Princess series, which follows Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White on their adventures. This second one was just as good as the first – a fast-paced, super-fun read with some cool worldbuilding and an exciting plot. The relationships between the main trio are wonderfully and thoughtfully written, and I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness was just as compelling, if a lot darker. Set in a world where all the women have died and all the men can hear one another’s thoughts, it had a lot to say about gender roles and the way men and women relate to each other, as well as having a page-turning adventure plot.

Shadowplay by Laura Lam is the second in the trilogy that began with Pantomime. I really enjoyed Pantomime but I felt that there wasn’t quite enough exploration of the intriguing fantasy setting – Shadowplay definitely picks up the slack there and does some really cool things, while still leaving lots of mysteries to be explored in the third book.

Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho is a terrific collection of Malaysian speculative fiction. Every story is different but one of the things that ties them together is the terrific realness of the characters. There’s also a down-to-earth, wry tone that makes the clashing and merging of the strange and the mundane particularly satisfying.

Now that the nights are drawing in, maybe I’ll get more reading done in November…

September Reads

My September in terms of reading was mostly swallowed up by two authors – Seanan McGuire and Michelle Cooper.

Seanan McGuire’s latest Toby Daye book, The Winter Long, came out earlier this month, and I read it in one incredibly emotional evening. The series just keeps going from strength to strength, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who likes well-rounded, lovable characters, fairies and heroes and mythology, long-running series with subtle hints and clues peppered throughout to tantalise and frustrate you, and being really horribly upset but in the good way.

I also read Indexing, which was originally released serially as shorter stories, and I liked it a lot. I love seeing fairytale tropes explored and there are some really cool ideas in there. It feels a lot more like a TV show on paper than a book, and apparently there are more stories coming, so if this was season one, I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.

I fell completely in love with Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray Journals – a history of the royal family of a tiny island kingdom in the 1930s and 1940s, told in the form of diaries by the king’s young niece. The kingdom itself is fictional, but the books are full of historically accurate details and the settings are incredibly real – I feel as if you could drop me in the middle of Montmaray and I would know my way around.

I also caught up with Princeless Book Two: Get Over Yourself, which was just as much fun as the first volume and featured some intriguing exploration of the world and Adrienne’s family.

Loads of books I’m looking forward to are coming out soon and the nights are drawing in, so I think October’s going to be a good month for reading…


August Reads

August has been such a busy month that I’ve had less time than usual for reading, what with a marathon weekend watching all eight Harry Potter films (I was not emotionally prepared), Nine Worlds Geekfest and a trip to Wales. But I’ve still managed to cram in quite a few of the rereads I promised myself, and a handful of new things too!

The Vorkosigan Saga was top of my rereads list – I first read the whole series a couple of years ago and I’d been hankering to give it another go. Since I don’t have unlimited time, I reread Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Borders of Infinity and A Civil Campaign just to give myself a taste, and now I’m desperate to read the rest again when I can! They’re so beautifully written and plotted, with such interesting things to say about family and growing up and honour (and spaceships! And insects! And horrifying dinner parties!).

I reread a lot of Star Trek tie-in novels, specifically the Star Trek: Titan series which follows Riker and Troi’s adventures after Star Trek: Nemesis. Star Trek books have always been comfort reads for me, and so I really appreciate the effort that these books (and a lot of the other post-series tie-ins) have gone to in including a diverse range of characters – it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see myself reflected in their pages.

Anne of Green Gables was another cosy nostalgia reread. It’s one of those books that grows with you – every time I read it I find something new that I’d never noticed before, and this time I loved finding all the little jokes and asides that once went over my head. When I finished I wasn’t ready to leave Anne, so I read Anne’s House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside too.

I’d promised myself I’d only do rereads in August, but when the new Stephanie Burgis novella Courting Magic came out, I couldn’t make myself wait. I love the Kat Stephenson trilogy to which this is a sequel, and seeing Kat grown up(ish) and navigating the world of courting while on a secret mission to protect society from unscrupulous magic users was a delight. I wish it had been four times longer and I’m really hoping we haven’t seen the last of Kat!

I also impulse-bought the first volume of Princeless when I heard it was available again, and I’m so glad I did – it’s a funny, sweet, subversive story about princesses, dragons, and expectations, and I’m desperate to see where it goes next.

