Saturday, December 23, 2006

Black and bronze spiral

No posts for a while, but I have been beading, a little. This is a gift I've been working on off and on for months (mostly off, it wasn't that much beading); I gave it to the recipient on Thursday, so I'm free to post it now.

It's what I've seen called a Cellini Spiral. The version in the link is even count peyote, with a step up, but mine is odd count. Each round is one size 11 bronze seed bead, two size 15 matte bronze, one 11 bronze again, and one black size 8.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Unstolen by Wendy Jean

The story of a girl whose brother was kidnapped when she was an infant and never found. A very well-written book, I think, and hard to read, mostly because (should get this out up front) I hated the mother.

Not that I didn't sympathize with her - to lose a child, the uncertainty, the unfairness. Or I could have sympathized, perhaps was meant to. But I identified too strongly with the daughter, who did sympathize, too much I thought. I wanted her to stand up and demand that her mother look away from the stolen son, and see her, or to do that on her behalf, or something.

Monstrous characters are interesting. The mother was warped, understandably so. Had survived, was doing her best. It was perhaps her inability to stop hoping - to give up on her son - that made her most unendurable, in the end. A good trait... until it isn't. Until it becomes a rigid refusal to live. Buying new shoes for the absent son, that she couldn't afford for her daughter...

Whatever warped her, whatever made her, she was, to me, an unsympathetic character, a monster.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Another Company book - sequel to Garden of Iden, and I've already picked up the third in the series, Mendoza in Hollywood.

Plot: Facilitator Joseph has been assigned to talk the Chumash, a southwest Native American tribe, into allowing themselves to be preserved, or perhaps collected, for some future purchaser. (I'm still not entirely certain why this involved obtaining all the individual Chumash, since apparently what was really required was a record of their culture and DNA. Maybe the purchaser was benevolent.) Anyways, Joseph does this by assuming the persona of a deity of theirs, Sky Coyote.

I like Joseph. Moderately liked the Chumash, and so enjoyed the book, overall. But none of the individual Chumash stood out as, well, individuals, so I find I'm thinking of them as a sort of group character, "The Chumash".

Bits of interaction with company representatives from the future - they seem to be annoying twits. Hard to believe they basically run everything... but that's the hook to read the rest...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ladylike earrings

Ok, they're more little girl earrings, but I wear them. On days when I look at my outfit and realize that I'm overdoing the "prim academic librarian" thing, they provide a sort of comfort - make me feel that I haven't completely given in.

I'm also working on a pair in blue - my cousin's 10 year old daughter requested a pair. Cobalt blue, to be specific, and brown hair. I need to find a better shade to use for the face and hands - the ivory I've used in these is too pallid and the pink I tried just looks odd.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Láinez

Not about a unicorn - it's historical fantasy set during the crusades, narrated by the fairy Melusine. The unicorn of the title is Aiol, Melusine's descendant, who carries a unicorn lance. The fantasy elements seem almost beside the point, though I enjoyed Melusine's reminiscences on her life as an enchantress and patroness of architects, and her comments on esoteric subjects such as the relationship between fairies and angels.

But really it's a novel of medieval life, of Aoil (who Melusine falls hopelessly in love with), his father and sister, and the fall of Christian Jerusalem. The characters feel medieval - as they rarely do in fantasy - and the language, in my translation at least, has an archaic feel. All of which made it a slow, not easily digestible read.

Rose amulet

And finally, I've made an amulet just to please myself. The ones I've created before were for friends, which I've enjoyed. But it's fun to just sit down and make something pretty out of your favourite beads and colours:



Tubular peyote in seed beads. The lighter pink is a metallic called Platinum Rose and the green is a dark metallic matte olive, both from Mill Hill; the darker pink is a gold lustered raspberry shade, but I can't remember where I got it. I think the bronze beads may be czech.

This is another pattern I designed myself. If I made it again I think I'd add another column of bronze beads to each side to make it a little wider. I was a bit disappointed when I discovered that it was a couple of milimetres too narrow to fit a toonie in.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Garden of Iden by Kage Baker

Gripping SF.

