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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 194: Wolf-Speaker (1993) by Tamora Pierce

Despite having discovered that the first book in the Immortals trilogy, Wild Magic, which I recently read, was by no means the first book in the wider Tortall universe, I nevertheless was in the mood for some fairly mindless YA Fantasy today — something heroic and delightful, a tonic to cleanse my palate after the torture that was that Feist Merchant Prince book — and this jumped into my hand off the shelf. I was very quickly re-immersed in the world of Daine, our teenage animal mage, and the imminent threat to the land from a darkness beyond.

This one sees Daine and her mentor Numair caught up in a rebellion against the King, with a sideline of sentient wolves and some unexpected complexity given to the “evil” creatures who infest Tortall. The pace is speedy, for the most part, the writing engaging, and lessons are learned left and right as young Daine — still just a tween — ever-so-slowly comes of age in this magical world of wonder and, it must be said, mild terror.

Perfectly pleasant, somewhat predictable, easy, simple, fun. This was exactly the book I needed to read today, if not a book I ever really needed to read at all.

Huh. Weird.

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TBR DAY 194: Wolf-Speaker (Immortals #2) by Tamora Pierce
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 1993
TIME ON THE TBR: ~12 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Borders.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 193: Rise of a Merchant Prince (1995) by Raymond E. Feist

So far, these Feist (occasionally in conjunction with Janny Wurts) Riftwar Cycle books — of which this is the tenth — have been pretty inoffensive High Fantasy, employing several popular tropes and an often fairly simplistic writing style, but adventuresome and intriguing enough to make me happy enough to keep reading.

This one is so, so terrible, I kind of want to quit reading this series forever — which upsets me, because I have more than ten more of these things on my TBR, and have cared for them for way too long.

The problem here is in our… er… protagonist? Anti-hero?… Roo, whom we first met in the first book of this sub-series, Shadow of a Dark Queen. Best friend of that book’s hero, Erik, he was always an aspiring businessman, but in this book he reveals him to be the most venal and vicious creep of a jerk of a main character outside of Patrick Bateman and Humbert Humbert, and I hated every moment I spent in his company.

Look, I get it. Feist was clearly trying something new here, maybe in response to people making comments like “employing several popular tropes and an often fairly simplistic writing style” about his books. But boy did he fail, and the last half of the book, in which Roo betrays his wife when he’s seduced by a (predictable) spy for the Serpent Queen — oh yeah, the invasion is still imminent, but it takes a backseat to the so-fascinating vagaries of shipping wine and dealing with the Midkaemian version of the Mob — is just awful.

If I do return to this series, it is going to take a long, long time before I can rid my mouth of the bad taste of this one.

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TBR DAY 193: Rise of a Merchant Prince (Serpent War Saga #2) by Raymond E. Feist
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 1995
TIME ON THE TBR: 15 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: I’d really rather not, but it’s part of a series, so…

READING THE TBR, DAY 192: X-Campus (2009) by Francesco Artibani

Another alternate Marvelverse, this one sees some of our favourite X-Men — Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue, Angel, Storm, Iceman, Colossus and Beast among them — recruited as students at the prestigious Worthington Academy, which is under the control of the enigmatic Professor Magnus. (Yes. He’s Magneto.)

Their biology teacher is one Professor Charles Xavier, and when he and his assistant, Jean Grey, select our special few for some extra-curricular classwork, the X-Men (Jean’s proposed name: X-Boys; um, no, there are girls in the team, Jean! Ororo was instrumental in the first mission’s success! Surely X-Kids would have been a better attempt?) are born.

I do love an alternate reality in my favourite comic land, and this one is particularly enjoyable, full of just the kind of angst you would expect from a high school-set story, but also exploring what it means to be a hero, and a mutant, in a world afraid of daring to be different. (Again: high school.) The final volume of this 4-issue series is probably the weakest, and I did not at all understand what happened with Rogue (throughout called Anna; no one has an X-name yet) and the letter in the epilogue, but in all it’s a pretty entertaining AU, especially for anyone who likes a teenage drama, which may the gods forgive me, I surely do.

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TBR DAY 153: X-Campus by Francesco Artibani, illustrated Michele Medda and Denis Medri
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes, Marvel
PUBLISHED: 2009
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: ComicsRUs.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 191: Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder (2008) by Dave Barter

About fifteen years ago, I stunned friends and family when I announced my intention to ride a bicycle around Ireland. The reaction of almost everyone was dismaying and identical; it wasn’t “You’re going to ride a bike around Ireland?!” so much as, in great disbelief, “You’re going to ride a bike around Ireland?”

Thanks a lot, friends and family!

 That two-month trip was inspired by back-to-back readings of Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawk and French Revolutions by Tim Moore, to of my favourite travel writers. Eight years later, I hit the road again for another extended cycle tour, this one around Tasmania, which is pretty much the same size as Ireland, though significantly less populated, and would take around the same time.