My to-read pile of physical books is looking pretty small at the moment, but in September I plan to get stuck into some of the many books still unread on my Kindle…


Awesome Women Wednesday: Leaders

My current reread of the Vorkosigan Saga got me thinking about what a terrific leader Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is, so I thought I’d theme this week’s post around the inspiring women leaders I’ve loved in fiction.

I noticed as I was putting this together that three (arguably four) of these five are royalty – I don’t know if it’s a reflection of my reading habits or whether that’s the most common way that women in fiction get to be in leadership positions – anyone any thoughts? And as always please share any awesome leaders I’ve forgotten in the comments!

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan – The Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold

Over the course of many years Cordelia goes from survey commander to captain of a military vessel to prominent political figure. Her talent for leadership is a combination of extreme competence, quick thinking, open-mindedness, sense of humour and her way of putting so much faith in people that they can’t help but respond by achieving whatever she believes them capable of.

Adelaide Bevan – The Tin Princess, Philip Pullman

Adelaide is about as far as you can imagine from the traditional idea of a good leader – an illiterate sex worker from the rougher parts of Victorian London, she finds herself the princess of a small European nation almost entirely by accident, but her nerve, intelligence, loyalty and passion prove to everyone that she has what it takes.

Lauren Olamina – Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler

A preacher’s daughter growing up in a gated community in a decimated United States, Lauren knows that she’s destined for more than just marrying the boy next door. She writes the book of her new religion – Earthseed – in her diary, and when she’s forced by circumstance to leave her home, her conviction and determination – not to mention her survival skills – help her to gather a band of followers who rely on her to lead them into a better future.

Helen, Queen of Eddis – The Queen’s Thief Series, Megan Whalen Turner

Known generally as Eddis for the country she rules, Helen comes to the throne young and unexpectedly but proves herself to be a brilliant, wise and compassionate leader, as well as an unconventional one – she takes the masculine name Eddis instead of the more expected Eddia, and her sweeping legal reforms set Eddis apart from its neighbours Sounis and Attolia.

Bitterblue – Graceling Realm Trilogy, Kristin Cashore

Another very young queen, Bitterblue ascends the throne at the age of ten following the end of her father’s bloody and traumatic reign, and spends the next eight years being told what to do and think by her crowd of advisers. After sneaking away to find out what life is really like outside the castle, she discovers that the shockwaves of her father’s time in power are still felt, and takes on the task of fixing the damage he did.

July Reads

Since Awesome Women Wednesday is tough to keep going on a weekly basis, I’ve decided to do it alternate weeks, and use the other weeks to blog about something else instead! So, the last Wednesday of every month, I’ll be talking about what I’ve been reading!

In July I’ve read loads of great stuff – I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie early in the month and it just blew me away. The author first appeared on my radar when she did a terrific TED talk and having really enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun I was keen to read more of her work. Purple Hibiscus got me right into the centre of the protagonist Kambili’s difficult coming-of-age, and I loved it.

I’d heard good things about the Hungry City Chronicles so I thought I’d give the first one, Mortal Engines, a go – I loved the world building, the characters – especially the dashing Anna Fang – and the thoughtful handling of some pretty tough themes.

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley is my new second-favourite Robin Hood retelling (after ITV’s unbeatable Robin of Sherwood). It’s exciting, it has all the bits you want presented in fresh new ways – Robin and Little John’s fight over the river, the archery contest – and it brings several extra women into the story so smoothly that it’s like they were there all along.

Merrie Haskell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. She writes smart and lovable Middle Grade fantasy set in an alternate version of historical Europe – I really enjoyed her first two books and her third, The Castle Behind Thorns, has all the ingredients that made them fantastic – great characters, especially clever and independent girls, new twists on familiar fairy tales, and the chance to learn a little bit about something new – in this case blacksmithing.

In terms of short stories, I really enjoyed Daughters of Time – a collection of stories by popular children’s authors, each centred on a different woman from history. I loved that it also included extra historical context  and suggestions of more historical women to research.

I loved Malinda Lo’s Adaptation/Inheritance, and her related novella Natural Selection, which explores the character Amber’s history in more detail, was a thoughtful story about finding your identity as a child of two worlds.

I also read two short stories this month by Stephanie Burgis. Clasp Hands is sweet, atmospheric and powerful, and The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain is a historical magical romance that appealed directly to my id.

Iona Sharma’s sort-of-apocalyptic lawyers-in-space story One-Day Listing was sad but hopeful in the best way – I love stories where people are kind to each other in difficult circumstances (in space!) and this story really hits that spot with subtlety and charm.