It's set in a world where a company called Dr. Zeus has mastered time travel (backwards only, but you can return to your own time) and immortality (but only if you start with young children and replace most of their parts with machinery). They rescue from imminent death, recruit, immortalize and train young children from various eras to work as agents, rescuing lucrative bits of the past and storing them safely for the company to recover far in the future. Mendoza's one of the agents, a spanish child rescued from the Inquisition to become a botanist. Not surprisingly given the situation she was rescued from, she dislikes and fears mortals.

Her first assignment is to collect specimens from Walter Iden's garden of exotic plants. She travels there with Joseph, the agent who rescued her and is now posing as her father, and another agent. And falls in love, unfortunatley for both her and the object of her affections, a mortal Englishman with heretical but devout religious beliefs.

There's a whole series set in this world. I'd like to read more about the company - who runs it? How do they control their immortal, highly enhanced agents?

The scene at the end with monkeys throwing fruit at each other, was unneccessary - the point (people keep having the same pointless conflicts) was clear. Bludgeoning it in with rotton fruit was excessive.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Walking the Labyrinth by Lisa Goldstein

Eh. I was lukewarm on this one. Which is a pity, because Lisa Goldstein at her best is outstanding - Tourists is my favourite of hers, but I also enjoyed The Red Magician, The Dream Years, and many of her short stories. Her fantasy is often tinged with surrealism and is quite unlike most of the other material in the genre. But Dark Cities Underground was a letdown - I never managed to care much about the main characters, and the title left me hoping for dark city scenery that never materialised.

Molly Travers was raised by her great aunt, and believes she has no other family. Which is a pity, because she's actually related to a troupe of performing magicians. After a private investigator contacts her, she starts researching her peculiar family history. A few evil murdering types with connections to some of her ancestors try to interfere, but oddly don't manage to provide much suspense.

I liked Molly, and her private investigator sidekick John Stow. ("Liked" may be overstating how I felt about John, but he was interesting to read about.) But I'd have prefered to spend a little more time getting to know them - large parts of the book were told through old diaries and letters. Emily's story could have made a book of its own, I think, but instead was just long enough to distract me from the main plot. It all might have worked better if the plot hadn't been so busy; too much happening in not enough space.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

hamsa earrings

My love affair with tiny metallic seed beads continues. Here's another pair of earrings made with size 15 silver and hematite coloured beads:


The design is a Hamsa, also called Hand of Fatima or Hand of Miriam, an ancient Middle Eastern symbol used by both Jews and Muslims. The hand with three fingers upraised is intended to avert the evil eye.

I've seen a number of variations on this design in various media, but none in beadwork, so I decided to design a beadwork pattern. And share it:

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The cat ate my beadwork

Well, chewed my beadwork, anyways. This was a pair of russian leaf earrings I created for fall, using size 15 silver beads. Unfortunately, I left them on the bedside table, and the cat knocked one down and started playing with it. The picture shows what he left.



I'll make another one up sometime soon. I'm also thinking I'd like a pair in bronze 15 seeds - a better colour for autumn.

Maria's Russian Leaf instructions. (Often her site is down, but it's also available from the Internet Archive)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Other Eden by Sarah Bryant

What a beautiful little book, was my first thought on finishing this. But on second thought not so little; over 450 pages, but I read it in a couple of sittings and didn't notice time passing.

A cliche, but it's easier to criticize than praise, and I sometimes have trouble writing about the books I enjoy most. Especially ones like this, that I just absorb in a kind of uncomplicated gulp of reading pleasure.

It's a sort of literary gothic, full of family secrets. Most of the book is set early last century. with a prologue 20 years earlier, and a coda much later. Eleanor is a gifted young pianist, raised by her grandfather. On his death she moves to an abandoned family estate in the south with her companion Mary (rather uninteresting, as companions named Mary often are). The estate, the Eden of the title, is lushly beautiful in decay, tangled and haunted, perhaps poisoned.

Strange how I find myself thinking of the book with an almost southern gothic vocabulary. It's the language more than the plot I loved, I think, much as I do love these past-delving novels. Eleanor's mother and her mother's twin sister traded places so one of them could marry the man she loved - this is revealed in the prologue. Eleanor knows nothing of this, doesn't even know who her father is, or that her mother had a twin. In eden she learns, slowly, and with the help and hindrance of two mysterious men who are somehow tied to those events from before her birth. And even Mary plays a sinister role.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks

This is one of the books I read during my two-week holiday/belated honeymoon in Prague and Budapest, mostly while in transit. (I'm a compulsive reader, but even I found more interesting things than reading to do in Europe.) I'll be catching up on my blog posting over the next few days. (A few days later: or weeks...)

