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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 304: Two Tales of Korval (1995) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Over a decade ago, I fell completely in love with the Liaden Universe. The brainchild of married co-authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, this elaborately crafted science fiction series first came to me at the strong recommendation of my friend Kai, who knows whereof he speaks where elaborately crafted science fiction series, and won me over from the very first page.

There are now two dozen Liaden novels, and I am several behind in those series, but more than that, I am all of them behind in the self-published “chapbooks” that began to be produced by the series’ authors in the 90s, when their then-publisher went bankrupt.

Each featuring two (occasionally more) short stories set in the Liaden world, I have been collecting these chapbooks — some of which are now very, very rare — for years, but… well, I haven’t read them. Any of them. WHY? Eh. Who even knows at this point.

But this month, I will read them all! It has been decided! There are twenty-nine of them, and there are thirty days in November, so I am going to be all Liad all the time for the next several weeks. Yay!

This first one gets me off to a most excellent start, as its two tales of Korval are, in fact, two tales of Val Con yos’Phelium, probably my favourite Liaden, one showing him as a youngster learning to be a Scout and first meeting the sentient giant turtle, who would go on to become his best friend, Edger, and the other putting Val Con in a skimmer race with his cousin Shan in defiance of the punctilious Lady Kareen, whom I hate. I loved both of these stories — LOVED THEM — and can’t wait to read more of these snapshot tales from out of the unexplored areas of the Liaden canon.  

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TBR DAY 304: Two Tales of Korval (Adventures in the Liaden Universe #1) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
GENRE: Science Fiction, Space Opera
PUBLISHED: 1995
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: eBay.
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 303: New Year Wedding for the Crown Prince (2019) by Meredith Webber

I have an enduring fondness for the mind candy that is category romance, and even now that the Mills & Boon (aka Harlequin) editors, in their infinite wisdom, have now decided to title their output with long-winded and perhaps overly descriptive monikers — this month saw the release of The Greek’s Billion-Dollar Baby, The Innocent’s Emergency Wedding and The Virgin Princess’s Marriage Debt, for example — I will pick one up once in a while, and then while away an hour or so in a fugue-like state as I absorb the complete nothingness that is often sweet but is also essentially insubstantial.

Basically, these books are the literary equivalent of cotton candy. Except, they kind of leave a bad taste in the mouth. So, they’re like cotton candy made with artificial sweetener.

Wait, is there diet cotton candy?

Anyway, this is… another one of those. There is an Australian lighthouse, a heavily pregnant heroine, the titular Crown Prince from a fictional European nation, and much angst that could be solved with a timely conversation that no one will have until the final chapter, because otherwise there would be no story. It was all very silly and improbable and nonsense, but it was exactly the holiday my overburdened brain was desperate for today, and so I forgive this book all its flaws because sometimes you just need cotton candy.

Even if it is diet.  

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TBR DAY 303: New Year Wedding for the Crown Prince by Meredith Webber
GENRE: Medical Romance, Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
PUBLISHED: 2019
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 months.  
PURCHASED FROM: K-Mart.
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 302: Under the Tuscan Sun (1996) by Frances Mayes

Don’t get me wrong here. I am very happy for Frances Mayes that she spent the duration of her Money Pit-like renovation of her new holiday home in Italy’s gorgeous Tuscany region with her long-time husband, Ed. It is lovely that they experienced the vicissitudes of their enormous undertaking — from understanding cultural differences to dealing with ancient plumbing — together, and had each other to lean on when all the foreignness of their surroundings just got a little too unbearably foreign for these American part-time expats.

But in the 2003 film version of this tale, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is newly divorced and depressed, which is what leads her to take on the Tuscan house project in the first place — and then leads her to a new love — and since that was the story I was expecting, and quite liked, I didn’t exactly know what to make of this (admittedly more realistic and, clearly, factual) version of events for much of the time I spent reading it.

Except to say, wow, the hubris of that film’s producers, to think it’s okay to entirely change the facts of a living person’s life like that! On the other hand, she probably doesn’t look like Diane Lane (because no one looks like Diane Lane), so despite the rather drastic, not to mention hurtful, alteration to her life, it must have been hard for Actual Frances to be mad about Character Frances and her lovelorn situation.

Actual Frances’s story is filled with a lot of wish fulfillment, and a lot of home renovation porn, and for the most part I enjoyed it, despite the weird presence of Ed. (Sorry, Ed, but it was just weird that you were there… in your life. Hollywood, huh?) The narrative did get bogged down in fish-out-of-water ignorance in some places, and detailed a few Italian feasts perhaps a tad too lovingly in others, but it is nevertheless an engaging snapshot of life in the kind of picturesque surroundings to which we all aspire but can probably never own a piece of, and that is most of its appeal.

