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Recent reads

Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not Your Average Nine Months, Matilda Tristram

Graphic novel that follows Matilda’s life before and after she is diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. I’ve decided biographical comics might be my favourite at the moment — I’m an inherently nosy person, so getting a look at someone else’s life is always interesting, even when it deals with something awful like cancer and chemotherapy. Matilda seems like a funny and snarky person, which helps.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Finally got around to reading this! I think I still like Strong Poison better, but I suspect that may change the next time I read it. An interesting snapshot of Oxford in the past, and the politics of a women’s college.

Wigram, Bee Dawson

A history of the development of civil and military aviation in Wigram/Canterbury. More interesting than it sounds! I was in the local museum recently and noticed a lady’s flying suit from the 1930s on display, and through researching the original owner became interested in the other local pilots who gained their licences at Wigram in the early days of flying.

Women Heroes of World War I and Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood

Both books are completely fascinating, quick to read and full of amazing ladies. One of my favourite stories is of a couple of ladies (Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings) who decided that they’d learn radiography in order to help the war effort. After training and obtaining equipment, they offered their services to the British, who refused (‘women aren’t radiographers’). They offered their services to France, who accepted and then attempted to steal their equipment. Finally, they went to Italy, where they were incredibly helpful in locating internal wounds and assessing the impact of gas on soldiers. Apparently the lungs shrink to 2 inches in diameter! Ouch.

Code Name Pauline, Pearl Witherington Cornioley

This is another in the Women in Action series (same as the above two books), and is equally fascinating. If you like Code Name Verity or are at all interested in SOE and the French Resistance, you should read this.

We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity

Can you sense a theme? Hugh Verity describes the pilots and flights of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in World War II. A bit dry, but the stories are so exciting it’s easy to read anyway.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein

A bit slower in pace than Code Name Verity or The Sunbird, but gets exciting. Loved the relationship between Em and Teo — in fact all the characters, even the smaller ones, are very well observed. Despite the best efforts of the cover, nothing about this book is black and white. (Except maybe mustard gas. Mustard gas is just evil.) I’ll write a more detailed review when I get back from holiday, because this deserves more than my frazzled brain can come up with pre-flights.

D.A., Connie Willis

Very short novella. Can’t say much without spoiling the plot, but if you like Connie Willis (which I do) then you’ll enjoy this.

There won’t be any posts for about a month while I’m overseas, unless I manage to write some up and schedule them before I go. I’m currently reading Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and Persona by Genevieve Valentine, both of which I’m really enjoying and want to write about, so I might have to enthuse about those tomorrow. We’ll see.

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Favourite adult fiction of 2014

Looking over this year I’ve both a) read a lot of new authors but also b) read a lot of books by a particular author. Top of the list is Lois McMaster Bujold, with a whopping 21 books (that’s most of the Vorkosigan saga, the Sharing Knife quartet, and the three Curse of Chalion books). Coming a close second is Ellis Peters, with 20 books (mostly Cadfael but a couple of Felse mysteries snuck in there). After that there are a few authors with five or six books, but I’m going to nominate Dorothy Dunnett in third place because her books are SO DENSE and I feel like each paperback should really count as two. (And when I say they’re dense, that’s not a criticism as such — her books are fantastically researched and written, with some fantastic sensible ladies — but I have to admit I’ve stalled a little on the Ringed Castle.)

Anyway, books I most enjoyed that were published this year:
Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

I loved Maia — such a sympathetic character, fallible but always determined to do the right thing, which isn’t super common in fantasy right now. It’s a quiet, thoughtful book, exploring the administration of government and the effects of discrimination in an industrial-era society. This makes it sound really boring but it’s not! Or at least, it’s not if you’re a fan of character-based fantasy (which I am).
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine

Reviewed earlier.
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Okay, technically this wasn’t published this year but the sequel (Ancillary Sword) was, and I know that it will be fantastic. Like The Goblin Emperor they are reflective, but the protagonist (a ship who once controlled hundreds of bodies, now down to one) is a lot older, experienced and betrayed. Ancillary Justice has deservedly got a lot of good press and won a lot of awards. You should read it if you like science fiction or characters learning to care about each other. (Especially if you like characters learning to question their privilege and not be such an arrogant arse.)
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I thought this was a fun murder mystery with serious bits, where you don’t know who did it or who was murdered right until the very end. I loved all the ladies in this book, even the awful ones.
Collected Works of A. J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Another fun book with serious bits. I can see how some people might find it a bit twee, but it’s about books and islands and grumpy people so it was a hit with me.

Books that weren’t published this year but I enjoyed them anyway:
Troubled Waters, Sharon Shinn
Hens Dancing, Raffaella Barker
Fate of Mice, Susan Palwick
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

Everything else Willis writes is overwhelming depressing (Doomsday Book? Blackout/All Clear? I mean I love them, but I weep) but this is just an amazing romp. If you like Dorothy Sayers, Jerome K. Jerome and/or Agatha Christie then you will love this book. It’s just fantastic. And the animals are just perfect.
Melusine, Sarah Monette

I made wounded animal noises all the way through this book.
Consequences, Penelope Lively
Dark North, Gillian Bradshaw

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