A couple of years ago, I mooted the possibility of cycling around New Zealand’s North Island, and my friend Barney very kindly presented me with this book, sure I would find it an inspiring read on the journey. Unfortunately, the trip has been long-delayed, and size constraints will mean that I’ll have to leave it behind, anyway — if you have a Kindle, then travelling with hard copy books always seems a little foolish, especially when space and weight are an issue. As it happens, it would have been an excellent companion on my ride, and I think I would have very much enjoyed Dave’s cheerful, enthusiastic, thoroughly relatable company.

A collection of articles written across ten years, these breezy and often amusing anecdotes certainly struck a chord in me — especially the one where he rode Ireland from end to end. (I, however, rode its perimeter. Take that, Dave!) He examines the appeal of cycling, especially of distance cycling, and while I am not about to enter a race, or take up mountain biking, both of which are discussed in some detail in this book, I am now, having read this, inspired to repack my panniers with camping gear and protein powder, and perhaps hit the road one more time.

New Zealand, here I come. Eventually.

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TBR DAY 191: Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder by Dave Barter
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Travel Narrative, Sports
PUBLISHED: 2008
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 190: Heartstone (2017) by Elle Katharine White

“YA Pride and Prejudice with dragons” is how this novel was described to me by the helpful young woman stacking the shelves as I browsed the bookstore, and she read her audience well, because of course I bought it immediately. And that is a quite decent description, even if the book does not, of course, reach such heights of genius in either its plotting or its prose.

Aliza Bentaine is the independent-minded daughter of Lord Merybourne, who has just contracted a dashing band of dragon riders to battle the monsters — gryphons, and the like — that ravage his land. One such is Alastair Daired, who immediately angers Aliza with his treatment of the gnome-type creatures who are her friends, and from there, it really is, well, Pride and Prejudice with dragons.

If you like either of those things, it’s a pretty good time.

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TBR DAY 190: Heartstone by Elle Katharine White
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings, Carlton.
KEEP: Probably.

READING THE TBR, DAY 189: Anne Severn and the Fieldings (1922) by May Sinclair

Another Dodo Press “forgotten classic” reissue, and I… think I liked it? This 1922 novel full of pastoral England and WWI and an emerging, evolving amorality is not quite a family saga, not quite a romance, and not quite an insightful window into its time and place, but it is a little bit of all those things, and that made it pretty compelling, if not entirely satisfactory.

The Fieldings of the title are a family headed by a kindly gentlemen farmer, and we first meet them when Anna is a child who visits them in their country idyll each summer. She bonds early with the sweet-tempered Jerrold, and the two seem made for each other, but a series of tragedies — many war-related — throw many a rub thrown in the way of true love’s course, as do Jerry’s two brothers, the high-strung Colin and the way-too-good-for-everyone-in-this-book Eliot.

One thing that somewhat astonished me, toward the book’s end, was some pretty blatant sex talk, and even more blatant infidelity, which shouldn’t have shocked me (this was the 1920s!) but totally did. I guess because the earlier part of the book had been bathed in the golden age of Honour and Duty and rolling hills and the feudal spirit, I had been lulled into historical romance mode, but of course, this is a contemporary not-quite-romance, and so consequently far less idealized.

May Sinclair was a best-seller in her day, and with this outing, I can see why. Lyrical prose meets with idyllic scenery meets with scandalbroth and no little salaciousness, plus a pretty fearless depiction of the horrors of PTSD*  — these elements could easily make for a best-seller even now.

* That said, the suggestion that only “sensitive” young men would so suffer from the condition is pretty toxic, and sadly persistent. 

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TBR DAY 1989: Anne Severn and the Fieldings by May Sinclair
GENRE: General Fiction, Classic Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1922
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 188: The Three Body Problem (2014) by Cixin Liu

I’m assuming that Liu Cixin approved the alteration of his surname-given name ordering when this book saw an English edition in 2014, but it still makes me shake my head, because: why? Surely people can figure out that in some cultures, countries and language groups, the family name comes first?

Sigh.

I bought this book when it was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2015 — it went on to win, the first translation to do so — and had every virtuous intention of immersing myself in its acclaimed pages immediately. But it’s hard going and I abandoned it before the sci-fi (indeed, it’s Hard Sci-Fi) even showed up.

The beginning of this book is brutal. It is set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and the viciousness of the public Struggle Sessions that saw intellectuals and dissenters against Communist doctrine publicly tortured for espousing such “reactionary” concepts as the Theory of Relativity and the Big Bang Theory. (Bazinga.) It is a passage like this that brings forcibly to mind the realization that we don’t need to wait for a hell-future to explore dystopian hellscapes. They have existed, still exist, in the world we know today.