This is also, incidentally, the book I was reading in Prague airport which I was forced to surrender to my checked luggage due to the terrorist threats that week.

I've read all of Iain M. Banks' Culture space operas, as well as some of his non-M. literary works. I think I would have appreciated this book more if someone else had written it; it was well-written, fun, and for Iain M., fairly average. Which is still very good...

I nearly didn't read it at all. Mr. Banks has a skill for writing vivid, memorable, utterly repellant scenes - the live-human-eating cult in Consider Phlebas comes to mind - and this book included one right at the beginning. I have what is sometimes an unfortunately visceral imagination, and the fate of the bodiless head that was being used for a punching bag was a bit much for me. Fortunately, the rest of the book was relatively light on such things.

As a side note, the Archimandrate Luseferous, the leader of the invading force who punched the disembodied head, broke so many of the rules on the Evil Overlord List that I was forced to wonder if Banks used the list while designing his character. (For example, see rules #17, #24, #49, and also the bits about properly securing ones' noxious pets.)

I missed the Culture. I like the odd interplay of moral shallowness and depths that their hedonistic, AI-supported society lends itself to... but back to the book in hand.

Dwellers are members of an ancient, galaxy-spanning civilization of gas-giant inhabitants who live for millions or, if lucky, billions of years. (Despite or because of this, to the casual human observer they often appear to have the approximate maturity level and attention span of a typical pre-teen, or possibly a celebutante.) Fassin Taak is a human scholar in Dweller Studies, one of the few non-Dwellers who actually gets to talk to Dwellers face to face and has some measure of understanding of them. To do this in the gas-giant atmosphere he employs a small, carefully-crafted ship. For various war and plot-related reasons, Fassin is sent on a mission to try and find an important Dweller document.

For me the Dwellers were the best part of the book. At first they seem to have been thrown in for comic relief, frivolous and bumbling, but there's more to them, and I think it's actually a fairly subtle portrayal. What would a society of beings that live, grow and learn for millions of years look like?

These look rather like the Culture, in a way. Both are civilizations whose inhabitants lack some of the basic motivators we take for granted. No economic motivators; technology's advanced and pervasive enough to do anything that needs to be done, produce anything that needs to be produced, on request. With universal lack of economic want goes most urges towards social change, philanthropy and activism, other important motivators in this reality. Science and engineering are a set of solved problems, and the main remaining field of inquiry is history. So, most of the concerns we consider serious and adult simply aren't there to be concerned about. Not surprising the beings in question might seem frivolous and hedonistic, even juvenile. They've not much to worry about except how to kill time.

Some do more than that, though. And gradually, we get to see some of what they've been up to.

One of the things I like most about Banks' Culture books is the way that background lets him isolate the biggest questions. They've delt with everything that can be solved with money and technology and medicine. The Dweller parts of this book didn't explore those themes, and the Dwellers themselves were more alien than anything biology-based in the Culture universe. But perhaps not alien enough, given the huge amount of time and life and biology that separated them from the quite comprehensible humans? I'm not sure. The book seemed to have more possibility than it used, in the end.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thud by Terry Pratchett

What's to say? It's a Terry Pratchett book, and I've loved pretty much all of his books.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Almost metalwork

More twisted herringbone. These hoops are made out of 15° silver-coloured seed beads.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pink and silver herringbone

My current favourite colour is probably the soft dusty pink of these seed beads.

I made the earrings a few weeks ago, but it took me until now to come up with a necklace I liked using the same colours. I started and ripped out several, including peyote and russian spiral ropes, and a more elaborate twisted herringbone pattern from one of Carol Wilcox Wells' books. Eventually I settled on this simpler herringbone rope. I worked out how to get this twist using a single size of seed bead by trial and error. Then perhaps a day later someone posted a link to instructions on the about.com beadwork forum.

The earrings are made using Felinda's fern stitch.



Here's a close-up of the earrings:

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A net of crystal

A netted necklace with gold beads, pink crystals and pearls. The picture doesn't do it justice, it sparkles gorgeously in real life.

I created this as a wedding / graduation gift for a favourite student.

