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Memoirs Of Leonora Christina, Daughter Of Christian IV Of Denmark (1872) by Ulfeldt, Leonora Christina
So I was browsing Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders page and came across the original Danish version of this, and thought, "Oh cool!" because I used some tiny snippets once, laboriously translated, to try and get a better idea of the layout of the Blue Tower (in which Leonora Christina was imprisoned for twenty years) for the novel I was writing. And then I noticed a link to the English version, which was in smooth-reading (instead of a page at a time read the whole thing and send back notes) and I was all, "!!! There's an English translation! And I get to read it!"

So I started it for the research, and indeed I've now learned huge amounts about the Blue Tower (minor revisions may ensue), but it was awesome in all sorts of other ways too.

The matter-of-factual recounting of the day-to-day absurdities of prison-life, for example. One prisoner got to be so trusted that the tower warder actually left him with the key to the tower. The prison governor discovered this one day and the tower warder just shrugged and said, "Don't worry, he won't go anywhere." And the many minor battles with and victories over the succession of prison governors, tower warders, and especially maids over the years. It turns out that the kind of woman who agrees to live in prison to wait on a lady for money is not often the kind of woman who is socially acceptable enough to have many other options in life.

Also, Leonora Christina is MacGyver. Particularly in the early years she had absolutely nothing, so she gets bits of ribbon from her clothes for the thread, scavenges a pin, is given a broken wooden spoon which she carves into shape with a bit of broken glass and so on and so forth, and next thing you know she's weaving. Her first ink is made by letting soot settle on a metal spoon held over a candle.

Later on she's given an allowance and allowed books and writing materials, and she writes her collections of "Heroines" (mythical, historical and contemporary comingled; she sorted them according to the kind of way in which they were heroical), of which I believe part is still extant. Other of her writings aren't, all: there was apparently a play which would have been delightful to read. The memoirs include a number of hymns she composed, which even in translation aren't half bad.

She's not such a brilliant naturalist -- her observations of the life cycle of fleas are... more bewildering than anything. But no-one's perfect.

In short: full of awesome.

(Warnings: includes some violence on the part of her guards towards animals. Also, alas, near the end includes a short second-hand account of marital rape, about which the writer's opinion is explicitly "That'll teach her to refuse to have sex with her husband." o.O )

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini, Khaled
A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the stories of Mariam, born out of wedlock in a rural area of Herat and, when orphaned, forced to marry a man well over twice her age and move to Kabul; and Laila, born and happily raised in their new neighbourhood but who agrees to marry the same man when her parents are killed in a bomb blast and she realises she's pregnant to her boyfriend - who her new husband has tricked her into believing is also dead.

Early on in the book and in each relationship, said husband has occasional moments of charm. Soon gone: he's emotionally and especially physically extremely abusive; many parts of the book are a very painful read. His machinations combined with the new fundamentalist-Islamic laws make it impossible for the women to escape. But despite his attempts to pit one against the other, they form a close friendship which lets them support and heal each other, and ultimately triumph over him.

As a story of enduring revolutionary changes in regimes or of dometic violence it didn't strike me as anything particularly special, but it is cleanly written, a smooth and compelling read, and the friendship between Mariam and Laila is lovely.

The girl of the listening heart by Moore, Bertha B.
A rather twee beginning and a very Christian-of-a-certain-flavour continuation. Betsann wants to be a rich and famous author and thinks she has to get involved in city life to know what she's writing about. Her childhood friend Jimmy sermonises at her a lot about how there's no need to write about all that sinful stuff when she could write good wholesome stories based on the life she already knows.

Betsann then spends most of the book around people who drink, smoke and dance, while resisting surrendering herself to Jesus. For bonus hilarity, someone opines that you'd never see Jesus at parties drinking. Uh...

Blackout (All Clear #1) by Willis, Connie
I agree with other readers that this was a bit more meandering than it needs to be. I'm also annoyed by the "ending" -- it's not even a cliffhanger, just a "Well, I guess this is a chapter break so that's as good a place as any to stop." And I keep wondering if all their blundering in time might be the thing that causes this strange alternate 2060 in which no-one has a cellphone and the university still operates with handwritten permission slips...