The biggest shock of the book, for me? When Frances and Ed were still together at the end of the book. Moreover, a quick google proves that they are still together, nearly twenty-five years after this book was published. 

Like, damn. That movie really just had no shame, huh? IS ANYTHING ON FILM EVEN REAL?

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TBR DAY 302: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
GENRE: Travel Narrative, Memoir, Non-Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1996
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Collins Booksellers.
KEEP: Probably not, no.

READING THE TBR, DAY 301: The Pillars of the World (2001) by Anne Bishop

You know how some writers just have their thing?  Anne Bishop’s thing is Super Special Women being oppressed by Evil Men, and beloved of two competing saviours, one stalwart and kind, the other arrogant and often mean.

Bingley vs. Darcy, basically. But there’s magic.

In this iteration of Bishopian lore, the Super Special Woman is Ari, a young witch left to work her wonders for the aid of an ungrateful town. The Evil Men are legion, the evillest being a witch-killing Inquisitor who enriches himself even as he indulges in the darkest of misogyny. The two competing saviours are the valiant and put-upon Neall and the problematic, often disdainful fae lord Lucien, who spends most of his time in the enchanted lands of Tir Alainn, but occasionally visits Ari to take advantage — take full advantage — of an odd free love practice adopted by the local fiefdom for a month every summer, for some reason. It’s like The Purge, but for sex. 

This is the first of a trilogy, and I can’t say for sure I’m going to essay the remaining two installments, especially since I have a terrible feeling that fae lady Dianna, selfish and entitled and just THE WORST, is not going to die. And I really want her to die.

But maybe I’ll dive back into this magical world someday, because there are definitely times when I find myself in an Anne Bishop-y kind of mood — where I know pretty much all the elements of the story, and just need to see how she’s going to put them together this time.

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TBR DAY 301: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn #1) by Anne Bishop
GENRE: Romantic Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2001
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Eh. Probably not.

READING THE TBR, DAY 300: The Remains of the Day (1989) by Kazuo Ishiguro

This soul-searing novel was turned into a much-feted film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the early 90s, which I remember watching in the cinema upon its release. I was already very fond of stories mired in the past when in my teen years, and I remember convincing my friend Serena that we should totally see this instead of Wayne’s World 2

She was not amused.

It’s not that she didn’t like the movie. It was poignant and weirdly intense, and it certainly made us feel very grown up. But when you are in high school, the restrained and angst-ridden not-quite-romance between a largely oblivious career butler and the housekeeper he doesn’t know he loves, all set against the background of looming fascism in 1930s Europe, isn’t exactly the sexiest story ever.

Reading it now, told in first person by Mr. Stevens as he reflects on his storied career at Darlington Hall, it isn’t much sexier, but it is even more poignant. From Stevens’s complete inability to communicate his true feelings with anyone, to his apologia for his employer’s political foibles, to his excessive pride hidden behind impeccable manners, Stevens is a fascinating central character.

His often fractious dealings with Miss Kenton, at first a newly appointed housekeeper at Darlington who stays for nigh on a decade and clearly somehow falls for the austere Stevens, is detailed sparingly, but exactingly, and as their history is slowly revealed through reminiscence you want to reach into the book and shake Stevens by his dignified shoulders and shout, “Dude, she is totally into you, man! And you’re into her! Do something about it!”

But their romance is not the point of this book. Nor even is the social change brought about by World War II that saw the huge staff Stevens once commanded decimated, and the Hall bought by an American. Instead, it is about one man’s single-minded sense of purpose, and how it is so easy to effectively become your job if you don’t pay attention to work/life balance.

And, also, it is about a road trip, and the kindness of strangers, and the concept of “famous” butlers. And, somewhat oppressively, it is about class.

It is just excellent.

And I think I need to watch that movie again. I think I might find it a bit sexier now. 

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TBR DAY 300: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
GENRE: General Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1989
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Borders Singapore.
KEEP: Indeed.

READING THE TBR, DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood (1987) by Eva Ibbotson

Another Eva Ibbotson triumph, though this one is rather more outlandish than the others I have read thus far.  Because there are ghosts in this one, and everyone is cool with there being ghosts, and moreover — spoiler alert for a thirty-year-old kids’ book — at the end, the ghosts become celebrities.

I mean, sure. Okay.