Based on Theresa's russian net pattern.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Labyrinths by Jorges Luis Borges

Missed this when I was entering my old posts. Well, there are no rules. No way to back-date, either.

Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney, with digressions on the Romance genre

What's to say? She's my favourite romance writer. This book didn't stand out much among her others, but it was perfectly likeable.

The author was quoted on the back saying that "for pure romance, you can't beat Thunder and Roses." I actually found the romance a bit tepid. The heroine muses after realizing she's in love with (and having sex with) the hero "She would miss him when their odd relationship was over..."

I've had stronger reactions to impending separations from my cat.

Still, things to like. One thing I appreciated was that the heroine was the daughter of "respectable yeoman stock." Most of Putney's characters range from mid to high-level nobility - even the actress in One Perfect Rose turned out to be a mislaid heiress of some sort. I also enjoyed the Gypsy scenes - the hero was half Romany.

Mary Jo Putney was the author that showed me that I could actually like romance novels. I'd read them before I discovered her, of course, but mostly just because they were, well, there. I've always been something of a compulsive reader - if I'm not doing something else, and something written is available, I'll probably start reading it. (That doesn't mean I'll keep reading it, mind; I'm not that compulsive.) And my mother had a collection of romance paperbacks.

It would have been back in the early 90s that I came across these, and most of them were at least a few years old. So they would have been from the heyday of the bodice ripper, the days when "heroes raping heroines was part of the courting process," as a reviewer at All About Romance Novels put it.

So when I read Mary Jo Putney's Silk and Secrets, it was a revelation. I wrote this in my book log:

"I think what makes this book likeable while so many romances I've skimmed through seem fairly unpleasant is the fact that the hero was a genuinely nice guy. He was handsome and rich and brave and all that, of course, like most romance heros, but he wasn't overly "commanding", didn't bully his wife into doing what he wanted, never considered raping anyone, and while plausibly non-celibate, he wasn't famed thoughout the land for his sexual prowness or the number of marriages he'd broken up. He was just nice. I liked him."

Monday, July 17, 2006

More casualties of the car fire

The car fire I mentioned in an earlier post destroyed quite a few other things: my wedding dress and gifts, family photo albums, and more relevantly my supply of beads and several pieces of beadwork. (We were combining a trip to visit my relatives for Thanksgiving with a trip to collect some of the stuff we'd been storing at my father's place.) Not to mention the car... No people or animals were hurt, which is the important thing.

The Briana necklace was made following instructions in Cheryl Assemi's Beaded Elegance. The flowers were less red than they look in the picture, more of a cranberry.



This is Eagle Spirit's Victorian Lace pattern, done in transparent navy and bronze czech seed beads.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman

Another of Carol Goodman's literary mysteries, a review I found calls it, but this wasn't really a mystery at all, even though it contained questions that slowly were answered. More a novel of the supernatural, almost a more erudite version of one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's parapsychologicals.

Writers and artists are invited to Bosco, a retreat where they can create undisturbed all day. Ellis is writing a novel about a sequence of events involving a medium that took place at Bosco over a century before. And strange things happen...

The story of modern Bosco is interleaved with the story from the past, and I wasn't quite sure if what I was reading was Ellis's novel or the events she based it on. No matter, or perhaps, no difference.

Goodman's books are plagued by coincidence. The odd hidden relationships of the characters, the mediums' tools left under the bench for a century for Ellis's mother to find... it didn't bother me so much in this one, given the supernatural hand in things, but the spirits still needed help from a good dose of unlikely happenstance.

But the unlikely happenings all fit together and grew into something genuinely touching, and subtly creepy. And there's this line near the end:

"This disconcerts me more than the broken teacups and disembodied voices and Diana speaking in tongues--that Zalman's beautifully ordered poems have gotten scrambled together..."

All her earlier books have water in the title: Lake, Water, Drowning. This didn't, but the fountains of Bosco ran through it, and the book might almost have been called Muse of Water along with the biography of Bosco's founder one of the secondary characters was writing. But perhaps the bog orchid was wet enough.

