spindizzy: Text icon: "And then canon got fucked so everyone lived happily ever after." (Canon got fucked)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
I'm starting to think that this column might actually be good for me. If I'm left to my own devices, I tend to forget to actually make time for books, I prioritise writing and fanfic over anything else, and then I burn out like a bastard because I forget that you need to consume good media to produce good media. Writing this is giving me a solid reason to actually make the time, which I probably wouldn't do otherwise.

(Also I'm noticing a pattern of "If I can put your book down long enough to go to sleep, I'm probably not going to pick it up again." WHY BRAIN, THIS IS A TERRIBLE HABIT TO GET INTO, STOP THAT.)

Books, graphic novels and manga read:
  1. The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

  2. A Kiss For Midwinter by Courtney Milan

  3. The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

  4. Vinland Saga Volume One by Makoto Yukimura

  5. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

  6. Union Jack: London Falling by Christos Gage and Mike Perkins

  7. Zodiac Starforce by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau

  8. Innocent Bird Volume One by Hirotaka Kisaragi



Books, graphic novels, manga



Cover of The Governess Affair Cover of A Kiss For Midwinter


1. The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
I think I liked this one? The protagonists are both stubborn and charming, the (off-screen, backstory) rape is handled with care and consideration, and I was entertained by the battle of wits? I actually rooted for the pairing to get together, which is an improvement over a lot of regencies I read! The villain was a ravening stereotype, though, as a fair warning? Also I found the ending to be somewhat disappointing; I get that it was trauma recovery and also Love, but I am always disappointed when someone throws their dream aside for marriage? (PLEASE NOTE: I am not advocating anyone working for Rapist Duke, I am just going "But you could shut down a bank with a reasonable amount of effort! You could have done something else once you accepted yourself! ... This is the entire point of your character arc isn't it?") But eh, I guess as long as the characters are happy...

2. A Kiss For Midwinter by Courtney Milan
I think this is probably my favourite Courtney Milan book of all of the ones I've read so far? It's the most straightforward, it's short, it's happy, and all of the problems are solved by people talking like fucking adults! I have some problems with the male lead, because he alternates between "perfectly nice and reasonable man who is an unexpectedly modern doctor" and "Ugh, are you a proto-PUA dude? Really?" (HE MADE A LIST OF WOMEN SORTED BY BEAUTY. A. LIST.) But the female lead is a delight who is slowly learning how to stop repressing her trauma and get back to acknowledging her feelings!

As an aside, I find it really interesting the things that Courtney Milan throws into her novels, because I rarely see novels set in the modern day that deal with things like hoarding or epilepsy, let alone ones set in the regency, and I think that's really interesting thing to put in there, especially for a time-period where there's fewer ways of dealing with these things. (Yes, I appreciate that there were people with epilepsy or who hoarded all throughout history, this is why I think it's great she put that in there.)

Cover of The Heiress Effect Cover of Vinland Saga Volume One


3. The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
This book felt about twice as long as it needed to be, to me, but that could be because I didn't care about the central romance. Jane is fabulous, in every part, from her love of garish colours to her adoration of her sister to choices of what to do with her money to the way she says "I am ablaze." I really adore Jane, I just... Didn't care about Oliver. I get that his passivity is the point of his character arc, but ugh. It felt like there was nothing there for me to get my teeth into, because the most interesting thing about Oliver is the women around him.

(I understand him, and his aunt's assessment of both of them, but I was still more invested in Free and her namesake aunt and I really hope Free has her own book in this collection somewhere.)

So, yes, about half way through I nearly gave up on the book -- people who follow me on twitter might have noticed me going "BUT YOU HAVE RESOLVED THE PLOT WHY ARE THERE ANOTHER FOURTEEN CHAPTERS" not too long ago. But Courtney Milan has this marvellous gift for just putting in one gut-punching paragraph that makes me go "Oh. Oh, I know that feeling," which convinced me to keep going when I'd have otherwise wandered off. In this case:

"I talk. I talk so much. I talk as if my life depended on words filling the space. I talk and talk and I can't stop, not even when I tell myself I must. [...] I do it all the time -- tell myself to shut up, but generally, I'm talking too much to listen to my own advice."


I know this feeling! If you have ever had a conversation with me, this was the backbeat to whatever I said to you! And Courtney Milan's ability to put this feeling into words is why I kept going with The Heiress Effect.