But it's Connie Willis, so for all its meandering it's still a fun read, and I do look forward to the conclusion when the person currently borrowing the library's e-copy gets around to returning it.

All Clear (All Clear, #2) by Willis, Connie
Okay, so this one really did get a bit long for its plot. I kept skimming chunks of people angsting over potted plot summaries so I could find something happening again. And while I enjoy comedies of errors, when it's the exact same errors over and over (not only repeated from Doomsday Book but repeated within this duology) it gets a tad old.

Spoilers: (skip) And the last couple of pages. After two books full of rehashing and rerehashing the meaning of every single event, suddenly now she gets coy about Polly's revelation? I really couldn't figure it out. At some point Colin will become Sir Godfrey? Can't be, or they couldn't have been in the same time location. Colin is Eileen's descendant? But you'd think he'd know his own ancestry. Polly's in love with him after all? I can only assume this is what's meant because nothing else makes sense.

Island of Shattered Dreams by Spitz, Chantal T.
The first novel by a Mā'ohi (Tahitian) author, translated from French (L'Ile des rêves écrasés) to English. Flows smoothly from origin stories to family saga to resistance struggle to love story to political statement; and throughout it codeswitches between prose (Western style, narration of the mind) and poetry (Mā'ohi style, narration of the heart).

Skip the translator's note and start with the story proper. This is a good principle in general and an excellent one in this case, though reading it at the end would certainly be of interest.

The Grimly Queen by Krishnasamy, Shayna
I'm glad I created my "unfantasy" tag. There's nothing actually fantastical about this novella, but thematically it reeks of the fae, of transformations and of secret curses.

The nameless narrator meets Regan while in the grips on depression and falls under the spell of this woman who everyone falls in love with. Regan takes a liking to her, too, and soon the two are inseparable. You know those melodramas where a poor girl emulates a rich girl, secretly plotting to take her place? Here it's Regan plotting for the narrator to take her place, and it's deeply, deeply creepy.

Molly Brown's Freshman Days (Molly Brown, #1) by Speed, Nell
Read for the Project Gutenburg Distributed Proofreaders smoothreading round, where it's compared variously to Nancy Drew and Little Women. Myself I'd compare it to an American Mallory Towers: although it's set at university rather than secondary school it has that whole having-fun-while-getting-good-grades-and-dealing-with-antisocial-troublemakers. And the plot relies on the idea that telling tales is the worst sin of all -- or perhaps that's telling a single harmless (admittedly selfish) lie.

Our heroine is poor but sweetly forthright so in short order she's admired by all the freshmen, all the sophomores except the antagonist, at least one senior, and a professorial love interest who she's too innocent to realise is a love interest even by the end of the book. (The series will of course continue.) She's friendly, brave, clever, hard-working (to earn money as well as at her studies) and principled to a fault. Everyone else is as they should be -- spoilt rich girl, women's lib girl, doesn't-get-on-with-mother girl, has-problems-with-grades girl, and so forth -- so if you like this sort of book, you'll like this.

Molly Brown's Sophomore Days (Molly Brown, #2) by Speed, Nell
Molly's second year of university hijinks, in which she and the nearest she has to an enemy both confront the spectre of sudden poverty and having to move into less desirable lodgings and work for a living. Molly copes better because she's the heroine and has friends who refuse to abandon her.

Also in which a Japanese woman joins their boarding house and proceeds to talk in broken English and act like someone straight from Mikado. I'm not making this up, the characters in the book actually compare her directly to "Three Little Maids". Not enough side-eye in the world. (Even for the period it was written. Hint: If your character is straight from a comic musical, it's possible that they're not terribly original or well-rounded.)

Molly Brown's Junior Days (Molly Brown, #3) by Speed, Nell
Today's book is brought to us by the colour blue and the theme of theft. It turns out that theft is bad.

Also, apparently the best way to deal with someone so proud of their smarts that they wear their highschool medals to university is to tell them that this intimidates people. Because honesty would just be wrong.

There was also some standard romantic misunderstanding nonsense, but otherwise fairly unmemorable.

