What did you do in January? Not a lot I hope, there’s another lockdown on in case you hadn’t noticed. I mainly decided I’m going back to doing these posts monthly because it’s slightly easier for me to manage. Good news for the three of you who still read ‘em.
In January 2021, I did my best to take each day as it came / not stress out about the fact nursery was closed so it was time to half arse being a mum *and* my day job once again.
I also had the following conversation with my child:
Child: Mummy’s got LEGS.
Me: Yes that’s right, thanks for noticing. Do you?
Child: [emphatic] No.
Child: But I got toes! And a tractor jumper.
It wasn’t a totally inaccurate summary, just incomplete as he does, in fact, have legs. But hey. His language skills are coming on and he is good fun.
Across the month I also participated in some of these online cultural events they have nowadays, such as attending ‘The No Diet Show’ (a comedy talk by Sofie Hagen which I guess is preaching to the converted for me but I loved it) and ‘Overflow’ (a play by Travis Alabanza about the cultural role of women’s loos which was brilliant and sad).
Also watched the various incarnations of Drag Race of course, and Bridgerton on Netflix because regency-set comedies of manners are relevant to my interests. It has problems (consent, romanticism of the upper classes, briefly pretending it might centre queer representation but changing its mind) – but if you take it as trashy silliness then it is mostly that.
The main focus though was attempting to get into the habit of exercising more and spiralling less. I had a reasonable amount of success, mainly by:
- getting up and out the house for a walk in the dark before my toddler woke up, and
- admitting to myself and my work that there are a finite number of hours in a day and I can’t do all the things.
Since all this began I’ve had trouble setting boundaries to help me cope, but I’m working on it. It has been helpful that so many more people have taken to social media this time to be honest about practicalities and difficulties.
In terms of writing, I did a bit of learning and planning in January but not too much actual work. The last weekend in the month, writing school The Golden Egg Academy held a free conference for people interested in writing for children. I was able to watch a few talks which were incredibly useful for where I am.
My main writing goal for the next six months is to revise the MS I second drafted for NaNoWriMo last year and try to fix the many problems with it. I’ve joined SCWBI so am hoping to join a crit group through that to help improve. And WriteMentor have just announced a competition where the prize is a year of mentoring which has to be worth a punt.
As 2021 also marks ten (10) years since I embarked on my 12 Books in 12 Months adventure, I’d like to do something to mark that – I have a few ideas, but nothing finalised as yet. I’d also like to say goodbye to it in a way, changing my social presence to be my name rather than 12 Books, and figuring out what I want this blog to be and say in the future.
So, I’ve found ways to keep myself busy. And I have read some fun books.
Legendborn – Tracy Deonn
I really enjoyed this. Legendborn is a YA fantasy about a girl called Briana who, after her mother’s death, goes away to college and on her first night there witnesses a magic attack involving demons and fellow students. When a student mage tries to wipe her mind of the event, he instead triggers a memory of the night her mother died that sends her on a whole journey to uncover a secret society built on colonialism and Arthurian legend.
The book does contain a couple of familiar YA tropes but there are still a lot of twists and turns that keep you guessing. The cast of supporting characters is quite large and the world building comprehensive. Probably the only YA you’ll read with this much medieval Welsh included.
Bree is Black and the college is in the South so the book also looks at the racism of that society both past and present, and explores how that impacts on her journey. Between that and the grief at losing her mother she’s grounded by tangible issues and reacting to the word in a very realistic way, although aside from that she is of course gorgeous, headstrong, and slightly horny but too young/pure to really act on it with a choice of hotties before her. For me, the combination of just a bit of the familiar with other threads including African American spiritualism and the Arthurian stuff had me absolutely gripped. I realised far too late that the next book in the series doesn’t even have a release date yet and all is dust.
Daughters of Nri – Reni K. Amayo
Twin girls who are also goddesses are separated at birth, never to be told of each other or their power. Naala grows up in a rural village, Sinai in a palace in the city of Nri. This first book in the Return of the Earth Mother series is a slow build, giving you time to get to know the central characters and really hammering home the fact that the Eze is A Bad Dude.
I liked the world building, the integration of Igbo words and phrases (it’s a fantasy series but the world is based on an ancient Nigeria) and the fact that Amayo wrote this in part because she wanted to see African characters in fiction whose identity was not rooted in slavery or colonialism. The premise is good and there’s a lot to like.
Having said that, the pacing did feel a little off to me and the ending maybe a bit rushed. But I’ll definitely read the next one to find out what happens next!
The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue – V.E.Schwab
This is the only paper book I read this month, with the rest being eBooks or audio. Does that mean anything? I don’t know.
To avoid being forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, Adeline La Rue makes a deal with the devil – her soul in exchange for the chance of escape. But their bargain has consequences she couldn’t foresee. As soon as she’s out of sight, people forget her entirely.
The book moves back and forth across 300 years of Addie’s life, painting a picture of how she figures out ways to leave impressions of herself throughout history. They are vague and mysterious, but she makes do – until in 2014, someone remembers her for the first time.
I enjoyed this story, although I must confess I’m a little bemused by the rapturous reception on GoodReads. The writing is good. I like Addie and Luc and Estelle and Bea. I didn’t find Henry particularly interesting, other than to try and figure out what his deal was. So he is more of a plot device than a love interest. In fairness that might be my low tolerance for inward looking nerdy men who think they’re entitled to the attention of people who DGAF about them because they’re such nice guys.
Anyhoo, this is the first book I’ve read by Schwab and according to the reviews I’ve read it’s not necessarily typical. I reckon I will seek out more, because I enjoyed the writing and partly based on the description of her as a natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones.
Orphans of the Tide – Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Šumberac
“The City was built on a sharp mountain that jutted improbably from the sea, and the sea kept trying to claim it back.”
In this unlikely city, built in many layers – some of which are submerged – we meet orphan and inventor Ellie Lancaster when she, along with a crowd of other onlookers, spot a whale beached on the roof of a church.
This is a brilliant visual to kick off with, and it only gets more visceral when Ellie cuts open the whale and pulls out a boy from inside its stomach. WAT. I love it tell me more!
Unfortunately, everyone (including Ellie’s best friend Anna) thinks this boy is the Enemy – the god who drowned the world, who can take possession of human bodies – come again to cause chaos. Adventure ensues. I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.
The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon
I listened to this on Audible – because why not commit to over 25 hours of listening when you’re in another lockdown, if only to force yourself outside for daily exercise. So let’s just take a moment for Liyah Summers, who does an incredible job of narrating an enormous cast of characters from different continents.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a sweeping fantasy with lots of threads. This means that when you’re listening, it takes a full 10 hours before anyone in the book makes it to the titular priory – and at times it’s very possible to lose track of who everyone is. But when everything is set up and everything starts to connect it is pretty fabulous.
The book follows the interconnected stories of a queen, Sabran the Ninth; a mage, Ead; and a Dragon Rider, Tané – women from different countries, religions and social classes who must work through their differences to save the world. Every character in this book is challenged as events unfold and there is a lot of development, with people making space to listen and learn. What a beautiful utopian dream.
All of them are flawed and make some poor decisions, but ultimately this makes them sympathetic. This feels pertinent when you’re getting multiple points of view – we’ve all read a book where you’re skimming *that guy’s* chapters, which is not a problem here.
The world building is quite refreshing, because though it’s a medieval society, most of the leaders are female and same sex relationships are pretty well accepted – although if you have to further a dynasty you still need to marry someone that can help you make that happen. The magic systems are well developed too.
Having said all that, it didn’t escape my notice that almost everyone was young and beautiful, and that the character development of all our heroes and antiheroes stands in stark contrast to almost all the villains and certainly the ultimate bad guy who is bad because… he feels like it? Still, whilst I was in it I absolutely did not care about that – I was completely sucked in. This was 1 million % the escapist fantasy fiction I needed to hear in this dreich January.
The Girl and the Ghost – Hanna Alkaf
“The ghost knew his master was about to die, and he wasn’t exactly unhappy about it.”
Loved this opening line, and the book in general. After the death of the witch who he worked for, the ghost sits for a bit, trying to figure out what to do next – but he doesn’t have much choice in the end. He is a pelesit, a type of ghost that needs a master, so he goes to find a new one in the shape of the witch’s granddaughter Suraya.
The two become fast friends, but pelesits by their nature have a dark side…
I don’t want to say too much more and spoil the plot but I really enjoyed this middle grade adventure set in Malaysia. It’s weird, funny, bittersweet and lovely. May have had a wee tear in my eye at the end. Highly recommend.
Weight – Jeanette Winterson
I listened to this one and the experience was definitely tainted by the audiobook hangover I was in for a few days after The Priory of the Orange Tree. I really wish this had been narrated by someone with – or who could do – a Yorkshire accent, particularly when Heracles was speaking. Winterson’s voice is very prevalent in this text and it doesn’t work for me personally as a quavering Lady Whistledown or as an American chap.
Weight is a reimagining of the story of Atlas – one of the Titans who fought the gods. He’s the one whose punishment was to hold up the cosmos for the rest of time. There are some good metaphors in here therefore about carrying weight and the impact that has.
Heracles is in here because his story intertwined with that of Atlas during his 12 labours, and he is an unmitigated arsehole. Stupid, thoughtless, Brutish, selfish, misogynistic, etc – the flip side to ideas of heroism which made sense to me, if not particularly fluffy listening. Content warning for sexual assault.
I saw someone on Goodreads give this book a 1 star review on the grounds of sexism, and Hera’s reactions to him being sexist. I personally read the characterisation of Hera as her being an arsehole too. All the gods are. But if you’re wanting her to be a kickass feminist heroine dismantling the patriarchal rules of Zeus rather than the more traditional goddess who is immutable, angry and petty, look elsewhere.
And if any of you have ever struggled with the confines of corporate working culture, please pick up this quote and carry it with you.
The ancients believed in fate because they recognised how hard it is to change anything.
Word, ancients. I see no lies.