... But yes, not caring that much about Oliver did somewhat hamper my enjoyment of the book once the immediate problem of "Douchecanoe wants to ruin Jane's life" was resolved. After that point, the book seemed to meander, and I really wanted more about Emily and Anjan than it gave me.

I honestly preferred the b-side romance between Emily and Anjan to the main one, because hi, race is not a topic that I've seen explored at all in Regency romances, except in the most general terms of "white people discussing not-white people and how they MIGHT be human, maybe" (Thank you Lisa Kleypas) or "Savages!" rhetoric (Thank you Elizabeth Hoyt); this is the first one to I've seen that not only engages with colonialism, but also put in a really sweet romance. *clutches it* (I don't doubt that there are other ones that talk about it, but this is the one I've found! Now I know there are some out there, I can start looking for them.)

Unrelated, but I found myself super invested in Genevieve and Geraldine from... Pretty much the preview at the end of The Duchess Conspiracy. They are twins, and they are very much written as Genevieve-and-Geraldine, which can be somewhat peeving, but also: look at this! An asexual woman in a historical setting! An asexual woman being supported by a family member who believes in her unquestioningly! *rolls in it* Yes, this is a thing I am into. Also I like that Jane is using them and they are using Jane, all for much the same purpose, because their agreement to look after each other makes me very happy.

(... If it turns out that Genevieve is actually the lesbian secondary character I have been promised in a future book, I'm going to feel very silly.)

4. Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura
Right, fair warning if you're planning to pick this series up: it is supremely gory. It's a very violent series, and the art is very good so the gore can get... Somewhat detailed!

Anyway, yes, this story follows Thorfinn, a teenager in a band of Viking mercenaries who is apparently willing to do whatever the leader of the band requires as long as Thorfinn's promised a chance to stab the leader in the face. There are very smart solutions to battles, and many people being utterly fucking terrible.

I'm not gonna lie, Thors and his family are my favourite part of this? Especially because Thors is a GIANT MONSTER OF A MAN who just wants people to NOT FIGHT ANYMORE. He clearly used to be a terrible person who did not give a shit about anyone's life! And then changed his attitude!

(I also like how the resolution of that fight is very visibly not what Askeladd wanted, but he goes with it because... I dunno, keeping his mercenary company together is a priority? I don't know.

I also don't know whether I like this series. It's well drawn (even if some of the characters, like the man ordering a siege, are drawn so differently to the rest of the cast I'm not even sure what's going on), and generally well done? I enjoyed seeing all of the schemes being set up and then falling together like dominoes, I just... Can't put my finger on whether I like it or not. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Cover of Ninefox Gambit Cover of Union Jack: London Falling


5. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
I adored this book. Like, I don't remember the last time I was this excited about a scifi novel – maybe Ancillary Justice? Which was years ago. Either way, I ended up handselling Ninefox Gambit to three different people before I'd even finished it, SO: DEFINITELY LOVED IT.

(I don't know if it's just that I finished a Legend of the Five Rings But In Space game in April, but this gave me a real L5R vibe? Which I'm sure someone told me was one of the influences on the book, which makes me super happy because it's like having a canon recommend a person, okay? I have managed to avoid most of the big-name influences in SFF, so actually picking up on someone's influences is a big deal to me.)

(Also it led to my handsell message being "A Crab has gets possessed by a crazy undead Scorpion general to take an invulnerable fortress" and while that might make no sense if you're not familiar with L5R: IT WORKED.)

I really liked the worldbuilding, but also I was supremely zen about the whole thing and just let it wash over me. I play video games, having your magic sword be powered by the localised belief in a particular calendar does not even phase me. Plus, the way things were described was really... Vivid? And clear to me? (The description of the fortress' shields though!) The prose is great, I love it, I have had to put my copy of the book away so I don't just siddown and start reading it again instead of doing my review.

What I didn't get from the blurb was this recurring theme of war is hell that you're assigned to by idiots. People are sacrificed! Often! Over and over! People have terrible missions that no one should have to do! Cheris, the main character, has to make awful decisions that no one should have to make, and she does it again and again and again! ... I don't know what I was expecting, but I thought the breaking into the fortress was going to take up more of the book, I didn't realise the rest. It's good? It completely screwed with my sense of time passing in the book because the POV jumps down to the fortress for a chapter, and then we get a message from one of the heretics (Those messages are great and give a really good sense of what in hell is going on down there), and the implication is that maybe weeks are passing, but it's hard to track!