I’ve declared August Rereads Month, so next time I’ll be talking about some old favourites! Has anyone else read anything good lately?

Awesome Women Wednesday: Pilots

Recently I read the terrific Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith, and it inspired me to think about some of my favourite women pilots in fiction!

Ida Mae Jones – Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith

Ida Mae was born to fly and raised in her father’s plane, but the only way she can get a licence is by passing as a white girl to join the WASPs. Getting through the punishing training regimen is hard enough – even with the help of her new friends – but keeping her secret and staying true to herself is even more challenging.

Petrova Fossil - Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild

Like her sisters, Petrova is determined to make her mark on the world and become famous. Her stage career is short-lived, thanks to her total lack of affinity for the arts – Petrova’s more interested in engines and aeroplanes, and she’s determined to be a pilot, eventually joining the ATA like others on this list.*

Zinda Blake – Various DC Comics, including Birds of Prey

Not only is Zinda Blake a wisecracking ace pilot who kicked sexism’s ass to join the until-then all-male Blackhawk Squadron, she took being transported from the fifties to the present day in her stride, putting her skills to use helping out a new generation of heroes. Plus, she’s a terrific dancer and she can order a beer in thirty languages.

Joan ‘Worrals’ Worralson – the Worrals series, WE Johns

From the brain that brought us Biggles and in a similar vein, Worrals is a clever and daring WAAF officer who, along with her best friend and sidekick the irrepressible Betty ‘Frecks’ Lovell, manages to get into and out of any number of wartime adventures and shenanigans in spite of the fact that technically she’s only allowed to ferry aircraft between bases in Britain.

Maddie Brodatt – Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

Maddie – code name Kittyhawk – is another WAAF pilot, and an excellent one. She and her best friend Julie, a wireless operator, are a formidable team. A staff shortage for an urgent mission sends the two of them flying into enemy territory and a test of bravery, resolve, and the strength of their friendship.

Let me know anybody good I’ve missed in the comments!

* I wrote originally that we didn’t know for sure what Petrova did – thanks to @EWein2412 and @tiboribi on Twitter for setting me straight!

Awesome Women Wednesday: Musicians

Apart from reading and writing, music is one of my top ways to spend time – I sing in a choir, I’m (very slowly) learning the guitar, and every one of my Spotify playlists is a masterpiece. Here’s five of my favourite musicians from literature:

Starling Birdsong - The Realms of the Elderlings series, Robin Hobb

Starling is a wandering minstrel who wants to write a ballad that will see her name immortalised, and she wants it badly enough that she’ll follow Fitzchivalry Farseer on a perilous quest to get the material for it, even knowing that she might not come back. Starling is adventurous, unconventional and secretly a bit soft-hearted, as well as being a terrific musician and storyteller.

Agnes Nitt – Discworld series, Terry Pratchett

Agnes Nitt is probably the only person who can sing in harmony with herself – even if half the time it is just her nastier alter ego Perdita insisting on muscling in. As talented at magic as she is at music, Agnes is also a witch – she briefly tries to have a career in opera, but annoyingly (and operatically), destiny gets in the way.

Janna van der Zaag – The Shattering, Karen Healey

Janna van der Zaag – aka Stardust – knows that she can’t build her career as a rock star in sleepy Summerton. She’s determined to get famous and get out, and she’s not afraid to put the work in to get there, gigging with her band and practising her bass even when she’s in the middle of investigating a creepy local mystery.

Seraphina Dombegh – Seraphina, Rachel Hartman

Seraphina is only sixteen, but she’s already a talented enough musician to score a top job as assistant to the court musician Viridius, and harpsichord tutor to the independent Princess Glisselda. Seraphina’s own instrument of choice is the flute, and she still manages to get in some time to play even in the middle of her new life in the palace, mysterious visions, and a murder investigation.

Fire – Graceling Realm series, Kristin Cashore

A powerful half-monster, Fire has always been afraid of herself and her capabilities. Raised by a manipulative father and living in fear of attacks because of her monster heritage, Fire finds solace in music and becomes an exceptional fiddle player, using her music  to express the feelings that she can’t in any other way.

It occurs to me that between them these ladies would make a pretty awesome band. Let me know in the comments who I’ve missed!