And it fit very well with her earlier books, even if they are more like traditional mysteries. They're all also of another subtype I really enjoy even if I have trouble defining it. I'm not sure what else fits the mould. A. S. Byatt's Possession, yes, though not her others. Some of Robertson Davies, perhaps; Rebel Angels or maybe Lyre of Orpheus. Amanda Craig's In a Dark Wood, which is like Goodman's earlier Seduction of Water, but also another thing entirely. Maybe Fiona Mountain's Pale as the Dead - that's genre mystery, but I think it's good in non-genre ways too. These are books with a sense of place and time, a delving into some real or imagined past, a centrality of arts or literature - not just "literary mystery" as in mystery well-written, but a mystery of literature. Well-written is good too. If any reader knows what I'm trying to get at, I'd appreciate suggestions for other books in the same vein.

Amulet Purses

I'm mostly not a fan of amulet purses - I want a purse I can actually carry something in - but I've made a couple to give as gifts.

I created this for my friend Margaret, who has two cats. The orange one is a female named Willow, and the grey is a male called Trogdore. I used czech seed beads, and I like the crafty, folk art look that the beads' slight irregularity gave the design.


It's my own design, based on Emily Hackbeth's cat earrings. Here's the pattern:

The strap is a basic daisy chain.

My only other amulet purse so far is this tiny sheep, created, naturally enough, for my former co-worker Sue who keeps sheep. The pattern is a slightly modified version of Aunt Molly's sheep. This one uses japanese seed beads, which are more regular than the czech ones.



I still want to make a purse I can carry things in. Entirely out of beadweaving, mind; not cheating by adding some beads to a cloth or leather purse. One of these days when I'm feeling ambitious, I guess.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Memorial for a Russian Leaf set

This Russian Leaf set was the first large project I attempted and the first that I designed myself, and I was very fond of it. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a car fire.

The rope is tubular peyote, and I made the leaves using Maria's instructions. (Often her site is down, but it's also available from the Internet Archive)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Key of Light, Knowledge, Valor by Norah Roberts

Three for one!

I really enjoyed this series. Great light reading airplane-type books, and I did even read one on an airplane.

Combined romance with a nicely done fantasy quest. But mainly I really liked the portrayal of the friendship between the three women. As wish-fullfillment goes, the friendship was more satisfying than the romance. I'm not sure if that says more about me, or about the portrayals of the male characters. But then, romance is rather easier to find. Hapily-ever-after books about friendship I think are rarer.

Key of Valor, the last in the trilogy, didn't work for me as a romance at all. The only thing I can remember about the hero is that he was rich.

The Battle of Evernight by Cecelia Dart-Thornton

Third and last in a series; if you care about spoilers, please don't read further.

Hard to get through. I don't know why; the prose was rather impenetrable, but no more so than in her earlier two, which I found oddly readable despite that. The plot, partly - it wandered, but then the earlier two did as well. Characters? Fewer interesting secondary characers in a less interesting setting, or maybe I'd just lost patience with them somehow.

A pity, because I did enjoy the earlier two, and also because she did come up with good answers for some of the things I disliked in the earlier books - Thorn was inhumanly attractive and capable because he was, in fact, inhuman, for one.

I choose to believe the second option at the ending - that she was spirited away by her unworldly lover to beyond the gate. The other was too pointless and stupid a tragic ending, and unworthy of both the prince and his supposedly befuddled bride.

Unless by Carol Shields

A very deeply felt feminist book, in a way I haven't encountered lately. Not harsh, or angry; a sort of soft muted almost passive protest, yet one that came through very clearly, most of all in those unsent letters Reta wrote. All those passive abstract words, adverbs and prepositions: goodness, unless, thereof, despite... "whatever" didn't quite stike the right note, though.

The book kept me a little too distanced from Norah, who I instinctively wanted to be the center of it. But really it was about Reta, and I can accept that, her trauma of disconnect from her daughter.

Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

A book I've been looking for so long it almost had to be a dissappointment. Except it wasn't; much better than the incoherent sequel.

Trauma and recovery, of course, and magic. Talking things. Only the trauma was a little shallow, the recovery too easy, Susan's father too symathetic at the end. Oh, but the landscaping was lovely, the house, the chittering airplane tickets.

But not the people.

No, that's not quite true. I found myself picking it up and starting over, and I'd forgotten how riviting I found the relationship between Matt and Edmund at the beginning. It was very real. But somehow it lost focus somewhere half way through.

Life Studies by Robert Lowell

Poetry collection. I was plugging at this off and on over a few weeks, reading it on coffee breaks at Starbucks, lunch hour in the cafeteria, buses. Not with my comfort reading at home in the bath. Finally finished it while waiting for a bus at the mall.