Despite this nonsensicalness, however, I really enjoyed this book. Even if a twelve-year-old Scottish laird is permitted to sell his ancestral castle to an American millionaire. Even if said twelve-year-old then moves in with the American millionaire and his allegedly frail daughter once the castle is transported across the Atlantic. Even if there is a kidnapping subplot enacted by a woman so enamoured of Hitler that she renames herself “Adolpha.”

Even if there are ghosts and everyone is cool with there being ghosts.

It takes a singular talent to make a story of such silliness enjoyable to the adult brain (or, such I have the audacity to claim). But, as has been amply proven to me repeatedly this year, Eva Ibbotson had just such a talent. 

I am just sorry it took me so long to discover it for myself.

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TBR DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, aka The Haunting of Hiram by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1987
TIME ON THE TBR: ~13 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) by Charles Yu

Surreal is the only word that can be applied to this mind-twisty, somewhat headache-inducing novel, which I bought long, long ago upon the recommendation of the Amazon algorithm that has, to date, found me most amenable to most of its suggestions of books I might like.

Once again, Amazon proves how well it knows me — even back then — because I liked this book a lot.

Especially when I understood it.  Which was… not always.

Because time travel. Ugh.

Our protagonist is also our author, Charles Yu, who is well-versed in the vagaries of said time travel, and the trappings thereof, with which his corner of the multiverse is well supplied. Yu’s father actually invented time travel, then disappeared, and it is the search for this visionary that takes up much of the narrative. But there is so much more going on here. There is profundity, and humour, and a deep understanding of the genre as a whole.

It’s an incredibly impressive work.

And I did like it a lot.

But now my head hurts.

Because time travel. Ugh.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
GENRE: Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2010
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 297: God is Not Great (2007) by Christopher Hitchens

In this somewhat strident effort, celebrated athiest Christopher Hitchens argues — very persuasively, very successfully — that humanity has outgrown religion in these science-blessed times, and in fact that religion is far more harmful than it is helpful nowadays.

Hitchens is very much preaching to the choir (if he will forgive the church-based metaphor) in this one, but even I found myself more and more convinced of his point the further the book went on. I don’t know how it would play with anyone who was fundamentally opposed to the idea at the outset — or, indeed, with anyone who is a fundamentalist of any sort — but I like to think that the logical, if occasionally extreme, force of his argument might at least arouse the occasional question in the minds of even the most devout.

Because he just makes so much sense.

And religion… just doesn’t, does it?

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TBR DAY 297: God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion by Christopher Hitchens
GENRE: Philosophy, Non-Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2007
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 296: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (2019) by Theodora Goss

A third day in a row spent with the extraordinary ladies of the Athena Club was very well spent, as Mary Jekyll and her unlikely associates battle once again against the dastardly doings of the world-spanning alchemist conspiracy, while also trying to discover the whereabouts of Sherlock Holmes — in whom our Mary is increasingly interested, despite herself — missing these several days.

Also missing is Alice, the Club’s beloved housemaid, and it turns out that, just like her employers, young Alice also has a genetic heritage of strangeness, for which she is much coveted by certain elements of ruthless Victorian villainy.

It’s all a bit silly, at times, especially the levels of coincidence that are required to make most of the plot work, but it is entertaining nevertheless, and the ladies’ usual interpolations to the writing of the novel are made even more humorous by scribe Catherine Moreau’s increasingly self-promotion-y advertisements throughout the text.

I do hope this won’t be the last outing for the Athena Club. And in the meantime, I have discovered that Theodora Goss has several other books in her backlist, which I have already bought. Because, it seems, far from clearing books from my TBR with this daily reading lark, I am actually adding to my TBR far more frequently that I would have thought possible.

Sigh.

But also: yay!

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TBR DAY 296: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3) by Theodora Goss
GENRE: Steampunk
PUBLISHED: 2019
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 weeks!  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 295: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018) by Theodora Goss

The next adventure of the newly-formed Athena Club, a group of literature-adjacent young women variously experimented on or deeply affected by said experiments, sees them travel to Europe to rescue the kidnapped Lucy Van Helsing.

They make some new friends, uncover more details of the evil world-spanning conspiracy that continues to shape all of their lives, and bond ever more over their terrible parents and shared differences.

It’s great. Not as great as the first installment, since that one came as such a fun surprise half of the fun of it was just discovering one literary allusion after another. But great, nonetheless.

So great, I am going immediately onto the next — and possibly last — one.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 295: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss
GENRE: Steampunk
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yes.