(Speaking of war being hell. Guys, there is fic where the Kel with no formation instinct is actually a Shuos infiltrator, right? Don't make me have to write this myself.)

And, okay, but y'all know me. I am here for the characters and the feelings, and... I was not disappointed! CHERIS IS A FUCKING STAR AND I LOVE HER. She is kind to robots and the robots are kind to her in turn! (OMG, the robots, I love them and have so many questions.) She is good enough at maths for that to be her job, and she became a soldier anyway! She's a general (sorta) who would much rather be on the ground fighting with her troops! She is scared and sleep deprived and smart and I can't even explain to you how great she is. Cheris, Jedao and the robots watching terrible TV together! Cheris asking things of the robots instead of demanding, and putting everything together! ... I love her, okay.

I was also surprisingly fond of Jedao? Like, I have been trained by so many fics and romances and... Pop culture in general... That when a story goes "SHOULD THIS FEMALE CHARACTER TRUST THIS SHADY DUDE!" the answer is always yes. And this book – this fucking book actually managed to shake that for me? Like, I adored him throughout it, and I spent all my time wanting him and Cheris to be friends and have a mentor/mentee relationship and watch terrible TV and for him to keep nagging her to sleep! I was not okay during any of the parts where he talked about the people he'd killed (and the fact that he could do logical inferences about the ones he didn’t know personally! And was so resigned about Cheris asking!) or the parts where he manipulated her to get the effect he required! Not okay. And with the nightmare-fuel scene (which was gorgeously written and really affecting at the aftermath was just – *FEELS INTENSELY*), Yoon Ha Lee actually managed to shake my conviction that Jedao was going to be completely legit and trustworthy! THAT TAKES EFFORT.

... About three pages after Jedao was introduced I did turn round to [personal profile] renay and go "Help, I think Jedao is great and I love him" at which she had to remind me that yes, and we also like Seifer, who is canonically a mass murderer who tortured people. This isn't new.

(I CANNOT EVEN WITH THE BIT – AT THE END – WITH THE SPOILERS, AND THE FEELINGS, AND THE FACT THAT THIS WAS SET UP SO WELL AND I LOVE IT I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THAT AT ALL. I AM TRYING TO BE VAGUE IN MY SPOILERS BUT DLSIGHOE5O8HGBEIFNBGOIRDGB)

And, unrelated but for the record: all of the characters appear to be just casually, unremarkably queer and this is the best thing and I love it. I mention it because I didn't know going in and I know this will help tip some of y'all off the fence!)

Now, I need all y'all to do me a favour: point me to the happy AUs where Cheris, Jedao and the robots watch TV together and nothing is tragic?

6. Union Jack: London Falling
Hahaha, you know what was a great thing to read while you're in the pub mourning the results of the Brexit referendum? A comic where a working class superhero steps up when the upper classes explicitly abandon the rest of the populace to suffer from superpowered terrorist attacks because they're too busy saving their miserable hides! *cries*

I admit, my emotional investment in Union Jack comes entirely from Avengers Academy (JACK IS MY FAVOURITE AND LOKI'S SUPER AWKWARD CRUSH ON HIM IS THE ACTUAL BEST). This isn't that Jack, as far as I know? That Jack is like the chronologically first gay Marvel superhero? And this one is a painter and decorator from Manchester (!!!) with a sideline in saving the world? I genuinely don't know which version I like better, because it turns out that both of them are fun!

As much as I love Jack, I have some issues with the supporting cast? Starting with " ... Mate, are your support characters all stereotypes? Because I'm pretty sure that your support characters are all stereotypes," moving through "I would have really liked it if it had been easier to tell the two female characters apart!" and ending with "Jaysus, I forgot how bad the costumes are for women in mainstream comics!" (There is literally a woman who shows up naked to a fight except for STRATEGIC MAGICAL SHADOWS, what the ACTUAL FUCK.)
The plot is... Eh... But I've got to say that watching fictional politicians get raked over the coals was very therapeutic at the time, even if every part of the plan being revealed was pissing me off to no end. (Q: Susan, don't you think that the plan was a little unrealistic and predictable? A: After Brexit, sunshine, nothing seems unrealistic.) Wouldn't buy it, but might be worth borrowing if your library/mate has a copy.

Cover of Zodiac Starforce Cover of Innocent Bird Volume One


7. Zodiac Starforce
Oh man, I really like Zodiac Starforce! It's about a team of astrology-inspired magical girls (omg my favourite trope! *starry-eyes*) who have already done the whole saving-the-world thing and are back to their regular lives.