Interesting. Bits of masculine emotion and childhood I had difficulty relating to, bits of history I liked, faintly religious musings I was fascinated by, and at the very end some moments from a breakdown, and after, that helped me understand why Alvarez considered it such an important book.

The style... I'll have to read it again just to absorb the nuances... rhymes so subtle I missed them on first reading, rhythm faint, never jarring.

But much of it didn't grip me, quite.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Odd book. I tried to read it several times because the themes I was told were in it appealed to me, but kept getting bogged down near the beginning. I finally managed to get into it by skimming ahead to just past the point where I had difficulty, and read the rest compulsively.

I've never read a book with such a collection of completely self-absorbed, amoral characters. Charles reactioning to the first murder: "It wasn't like it was Voltaire we killed, but still, I feel bad." Henry, trying to push the blame on Coke, or Richard, or anyone, really. Bunny, the only one disturbed by the first murder, but casually stealing food, defacing books, his skill for finding others' weak points and pressing them - and his entire family so concerned with their image. The entire student body, even, with their affectation of grief.

The structure of the book seemed off. I expected the Dionysian murder to come at the climax. Instead it took place unnoticed by Richard near the beginning, followed by the casual killing of Bunny. And then the breakdown - I think it was the questioning by the police, and the apparent betrayals by Henry, that precipitated them. The breaking of the group, not remorse...

Sin by Josephine Hart

Intense, rather perverse book, with an intense and very perverse heroine. (Heroine? Villain?)

About a woman, Ruth, whose life, whose entire being is built around her hatred for her adopted sister, her cousin. She thinks of little else, cares for nothing else (except her son), chooses her lovers and husband as parts of schemes to hurt her sister. Finally manages to sleep with her sister's husband, and destroys all their lives. Well, that and the accidental death of her son, and her sister's...

Perhaps too intense a focus on the hatred? Nothing else to Ruth at all, to the other characters... hard to read, hard to believe.

Her husband - now that was a relationship I did believe. His adoration, her indifference, eventual giving in because it was convenient. Twisted.

Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold

Not what I thought it was. I was expecting another of Jane's Athanor novels, or something similar. Instead, something more like Pat Murphy's Wild Angel - a feral child book, although in a fantasy setting.

Why so many feral wolf women books, I wonder? I seem to have read quite a few lately. Continued aftereffects of pop psychology like _Women who run with the Wolves_? Seems a healthy subgenre, but it's not exactly producing blockbusters.

The ending was not very good. Bad Ending! Bad! No cookie!

I was expecting the story to end, even though I'd realised there might be a sequel. Instead, it just seemed to stop. The main problem had been resolved, but in a sort of by the way manner. And then I turned the next page and there wasn't any more story on it.

The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters

A while ago, I realised that I read this series, and most mystery serieses these days, as novels of setting and character, not as puzzles. Which was good, because this book was wonderful as a chance to spend more time with Amelia Peabody, family and friends. But as mystery, it left something to be desired. A few extremely incompetant and not at all mysterious tomb robbers, a couple of murders at the beginning that were immediately explained and that no-one really cared about anyways, and a completely unrelated spying diversion, also quite lacking in mystery. And the tomb-robber plot and the spy plot didn't really fit well together. I had the feeling that they were originally intended to be two books, and she awkwardly glued them together after realising neither could support a book on its own. Really, rather carelessly done.

Moon-Flash by Patricia A. McKillip

I thought Fool's Run was McKillip's only science fiction, but apparently not. I also thought I'd read this at some point when I was younger, but if I did, I have no memory of it at all, not the slightest sense of deja-vu.

Not nearly as obscure and allusive as her later fantasies. I really enjoyed it, so perhaps I haven't really lost my ear for McKillip. Perhaps this was simpler because it was a Young Adult, but mostly I think her stylistic characteristics were not at that time exaggerated.

One thing that struck me - the "primitive" peoples, the cultures on the plain and by the river, worshiping the space-ship so carefully sent out for them, the Moon-Flash - they were like animals in a wildlife preserve. Kept, to study and watch. Kept ignorant. Out of love, she said? The girl, her mother and the boy did grow, I think, leaving their place, they changed and learned. And no-one questioned whether it was reasonable to keep that from the others. Odd.

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

I used to really really like Patricia McKillip's books. Not all of them, but I adored Fool's Run, Sorceress and Cygnet, Winter Rose, the Riddlemaster books, even Atrix Wolf. And Stepping Out from the Shadows was incredible. But the last three or four have left me quite utterly cold.

Including, alas, this one. Perhaps I'll reread, though I feel no great desire to; I reread Basilisk, the first of her books to disappoint, and found it actually rather charming, if not as good as I'd hoped.

I don't know if I've changed, or if the books have. They don't seem to have enough substance to them, and all the twists and character types are vaguely familiar from other books. I think the substance in her books has always been mostly in what she doesn't say, what is alluded to and implied. And I'm not picking up on that any more.

The King Hearafter by Dorothy Dunnett

A very odd book. I was enjoying it very much at the beginning, and quite liked Thorfinn, barbaric but clever pagan viking that he was, when suddenly he turned into Francis Crawford of Lymond. Oh well.

I wonder, is Dunnett only capable of writing that sort of hypercompetant, ultra-energetic Great Man character, or is it only that she thinks that is the only type of character worth writing about? They make me tired, and I never quite believe in them.

But Thorfinn wasn't quite Crawford, for which I was grateful. First, he was wrong occasionally. Several times, in the end, when everything started to go bad. (Maybe Francis screws up later in the series?) And I liked his stubborn paganness, while at the same time slightly despising his political using of christianity.

And Groa. Why on earth, if he loved her, did he neglect, avoid, and insult her for five years running? I must be missing something.

I liked Thorkel. In some ways he was more heroic than Thorfinn, more to my liking. Although a little too devoted, like . . . A kickable dog.

Were death rates really so high, amongst early-medieval royalty? A wonder anyone wanted to become king, if it meant lisence for all other claimants to burn your house around you, marry your wife on your deathbed and slaughter your family as potential rivals who would do the same in their turn.

Three Kids and a Cowboy by Natalie Patrick

Picked this up at an acquaintance's house. First Harlequin I'd read in a while.

Harlequin-style romance is a pretty limiting form. But still, it is possible to write a good one within the form, and even possible to stretch the form and do something interesting with it. I haven't read that many, but still, some are pleasant enough,and a couple I've read have been more than that. There was one I remember featuring a woman author, and the man who'd fallen in love with her through her novels. The flashbacks telling the story she'd recorded in her novel seemed to be doing something nice, and interesting. And I could actually like that hero. (Anyone have a clue what book this is?)

But in this one, I found myself hoping that the heroine would dump the hero - just give up, get away and be glad to have a bad situation over with. He just didn't seem to be worth the effort. Manipulative, controlling - I guess in formulaic romance terms he was "masterful," or something.

It irritates me that these sorts of romances are still being written - the ones with manipulative, control freak, misogynist heros, and the women who for some reason idolize these very traits. But someone must like them.

Obviously this book was written for people different from me.

The Wolf of Winter by Paula Volsky

Um. Fantasy Russia, with necromancy.

I had trouble sympathizing with the main character for being imprisoned in a library. I mean, I'd like to live there. Regular meals, routine, infinite quantities of books, tutors to help you study anything and everything, impassioned debates about footnoting. . . and benign necromancy in the cellar. Paradise! So it was hard to sympathise with Sharri's dislike.

Did the practice of necromancy invariably destroy a person's moral sense? Volsky didn't seem to have made up her mind. Villan Varis had the excuse of an unfortunate background, that Sharri thought had ruined him. . . But Sharri did not, and she felt the lure of necromancy, and tortured a spirit without caring. And even Varis thought that he would once have felt conscience-stricken by what he did, suggesting that the necromancy, or the drugs, had changed him. Yet the Librarian conclave didn't seem to have any such problem.

Oh well.

The Phisiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

Very, very weird. I disliked Cley so much it was hard to believe in his redemption, but he was interesting to read about, sort of like the pleasure one might take in seeing a bug disected.

Odd how ideas keep cropping up, once you've noticed them. The memory building, for example. I came across the idea first in Wolfe's Soldier books; it was a greek temple of memory then, very appropriate. Then the memory house in Little, Big, and then here an entire memory city made flesh. I'd like to construct my own memory building. What would it be? Memory cottage? Appartment or condo? An entire memory library?

Queen's Play by Dorothy Dunnett

Sequel to Game of Kings, and I haven't read the other 3.

Lymond, Lymond, Francis Crawford of Lymond... Eh.

Compelling read for the political machinations, even if I don't quite believe in the protagonist. It's the superhero aspect I can't identify with. Brilliant fencer, wrestler, best musician ever heard, linguist, lover, leader, strategist, charismatic, gorgeous... It's all a bit much, understand? In the first novel there was enough of a temper of error and self-doubt, and his best-at-everythingness wasn't quite so much on stage.

And yet I suppose there were such people. The proverbial renaissance man: Da Vinci, Francis Bacon, and Henry VIII was a musician and athlete, before he went to fat, it's said (or flattered), and there were others... I suppose someone has to be the best, though usually it isn't the same person being the best at everything.

I have the same problem with the Miles Vorkosigan books. He's a bit much. I think it's the charisma again. I suppose that sort of overwhelming personal magnetism doesn't penetrate the book-brain barrier for me very well.

Maybe it's inadequacy: I'm not charismatic, brilliant, or good at most things, so reading about someone who is makes me feel deficient. I can't relate.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

What a hard read, until I got used to it. Very difficult on the sentence and paragraph level to figure out what was going on. Not just her prose, though that was convoluted enough, or the way her characters talked in poetry and allusions I was mostly unfamiliar with. But she showed everything, didn't tell, just gave their words and looks and none of the thought behind it. And they all spoke in abreviated form, allusions and hints and never half saying what they meant (except, perhaps, Will Scott). It's a wonder any in the story understood the conversations they found themselves taking part in; in real life they'd have been more bewildered than I, without lesiure and pages to refer back to. A very mind-consuming read.

I know I started this before, didn't think I'd gotten very far. Now I'm not sure. I kept being teased by hints of familiarity, as if I'd read it all before, but then I never knew what was coming.

Should I read the others in the series? I've no great desire to do so, somehow. Lymond tortured, outlawed, ambiguous and unpredictable, hiding from unknown crimes or errors: that was interesting, worth disentangling to find out about. Lymond reputation restored, clearly on the angel's side, in good with his family - in short, not tormented - might be less worth chasing through Dunnett''s entangled prose. But I may have a look anyhow.

Scholars and Soldiers by Mary Gentle

Odd collection. Several of the stories had hidden fangs... They seemed like ordinary tales with classic life-affirming type plots, the sort of thing you might find in say MZB's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, especialy with all the strong-woman heroine types and egalitarian or matriarchal societies. But then at the end they'd turn on you, turn into something different and much nastier. The one with the woman warrior who turned on her masters to rescue the prisoners she felt sorry for, and fled with them... And then turned again, and killed the man she'd rescued. Several of them had endings like that.. Perfectly conventional stories, if only they'd stopped a little sooner...

Only problem was, after the first couple I started to expect that, which lessened the impact.

Past the Size of Dreaming, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I first read this, and wrote about it, sometime in late 2001.

This book is an urban fantasy, I guess, though mostly rural. The magic systems were rather incoherent: demons, talking sidewalks, spirit guides, elemental magic, witches and old-fashioned cookbook magic. Oh, and the gold bands that were never really explained or served much purpose. The characters were well enough done, I guess, but I seemed to be missing context. Perhaps they appeared in Red Heart of Memories?

It was the magic that bothered me, though. Anything could happen: at any point a character could pull out a new spell or ability, turn a house into a person or a dog, change sexes, fly, whatever the plot required. As a result none of it came to matter very much, there wasn't any wonder, any sense that the magic meant anything.

I've seen the charge leveled against fantasy, that where anything can happen nothing matters (some science fiction writer, I guess?), but this was the first time I've seen it played out. I think it's more an effect of incoherency than fantasy. I mean, in a mystery the author could reveal the conspirators at any time, or cripple them, or not leave any clues, have the killer be someone she never introduced at all; anything can happen that is within the scope of the book. It matters because the writer arranges things so it seems to matter, so things flow from who the characters are rather than how the author manipulates their circumstances, so if something unusual happens, it's significant and surprising, not just 'oh. The author described something unusual.'

Fantasy works the same way, it's just that the scope of the book is different. And this one was never clearly defined; no way to know what was within the scope of the book.

I did keep reading, though. I liked the characters, especially Matt.