Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 55-57

FYI, I've at long last turned in the manuscript for my January 2015 historical romance (title and exact release date TBD), so I hope to resume a more regular blogging schedule from here.

55) Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

I'd hoped based on the title that there would be a lot more of the 19th century in this book. Since I write the Regency, that's my primary area of interest, after all. But this book is basically about how the role of domestic servants in British society declined from its Edwardian peak, with special attention to how the wars of the 20th century shook up the British class system. Fascinating, but not quite what I was hoping for. If you're a big Downton Abbey fan, you'd probably love this.

56) The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

A YA novel about a 15-year-old girl living with her mother and little brother as refugees near Washington DC after her father is overthrown in a coup in her unnamed Middle Eastern native country. We watch her deal with PTSD and culture shock and try to navigate her mother's ongoing political scheming. Above all, she has to come to terms with the fact her beloved, doting father was in fact an oppressive tyrant. Very well-written and compelling, though those who hate first person and/or present tense narration should stay away.

57) What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton.

This book is a compilation of author Jo Walton's blog posts at, mostly on her experiences re-reading classic science fiction and fantasy. (Though "classic" is a relative term--many of the books she discusses are from the 90's or the first decade of this century, so they haven't stood the test of much time yet.)

I read the book because I greatly enjoy Walton's posts about Lois McMaster Bujold and the Vorkosigan Saga--i.e. my favorite books by my current favorite author--even if we don't read them in quite the same way. E.g. I found the Miles-Ekaterin romance entirely convincing and moving, but I couldn't connect as well to Mark and Kareen. We're not total Vorkosigan-opposites, though. Like me, she's most interested in the Barrayar-focused parts of the series. I once ran across a reviewer whose rankings for the series was almost exactly the opposite of mine--he preferred the more space-operatic entries, while I prefer the Barrayar books.

Anyway. Walton's discussions of Bujold made her someone whose opinions on books I take notice of, even knowing her tastes don't entirely overlap mine. I saw a recent thread on where she was asking for recommendations, but very politely asked people to stop suggesting she read Naomi Novik's Temeraire books or Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy, because they're just not her thing. I adore both of those series, and for me that adoration inhabits a similar region of my reader-brain as my love for Bujold, or for Walton's own Tooth and Claw. So color me baffled. It's not like I'd expect someone who shares my taste in, say, historical romance, to also like the same nonfiction popular science I'm into, but I'm used to a bit more within-genre overlap. OTOH, there are authors out there you'd think I adore who leave me cold--I can think of one whose characters spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves and wallowing in self-abasement, and another whose heroines are too passive, and WHY ARE THOSE BOOKS SO POPULAR?! and WHY CAN'T ANYONE ELSE *SEE*?! Walton is allowed to have a similar reaction to authors I love.

All that said, I think the best way I can review this book is to list all the "book bullets" that got added to my TBR as I read along:

Random Acts of Senseless Violence - Jack Womack
Biting the Sun - Tanith Lee
Janissaries - Jerry Pournelle
Tam Lin - Pamela Dean (this one I've read before, but it's been years)
Kalpa Imperial - Angélica Gorodischer
A Shadow in Summer - Daniel Abraham
Kindred - Octavia Butler
Fire on the Mountain - Terry Bisson
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula LeGuin
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Midshipman's Hope - David Feintuch
The Dragon Waiting - John M. Ford
Jhereg - Steven Brust
The Interior Life - Katherine Blake
The Discovery of France - Graham Robb (nonfiction, but sounds fascinating and relevant to some of my research interests)
Planet of Exile - Ursula LeGuin
The Chronoliths - Robert Charles Wilson

The good news is that most of these seem to be available either as reasonably-priced ebooks or at my local library. Unfortunately, I couldn't find The Dragon Waiting or The Interior Life at either place, and Planet of Exile seems to be only available as an audiobook. I don't do audiobooks, at least not for fiction. I listen to nonfiction podcasts all the time, but for fiction I want to dive in, and I can't do that just listening to something. That said, it looks like I could get all three as used mass market paperbacks. Back when Amazon, eBay, and the like were newer things, I used to order used paperbacks all the time, but I've gotten out of the habit since so many authors started putting their backlists out as ebooks.


  1. Oh that's right, she loves Tam Lin. Gotta say, I utterly hated it--deadly dull story of four years at college (apparently a love song to the author's alma mater) with a fantasy element tacked on, and the most laughably pretentious intellectuals (I've known both brainy students and pretentious students and I still thought them ludicrous). But the book does have devoted fans, so YMMV, obviously.
    I haven't read enough of her posts to know if we just completely disagree or if this would turn out to be an exception.

    1. When I read Tam Lin long, long ago I was just out of college myself, and I think I kinda connected to the "love song to the collegiate experience" aspect of it. It should be interesting to see how it works for me almost 20 years later.

  2. Planet of Exile is also available in paperback as part of an omnibus edition of three early Le Guin novels called Worlds of Exile and Illusion. The other two books included in the omnibus are Le Guin's first novel, Rocannon's World (you can tell it's her first) and City of Illusions (which I quite liked). Planet of Exile is another one I enjoyed, and I'd be interested in your thoughts on it, though in my opinion The Left Hand of Darkness is superior to all three of the earlier books.