First, the art and the character designs! All of the girls have practical looking costumes (they're like armoured roller-derby outfits!), and they've got recognisably different styles! (Although I'm not sure there's as much variation in body-types, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, check out the previews first?) The art is SUPER CUTE, and I really like the bright pop-colour pallet. It makes me really happy just to look at it.

You know what also makes me happy: openly queer magical girls! Magical girls who are really obviously and adorably in love with their significant others! Girls with very clear boundaries who enforce them even with their friends! The focus on female friendships!

Oh yeah, in a shocking turn of events, a magical girl comic has a really strong focus on the friendships between the girls and how important they are to each other! Kim's motivation is trying to bring the team back together (even when the team doesn't want to get back together), Emma is the sun the team orbits around, Molly and Savi go all out to protect the team – yes, this is what I'm here for!

I think the decision to skip over the origin story and the exact details of how they sealed Cimmeria away was an interesting one that's... Mostly handled well? I liked coming in on a mostly-functional team who know each other and can work together! Even if they don't necessarily want to be on the team again! But on the flip side... I really wanted the series to have been a little longer to give it space to develop characters like Lily a little more!

If you like this one, I can suggest Mahou Josei Chimaka (which is a completed webcomic about a middle-aged ex-magical girl, in a blatant and fun riff on Sailor Moon, who didn't fulfill any of the prophecies about her) and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (an anime that that is adorable magical girls saving the world until about episode... three, And Then.) It covers some of the same themes, but... Kinda in a much more obviously upbeat way than either? Zodiac Starforce has a lot more humour (even with its villains) and... Bigger support structures maybe? Than either of them. The characters in Mahou Josei Chimaka and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica have support systems, but they're very much individual characters, whereas Zodiac Starforce has GROUPS and it makes me happy. (Memo to me: convince [personal profile] renay that she wants a week of nothing but posts about magical girls at some point so I can go REALLY DEEP into Madoka Magica spoilers. There is totally 100% a market for that.)

(... Someone tell me that there are already fic/art/spin-off comics for the Victorian magical girls, because I for one am TOTALLY HERE for a story about generations of magical girls. GIVE IT TO ME.)

8. Innocent Bird Volume One by Hirotaka Kisaragi
Man, thirteen-year-old me would have devoured this manga with a fucking spoon. I can tell, because thirteen-year-old me devoured Yami No Matsuei like it was candy and this pinged the same sort of buttons. Attractive men feeling guilty and making ludicrous sacrifices for each other after like three days of knowing each other? Eaten. With. A. Spoon.

The things I liked: grizzled trench-coat-wearing magical enforcer (... I did mention that YnM was my jam, right?), the male beauraucrat doing the "*takes off glasses* *flips hair* *SUDDENLY HOT*" thing usually reserved for female characters, the idea of there being beuracracy and visas when it comes to getting into or out of heaven/hell. The things I didn't like: It's... pretty fucking generic, not gonna lie, despite it being about a demon who found religion and is trying really hard to get into heaven? I could probably tag each individual story incident to another manga that possibly did it better! Also, really, that's the villain's motivation? Really?!

(As an aside: it sure would have been nice if most of the female characters hadn't been primarily props put there to die? Because I can only three female characters, one who's a background NPC, one who does the generic "human woman convinced me to maybe not be a terrible demon FOREVER and now she's dying ;_;" storyarc, and one who is literally a prop in the scene she's in before she's killed. What the fuck, manga, what the fuck.)

Books in Progress


Mahou Josei Chimaka by Kaiju. (GUYS I FINALLY GOT MY BIG FUCKING BOX OF SPARKLER MONTHLY BOOKS, I AM SO FUCKING STOKED! I read Mahou Josei Chimaka when it was being serialised and I know I loved it, so I am excited about rereading it in hardcopy.) The Locket and the Flintlock by Rebecca S. Buck (I picked this up from the library today! It is a lesbian regency romance with a highwaywoman, which is my cup of tea, I'm just hoping that the characters start explaining themselves soon!)

Reading Goals


Books read so far: 69/150 (8 new this post)
New-to-me female creators: 30/100 (1 new this post)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub count: 3 (Ninefox Gambit, Zodiac Starforce, Innocent Bird)

Date: 2016-07-15 01:56 am (UTC)
transcendancing: Darren Hayes quote "Life is for leading, for not people pleasing" (Default)
From: [personal profile] transcendancing
Loved this post :) And I'm enjoying your Courtney Milan feels - I liked the consent scene in 'Governess Affair' and found the use of the pins delightful. I agree that he could have continued to do/build on something, but as a twist on the woman who gives up on everything for marriage that it was him, kind of pleased me?

Loved Emily and Anjan so much! Loved this B-romance and also Jane's relationship with the twins. I do hope there's more on them at some stage.

I find that I can just trust Milan to write a book that will include emotional intelligence, and characters I like and a story that won't betray me. It's pure comfort reading that satisfies on an emotional level and leaves me in a better state than when I started out.

I haven't read 'Kiss for Midwinter' yet - need some more book budget for the next few Milan's :)

Date: 2016-07-18 12:39 pm (UTC)
transcendancing: Darren Hayes quote "Life is for leading, for not people pleasing" (Default)
From: [personal profile] transcendancing
I would like many more Milan feels *hearteyes*!

Even if the twins haven't had their story yet, doesn't mean they won't - maybe it's worth an email/tweet to the author? Maybe she doesn't know how awesome a story about these characters would be?!

Here's to comfort reading that is actually comforting. This is usually why I go to urban fantasy/paranormal romance for my romance fixes because, as much as I love historical settings with tea, frocks, parties, outings, and the like... it's usually just not worth the veneer of awful underneath.

Date: 2016-11-13 05:45 am (UTC)
transcendancing: Darren Hayes quote "Life is for leading, for not people pleasing" (Default)
From: [personal profile] transcendancing
I have to be in the right mood for regency romance, but I at least know that Milan will give me lovely romance that is inherently feminist, even in a regency setting which I appreciate.

She publishes independently so I think she'd be pretty responsive to a tweet or something that was 'enjoying your books, wondering if there are any plans for a story about the twins - they're two of my favourite side characters so far and I hope they get their own HEE'. Or something. I wouldn't think that would be terrible or expectant or anything - just hey your stuff is cool and if there is more of this particular character/thing I'd be delighted :)

Date: 2016-07-15 06:20 am (UTC)
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesy
Free does indeed get her own book later.

Date: 2016-07-15 08:45 am (UTC)
jb_slasher: rodney mckay; stargate atlantis (little bribes)
From: [personal profile] jb_slasher
I have read so many positive reviews for Ninefox Gambit that I am going to make an acquisition request to my local library. I have so many books on my TBR (and the order changes almost day to day) that if I get the book from the library, I might actually end up reading it sooner rather than later.
Edited (fix typo) Date: 2016-07-15 08:46 am (UTC)

Date: 2016-07-15 08:51 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
*looms out of the mist*

IT'S SO FUN. And thinky! BUT FUN.

You win

Date: 2016-07-15 04:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] libraryhungry.blogspot.com
All right, Renay. You win. I am going on vacation next week and I am taking Ninefox Gambit and Black Wolves. Also some Courtney Milan, because YOU CANNOT BE RESISTED. See what you did to me? I blame you entirely for my vacation.

;)

Date: 2016-07-15 06:01 pm (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I will take this moment to crow in triumph that my write up helped Susan's review convince you (I like how she gets off easy, but it's fair I suppose).

SUSAN WE SHOULD CLEARLY TEAM UP WE'RE GREAT HAND SELLERS.

All to blame but you especially

Date: 2016-07-15 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] libraryhungry.blogspot.com
It was your half-year list that tipped me over on Black Wolves; that's where I hit critical must-read mass. Also, a bunch of other books from that list are ALSO on my Kindle now (god, how long is this vacation again?), but these are the ones I've decided to point fingers on!

Date: 2016-07-16 06:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.com
I TOO did not care for the central romance in The Heiress Effect. And I really wanted to, because I thought Oliver could be a character I could be super into, and then it just felt like Milan didn't do much with him. It was disappointing. The back half of that series altogether I wasn't that into -- I have probably whined to you about this before. Like I love so much of what Milan does, and then other times she can get really heavy-handed and also lengthy and I want to buy her an editor to help her out.

Psyched for Ninefox Gambit! When when when will my library finish processing it so that I can check it out?

Date: 2016-07-17 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ninefox Gambit just keeps sounding better & better. And love the idea of Zodiac Staforce (which I think someone else has mentioned to me before but not with as much detail).

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