Throughout the novel we follow the daughter of a Struggle Session victim, a scientist who gets caught up in… well, it turns out to be an alien invasion, but that aspect of things takes a long while to show up. Before then, there is a lot of secretive high-level research and denunciation of technology and a whole lot of marriages of convenience, Communist China apparently being no place for true love. It’s all very bleak and also it is brilliant, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it — the final stretch is a loooong stretch — I certainly appreciate its intricacy, its intelligence, and its painful allegory.

It’s not a fun book, but it is a very, very good one.

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TBR DAY 188: The Three Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
GENRE: Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2014 (Original Chinese: 2008)
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 187: Lady Betty Across the Water (1906) by C. N. and A. M. Williamson

I have bought a few Dodo Press books over the years, and I very much admire that publishing house’s determination to bring perhaps forgotten novels forward to the 21st century, and to a whole new audience. I am so, so grateful that Lady Betty Across the Water was one of their chosen texts to preserve, because I completely loved this tale of a beautiful young Duke’s daughter who is introduced to wealthy New York society in the early 1900s.

Told by the naive but strangely insightful Lady Betty herself, in the guise of her journal, we see this young girl who is not yet “out” in her homeland, but is much courted and feted in the very title-conscious confines of the nouveau riche East Coast Elite. Betty’s wonderment at the classism that persists in the America is very entertaining, as is her shock at the effrontery with which various maids and other servants address her, and her delight at the sight of African Americans, and half-formed, self-acknowledged “wrong” wish that slavery was still a thing so she could have such beauty with her always, is… well, you have to remember this was written in 1906 and try to be forgiving.

There is a lovely love story, which you see coming a mile away but that unfolds quite unexpectedly, and some hilariously awful secondary characters who are surely a sharp-penned satire of some New York personalities I cannot name, yet weirdly recognize. 

In all, a delightful romp! 

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TBR DAY 187: Lady Betty Across the Water by C. N. and A. M. Williamson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction, Classic, Romance
PUBLISHED: 1906
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Brunswick St Books
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 186: A Date with Darcy (2018) by Tiffany Schmidt

Ever since Clueless, I have loved a teenage retelling of a Jane Austen novel. Hell, I like teenage retellings of most classic literature (well, maybe not that ghastly Beastly, in either book or filmic form), but the Austen canon is particularly suited to such transformation, and has been plumbed particularly deeply by a vast assortment of authors across the past several decades.

Here, we have a teenage Pride and Prejudice, in which fifteen-year-old romance novel obsessed Merrilee, a scholarship student at a snooty high school, meets the disdainful Fielding (yep, that’s the name that he has) and immediately takes him in profound — deserved — dislike, and is soon dating the intense Monroe Stratford (yep, that’s the name he has), an aspiring actor who turns her life into Romeo and Juliet when it should be more Austenian in tone.

As heroines go, Merrilee is eminently relatable — “boys are better in books”; preach, sister — and her long-suffering best-friend Eliza, and other long-suffering best friend (who is in love with her) Tobias, are also supremely likable. A lot here is kind of silly, of course, and more than a little cutesy, but it is a nevertheless pleasant jaunt through a modern take on one of my very favourite novels, and I pretty much loved every minute of it.  

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TBR DAY 143: A Date with Darcy (Bookish Boyfriends #1) by Tiffany Schmidt
GENRE: YA, YA Romance, Teen Adaptation
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Yes…

READING THE TBR, DAY 185: Raggedy Ann Stories (1918) by Johnny Gruelle

Raggedy Ann is one of those characters we all think we know, but I for one had never read any of the original stories on which her pop culture ubiquity is based. I knew that she was a red-haired doll (I have curly red hair; “Raggedy Ann” was not an uncommon nickname/slur in my childhood) and I have some Little Golden Books starring her and her… I guess, brother?… Raggedy Andy, but aside from the vague feeling of goodwill that she engenders, I really had no idea of the quality of her origin story.

But then I spied a handsome hardcover edition of her collected tales, and of course bought but didn’t read it, until today I babysat my friend Claire’s bibliophilic four-year-old twins and thought this would be the perfect bedtime story.

And it turns out? Raggedy Ann is really quite lovely.

She is indeed a doll, and she is the most popular toy in Marcella’s nursery, her sunny nature and helpful demeanour making her a firm favourite with all her plaything colleagues. The twins sat entranced, alternately open-mouthed and giggling, as I read story after story, and while story time took over an hour, I was totally fine with that, so cute are the stories. It is always with a sense of relief that I read (or hear, or watch) something long-beloved and find it worthy of its long-held popularity, and with this one, I am happy to confirm that the Raggedy Ann stories are cute as anything, and stand up to this very day.

Read them to the four-year-olds in your life. You won’t regret it.

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TBR DAY 185: Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1918
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes.