What I did on my summer holidays

I’m back from England! Actually, I’ve been back for just over a week but I’ve been recovering from a long, horrid flight and the crap that appeared when I got to work so I haven’t really been in a blogging mood.

It was a fantastic holiday. I did all the things that I planned to do, saw all the friends that I’d hoped to and ate a truly epic quantity of clotted cream.

I have a serious weakness for a good cream tea and I managed to fit in several πŸ™‚

I’m torn in picking what the highlight of the holiday was. The day when Mum, my sister and I went on the London Eye and had tea at Brown’s hotel was a definite highlight. We had amazing weather so the view from the Eye was terrific and the tea was amazing. Now that we’ve done Brown’s and Claridge’s, Mum and sis suggested that we need to try all the good London hotels during my future trips. So I think we’ll be working our way through the Savoy, the Dorchester, The Lanesborough and the Langham. We may also take in Fornum and Mason.

The Ritz has too many tourists, so we’ll skip that.

Then in a few years we can compare! And maybe try them all again!

The other big highlight was the trip to Hay on Wye. That was with my parents and we spent two days there, managing to cover around half the bookshops. The town was in preparation mode for the festival that started a few days after our visit and also for the Jubilee, so it was a fun experience without the insane crowds that the festival generates.

Most importantly, between Hay and the local secondhand bookshop I came home with a huge treasure trove of books. I’m still in full-0n Hugo reading mode so I can’t make a start on the stack yet, but I’m excited about them. The hardcover Chalet School books are particular treasures because they’re the full text as opposed to the edited/cut versions that appeared in paperback.

The list is behind the cut. It’s long, trust me. I’ll be posting Hugo reads and movies over the next few days.


What have I been reading lately?

Two months of books to list – I really need to remember to post these lists rather than writing, saving and forgetting. March started out badly, but improved a lot and April was filled with classics.

March books

The Affinity Bridge – George Mann: It had all the elements of a good book, so why wasn’t it? This is the first time my “wow, great cover art” technique of choosing new authors has seriously failed me. The book had some great ideas (steampunk Victoriana, gothic mysteries etc.) but the writing was just flat. The characters were a bit cardboardy. The writer did the same thing that I’m trying to train myself out of: over-explaining every tiny thing and chucking info-dumps around left, right and centre. In short, a book that I don’t feel the need to return to and had to work hard to finish.

Dragonheart – Todd McCaffrey: Going back to Pern is always fun, particularly when I’m meeting some new characters or getting to know characters that have only been referenced lightly before. This one takes place at the same time as another of the recent Pern stories, but it focuses on a newly Impressed rider and her gold dragon with only hints at the actions of the charcters in the other book. The new characters are interesting and I love seeing Pern in the intermediary stage between the Landing and the period centuries later when Pern rediscovers that history. It’s not the strongest book in the series, but Todd McCaffrey is settling in well and I think he’s made the right choice to set his stories in a different period in Pern’s history from what his mother wrote. It was a book that pulled me in and kept me turning the pages, perfect for a lazy weekend of reading with a big mug of tea.

Black Sails, Fast Ships – various: I’ve only read half the stories because I find that I can only read about pirates for so long, but so far I’ve really enjoyed this. It’s a collection of short stories about pirates. Not just the kind in 18th century sailing ships – the authors are from many different genres and likewise they’ve interpreted the pirate idea in dozens of way. As with any anthology there are a couple of clunkers, but there are also some total gems. Elizabeth Bear’s contribution stands out as one of the best so far (unsurprising, I love her stuff) and the last one that I read before putting it down about high-tech pirates haunted by the souls of ancient pirates was just brilliant. I’ll be returning to this when I’m a little less pirated-out.

Accidental Sorcerer – K.E. Mills: One that I picked up in England because the cover looked good and the back jacket blurb sounded fun. Overall, I enjoyed this one a lot and will be picking up the sequels. It’s not perfect, but it is compelling and fun. The story starts out very light and humorous, but becomes much darker in places so it’s a more meaty book than it first appears. The only imperfection is that the transition between light and dark could have been handled more smoothly. There are a few places that are a bit jarring. The ideas, characters and settings were great and for the most part well executed so this definitely an author that I’d like to return to.

Fool Moon – Jim Butcher: The second Dresden novel and I really enjoyed it. This one is definitely ‘the werewolf one’, with lots of variety in the monsters and lots of people who aren’t quite what they seem to be. Dresden is a great character and one of the rare ones that I can cope with in first person. It’s not deep reading, but it is a lot of fun.

Fifth Years at Malory Towers – Enid Blyton: This was an unintentional re-read because I forgot that I had read this one. It was a fun re-read, though. Blyton’s weak point is that her characters never really age. They are in the fifth year, around 16 years old, but I would not have known this if it had not been stated. Darrell and co. certainly do not show any more maturity than they had in their first year. Elinor M Brent-Dyer has her faults, but her characters do grow and change so that the Joey we meet in the first Chalet School book has grown and matured when she finally becomes Head Girl. Blyton’s books probably work well for younger girls (I have friends who’s daughters will be six or seven next year and I think Malory Towers will be perfect for them) but they would be quickly outgrown by most girls.

April books

All the Windwracked Stars – Elizabeth Bear: This was an excellent book and a good start to the month’s reading. Bear is one of those writers who gets better with each book and never re-hashes ideas, so each book is quite different from the last. In this book I discovered that she writes bleak brilliantly. It’s about the end of the world, with Norse mythology mixed in, and unlike many end of the world books this isn’t about big, epic ends. This is the slow death of a world so it’s bleak and quite disturbing in places. This is fiction, though, so there is hope in places. Definitely worth reading, but perhaps not good as bedtime reading.

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings: I needed something lighter as my bedtime reading after giving myself some disturbed nights with the Bear book. When you need that then the best thing is to re-vist an old favourite. I still love these books and opening the covers is like having a great holiday with old dear friends. These books are popular for a reason: they’re not Shakespeare, but they’re fun, absorbing and filled with great characters. His later books have been essentially re-telling the same stories, but he did it best in the Belgariad and Mallorean series.

Spirit – Gwyneth Jones: The first in my stack of award-nominated books to read through. This one was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke and I can immediately see why. It’s not the easiest book at the start – she plunges you right into the world she’s created without stopping for much explanation along the way – but it rolls along and draws you in very quickly. At heart, this book is a retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo in a sci-fi setting. There are some very weird and cool ideas. I’m not familar with Dumas’ original so I suspect there are parallels that I missed, but this was still an excllent read. It’s also another one that isn’t good pre-bed reading!

Queen of Sorcery – David Eddings: The second Belgariad book and perfect pick-me-up from reading more difficult fare during the day.

The City and the City – China Mieville: Another nominee, for both the Arthur C. Clarke and the Hugo, and an author I’ve been meaning to try for years. Incidentally, this one has won the ACC and I can see why. As with Spirit, the author throws you straight into the world and explains as little as he can, expecting the reader to gradually work things out from context. I found the first couple of chapters hard work and then I was right there in the book, unable to put it down. This is one that I think will benefit from a re-read now that I understand things better. The basic concept is that there are two cities sharing the same physical space, bleeding over in places, and the inhabitants of each city must try to ignore the other city at all times. In the midst of this, there is a murder that may or may not have crossed the borders. It’s a crime novel at heart, with the two cities idea adding an extra dimension that occasionally made my brain hurt (in a good way). Trying to explain it is really difficult because nothing is ever what you think it is, but it’s definitely worth reading.

Magician’s Gambit – David Eddings: OK, I’m on an Eddings kick. So sue me πŸ˜€

April was a good month, reading-wise. The new-to-me books were all excellent and I’m loving the chance to revisit a group of beloved old friends. My only regret is that I should have put Eddings aside to concentrate fully on The City and the City because that one needed several really good, intense reading sessions rather than the snatched moments that I managed a lot of the time. However, it’s a book that made me think a lot so it probably wouldn’t have been good bedtime reading. I’m glad that I read the last few chapters in one go, though.

Saturday was a lovely day. I had a big cleaning frenzy in the morning and then refused to feel guilty about spending the entire afternoon on the sofa with a stack of books. It’s been a long time since I did that. This was when I finished The City and the City (I read most of it in April, so it counts!) and then got halfway through Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs. I’ve been watching Bones and enjoying it, so I thought it was time to check out the books that inspired the series.

Apart from the name of Temperance Brennan, the books are completely different from the series. Totally. Not even slightly related. And I’m really enjoying the book anyway. Lots of great scientific detail and book!Tempe is a great character. Apparently I’m on a mystery kick right now – Ruth Rendell is sitting on my to be read pile as well. Then I’ve got two Jim Butcher novels to read and return to a friend before picking out the next award nominee from my stack to read.

Looks like my May (and possibly June) reading is all sorted then!

February books

Apparently I revert to being stupidly English when surprised by spam phone calls at my workplace. As an aside, how did a company get my number to tell me that I’d won nine thousand shares in something stupid in the first place?

Anyway, I reverted to type. Yelled: “The bloody cheek of it!”

And slammed the phone down.

Now my co-workers are giving me funny looks. Possibly from the yelling, but judging by the IMs (WTF cheek? sums them up) probably from the language. And I’d made so many strides. I was even describing everything as awesome like a good little North American. Ah, well, can’t win ’em all.

It’s been a while since I did an update. I’ve written posts, but never seem to remember to actually post them. Need to get better at that. However, February is over so I think it’s time to post this month’s books:

The Chalet School in Exile – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer: I’ve read the Armada paperback, but this was the Girls Gone By re-print using the full manuscript. It’s the Chalet School, so of course I enjoyed it. The material that was restored definitely makes this a smoother read, despite there still being an annoying gap where EDB doesn’t give me Joey’s wedding, and I’m glad that I’ve finally been able to read it.

Storm Front – Jim Butcher: Everyone has been recommending the Dresden books to me recently so I finally picked up the first. Lots of fun, quite light and I’d quite like to read some more.

The School at the Chalet – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer: I’m on a bit of a Chalet School kick. It’s great to go back and read where it all began. I’m just trying to ignore EBD’s inconsistent character aging…

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi: I’ve been hearing about this one for years so I thought it was time to give it a try. Loved it! Great characters and an interesting idea that was explored well. Best of all, it kept me diving back for more every time I had a spare moment. It’s nice to see a book that has one basic idea done well and pays attention to things like characterisation and invention. Too many books seem to try to skim several ideas, never really giving anything the depth it needs, and sacrifice character to the demands of the ideas. I’m definitely going to be looking for more Scalzi.

Storm Glass – Maria V. Snyder: This is the first in a promised series of books featuring Opal Cowan. Opal appeared in her first series of books and she was an interesting character, so it’s nice to see her return. Snyder gave some good hints about the world she created and we got to explore it a bit in her first books, but here she’s got lots of scope to explore and takes every bit of it. I love Opal, I love that Snyder lets her admit that she causes some of her own problems and I love the unsual magic she’s exploring. It’s a book that was hard to put down.

A couple less than January, but I was also madly knitting for the Ravelympics project so this is still a respectable haul. All of the books were a great success and kept me highly entertained: I’d recommend every single one of them. I’ve really got to get out there and spend the Chapters voucher that I have sitting in my purse. This will require thought to make sure that I buy winners rather than things that suck. When I have vouchers, I always make a point of buying something from at least one author that I haven’t tried yet. It can be so difficult to wander out of the comfort zone of familiar authors, particularly if you’ve had a few disastrous impulse buys, but you have to do it or you’ll eventually run out of books. Time to hit Amazon and explore recommendations and reviews, I think, so that I can hit Chapters with a list of things to look for.

If anyone has some suggestions for really great YA books that I might not have tried yet (I’m up for anything that doesn’t have vampires in including teen angst ala Ann Brashares) that would be awesome.

Caprica, Doctor Who, books and stuff

A number of things today, catching up with all the stuff I’ve been meaning to comment on and keep forgetting.

Firstly, when the day’s high is -12C (-24 with windchill) then it’s bloody cold. I feel that my little English self needs congratulation for not going out and starting the car warming ten minutes before I left for work this morning. My fingers regained sensation about five minutes before I got to the office.

Caprica, V and Flashforward

Secondly, I can tell that I really need to pay more attention to fandom. If I had paid attention, I would have noticed that the first episode of Caprica (after the pilot) aired on Friday. Eep! I have now seen it, though, and set up my DVR for the rest. My initial feeling is that it isn’t quite BSG, but it’s still very good and there is a lot of potential in the set-up. I’ve been a bit disappointed in Flashforward and V so it’s good to see some new genre programming that keeps me glued. I suspect that if I wasn’t watching V with a friend (so that I can mock the silly bits), I might have given up on it after two episodes. It’s really a show that needs friends, knitting and snacks to be truly appreciated.

Flashforward is sitting on my DVR. Should I take my lack of enthusiasm for watching the three episodes I have to be a sign that I can give up?

The only other significant genre show (from this is of the Pond, anyway) that I’ve really enjoyed this season is Stargate Universe. I know that it’s not caught a lot of my fellow SG fans, but the writing is good, the acting is good and they aren’t taking the obvious route with some of their stories. No, it isn’t the crack-tastic joy that was SGA, but it’s different and I like it.

I think that I’ll have more Caprica thoughts when I’m a few episodes in. So far, I’m loving the way they’re handling Zoe…

Doctor Who

In semi-related news, I have seen yesterday’s Doctor Who casting spoiler and I’m a very, very happy girl. If we can’t have him as the Doctor (that would be awesome overload, I tell ye) then at least he’ll be in an episode. Hell, I’ll be happy if he gets to be on for three minutes being awesome. As it’s the Richard Curtis episode, I think we can assume that he’ll be heavily involved in the plot.

Books! Books! Books!

In book news, I finished Firebird (a Mercedes Lackey that I had somehow never read) yesterday morning and I’ve decided that it can count to my January reading stats. After all, I read all bar five pages in January! I’m actually going to try to keep track of how many and what I read this year. January totalled seven books, only one of them a re-read. Firebird was probably the disappointment of the month: it seemed to lack the lightness of most ML books and I was a little ‘meh’ about the central characters.

The list in full:

Quite Ugly One Morning – Christopher Brookmyre
One Degree of Seperation – Karin Kallmaker
Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper
Fortune’s Fool – Mercedes Lackey
Probe – Margeret Wander Bonanno
Firebird – Mercedesl Lackey

I bought the Girls Gone By edition of Chalet School in Exile while I was in England and that was cracked open this morning. I’m really looking forward to seeing what was cut from the Armada paperback that I’m familiar with – will it include that bit where eighteen months are summarised in two sentences? That has always bugged me.

In other book thoughts, Lynn Flewelling posted briefly in her LiveJournal (username otterdance) about a review for Luck in the Shadows. The reviewer was disgusted and suggested that readers would require a bucket to read it. As that’s the tamest of her Alec-Seregil novels, she and most of her fans are currently laughing a lot and wondering what that reviewer will do when he gets to Traitor’s Moon. It’s nice to see bigotry alive and kicking.

I suspect that this is more that sufficient for one post πŸ™‚

Book stash

This evening I decided that it would be a good idea to enter all the books sitting on my coffee table into LibraryThing. These are all the books that have entered this house on or since Christmas Day and I’ve been looking at the piles feeling slightly worried for a while.

Er, it turns out that there 23 books there. 23.

While a few (er, maybe six) were Christmas presents, that means the rest have been acquired with the spending of my own money. Bad ArcheryGirl.

In my defence, more than half the rest of the books were second hand including two Abbey Girls books and an Antonia Forest, all picked up in England. There were also assorted Enid Blytons, Trebizons and a lovely old CS Lewis that fits with the set that I’ve been collecting.

Er, yes, there were three duplicates in there. That will teach me to go to bookshops without my lists! I think that I’ll list those on BookMooch. As one is a Trebizon and the other a Naughtiest Girl, I’m fairly sure they’ll go quickly.

Looking at the number of books that I’ve acquired in a little under three months is terrifying and I’ve made a resolution. No more new books until May. I must read things from the to be read pile (currently 141 books without adding in the non-fiction) or borrow from the library. Nope, not even second hand. If anyone spots me attempting to buy books they must sit on me firmly. I can go six weeks without buying new book, surely?

If anyone wants to see the insanity that is my current library, it is here.

Buttered eggs – help needed

I’ve been dipping into the Girls Own mailing list a bit lately and someone mentioned buttered eggs. It’s something that’s also mentioned in the Box of Delights: “Time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man”.

As an aside, I love that book and the BBC adaptation. They’re perfect pre-Christmas reading or watching, although the BBC adaptation is much easier to understand (because it has a comprehensible storyline rather than wandering along on whatever fancy John Masefield took at that moment) and doesn’t rely on familiarity with The Midnight Folk. If you like children’s adventures set in the ’30s with a sprinkling of magic and odd goings on, hunt this down on Amazon although I think that it is only available on region 2 at the moment.

Anyway, the point is…

Does anyone on my f-list know what buttered eggs are and how one would make them? I’ve been intrigued for years and now that I’m getting back into my cooking and baking, I’d love to know what they are and whether it is possible to make them.

I am currently debating what to bake at the weekend. Chocolate brownie cupcakes? Double chocolate chip cookies?

Do I see whether I can hunt down a recipe for sticky buns in my trusty Be-Ro book?

Do I tackle scones, knowing that I’ll then need some cream and jam so they won’t be an elevensies treat at work?

Do I venture into experimenting with choux pastry, or shall I save that for a holiday treat?

And then there is the debate of what to cook on Saturday for my aunt. I’ve got loads of stuff in the freezer now so I don’t need to do any big batches in the slow-cooker (officially my favourite kitchen appliance ever). Time to peruse my recipe books, methinks.

You know what I’d really love? A proper, decent fan oven. My (non-fan) oven is terrible beyond belief and useless for baking. It cooks from the bottom up so everything gets scorched on the bottom while remaining anemic on top. I resorted to cooking stuff in tiny batches in my toaster oven this weekend, which isn’t exactly ideal! But Mum does not want to re-do the kitchen this summer and we intend to put in a wall-mounted fan oven when she does the remodel because everyone who cooks regularly in my house has trouble bending to get things out of ovens. So it’s pointless to spend money on a good stove when we we’ll be eliminating the need for it next summer.

Wow, and that was a domestic-y post. When I did I start doing domestic?

Although I really would love to learn embroidery at the Royal College of Sewing in England…