Awesome Women Wednesday – Sleuths

Half the people I know are freaking out this week about the on-screen return of sharp-witted private investigator Veronica Mars, and it got me thinking about some of my favourite sleuths in books:

Nancy Drew – Various Nancy Drew series, Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew is only sixteen (or eighteen, depending on whether you read the original or updated version) but she runs a household, drives her own car, cooks like a professional, speaks French, plays sports, rides horses, dances, and generally does everything perfectly. She’s like a teenage, more well-behaved James Bond. She never misses a clue, she always knows what to do, and she takes charge of every situation she’s in.

The cover of the Nancy Drew book The Invisible Intruder. Judging from this the intruder turns out to be a sad stingray.

George Kirrin – The Famous Five Series, Enid Blyton

George is a girl in the 1940s who somehow gets away with making everyone treat her like a boy – even growing up in a reasonably progressive 1990s household, I could see the appeal in that. The best part was that she was allowed to fully take part in all the mystery solving, while poor Anne got to tidy up whatever cave the gang were staying in this time. Plus George has her own super-intelligent dog and an island. What could be cooler?

Kami Glass – The Lynburn Legacy Series, Sarah Rees Brennan

Adorable weirdo Kami Glass is determined to get the school newspaper off the ground, even if that means constantly prodding her lazy best friend Angela awake, working in an office that’s basically a glorified cupboard, and investigating such thrilling cases as the “seamy underbelly” of junior cricket camp. But Kami’s destined for bigger things, and once she starts asking questions about the mysterious family who seem to run everything in her town, she’s pretty much unstoppable.

Tuppence Cowley (later Beresford) – The Secret Adversary (and others), Agatha Christie

You can’t really leave Agatha Christie off a list like this, and while I’m very fond of her sneaky pensioner Miss Marple, my favourite of her characters is Tuppence Cowley. Short of a bit of cash, impulsive and charming Tuppence ropes her friend (and later husband) Tommy into a legally-dubious new job hiring themselves out as “adventurers”, which soon leads to mistaken identities, missing women and conspiracies, all of which Tuppence takes in her stride.

Rory Deveaux – The Shades of London Series, Maureen Johnson

When Rory moves from Louisiana to a London boarding school to finish her education, she barely has time to settle in before dead bodies start popping up, all killed in gruesome Jack-the-Ripper-esque ways. Rory discovers that she has a special talent that – along with a combination of bravery and quick thinking – makes her uniquely placed to help solve the mystery.

I know there are some terrific ones I’ve left out – let me know in the comments!

Awesome Women Wednesday: Orphans

When I was younger practically every book I read starred an orphan, whether they were the plucky save-the-day sort or the Victorian ones that taught Important Lessons about how being nice would lead to all your dreams coming true. Callous as it seems, orphaning the main character can be a quick-and-dirty way to let them have adventures without any adults getting in the way. Here’s my top five:

Katsa – The Graceling Realm Series, Kristin Cashore

Orphaned as a baby, Katsa is raised by her royal uncle and trained to kill at his command from a young age. She’s convinced that killing is all she’s good for, but she still defies her uncle every chance she gets, doing her best to use her lethal talents to help people and change things for the better.

Princess Eilonwy – The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander

Not only an orphan but also kidnapped at a young age by an evil queen who wants to use her magical powers to conquer the land of Prydain, Eilonwy doesn’t get the best start in life. Fortunately she’s observant, brave, and good with a sword – all skills that come in useful when you’re helping to defend your homeland against the forces of evil.

Margaret Thursday – Thursday’s Child/Far to Go – Noel Streatfeild

Margaret Thursday isn’t an ordinary orphan, and she never tires of telling people about it. She’s not very good at being patient or doing what she’s told, but she is good at coming up with plans, roping other people into them, getting revenge on evil orphanage matrons, and generally causing mayhem. It’s melodramatic, wildly implausible, and exactly what I wanted to read when I was eight.

Tracy Beaker – The Story of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

Tracy’s not technically an orphan, but she’s been in foster care for long enough that she’s desperate for a family to call her own. A talented storyteller and aspiring writer, Tracy is thrilled when author Cam visits the group home where she lives, and decides that Cam is the perfect person to be her new family – she just has to get Cam to agree.

Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre has to be near the top of any list of iconic orphans in literature, but what I love most about her is that every time I read the book, I learn something new from Jane herself – whether it’s that sometimes you just have to wait out the bad things that happen to you, that what you know about yourself is more important than what other people think of you, or that being free to make your own choices is rewarding even when it’s difficult.

Let me know some of your favourites in the comments!