Twilight (Twilight, #1) by Meyer, Stephenie
Twilight is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer without the part where a series of 16-year-old girls are enslaved to fight monsters until their gruesome deaths. (Also without the snappy dialogue. There's nothing special about the prose, but it's perfectly functional. Mileage varies in this sort of thing, but I'm sensitive to clunkiness and this didn't clunk.) Buffy as Bella can be an ordinary girl free to make her own choices; Angel as Edward has his conscience as a result of his own decisions rather than a curse.

Bella and Edward's relationship has been much criticised as a manifestation of "stalking = romance", and Bella as entirely too passive. The former has some truth; the latter none. Bella makes decisions throughout the book, beginning before we even meet her by choosing to come to Forks for her mother's sake. She chooses to cook for her father, and just because this aligns with traditional female roles doesn't make it less of a choice. She chooses not to date Mike or Tyler -- which decision they each ignore as they continue to pursue her.

And it's this context that I think is important regarding her decision to keep seeing Edward. Mike and Tyler are separately stalking her; Edward by contrast first makes an effort to avoid her and then attempts to convince her to avoid him. He has his own creepy stalky moments: it really isn't pardonable for him to be sneaking into her room to watch her sleep without permission, and it's deeply problematic that Bella is portrayed as "flattered". But at the same time, he resists his carnivorous attraction to her early enough and often enough that I'm easily convinced that if she told him to leave her alone, he would.

In a culture that tries to tell us that men can't possibly be expected to control their primal urges, it's refreshing to see a romance hero illustrate that no, actually: "just because we've been... dealt a certain hand... it doesn't mean that we can't choose to rise above". And in a culture that tries to tell women that we have to be afraid of being alone, afraid of the dark, afraid of men, I gave Bella a big cheer for saying, "I refused to be convinced to fear him, no matter how real the danger might be." She knows what/who she wants and she refuses to let anyone tell her she's better off without him.

Mid-book, when they're (as she puts it) "declaring" themselves, the conversation gets a little silly. But... I rather think a lot of romantic conversation is a little silly. And the thing I like here is that they're talking to each other. She asks questions, he answers (not always, but as he trusts her more he answers more). He asks, she answers. They share what they're feeling, what they want, with each other. There's actual healthy communication going on here.

And it's this healthy communication that lets Bella make and implement the plan for escape when she's in danger: despite Edward's overprotectiveness he does listen to her. Their communication, and Alice as back-up to her -- and it's not the only time Alice supports her and her choices. Edward (and his family) save her physically, yes, and she remarks on the power imbalance here: "a man and woman have to be somewhat equal... as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally." But she's very far from helpless herself.

There are, definitely, some seriously problematic elements in the book. (And I gather the later books only get more so.) But I think there's a lot of positive elements too, which really don't deserve to be passed over.

Starfarers by McIntyre, Vonda N.
I wanted to like this more than I did. There's a lot of cool elements to it, and all the structure to be a great story, but... I felt it's better at plot than at characterisation. So many of the characters were so one-note. The antagonists were never allowed to really have good reasons to disagree (or even to be wrong with dignity) and the government was plain evil. The minor characters got to be the Temperamental Artiste, the Possibly-Senile Grandmother, the Hermit Hero, the Dashing Journalist, etc. And the main characters are never wrong about anything of substance.

As set-up for the rest of the series it might work better than as a stand-alone. But as set-up it hasn't really convinced me that I care enough about the characters to read more.

Angel Cup: Volume 1 by Kim, Dong Wook
I have the same problem with manhwa as I do in movies and real life, with the bonus of not being used to the genre yet: I have a really hard time telling people apart. I did okay with this one for a while (albeit occasionally having to go back a page, upon realising I'd got it wrong, to reread) until the whole girls' futsal team (five girls) got together in one place. In uniform, only their hairstyles distinguish them and by the time we handily got a picture of the five on them in a row, I'd lost track of who was who anyway. I'll have to reread.

Anyway, basic plot: So-Jin used to play soccer but got discouraged when her rival Shin-Bi beat her once too often. But she's moving to a new school and gets lured in by it again, if only to teach the boys a lesson. At the same time, Shin-Bi (who's given up soccer herself for mysterious reasons) has moved to the same school to coach the boys. And some rich guy's will calls for donating 50% of his assets to girls' soccer, so the school wants to get in on the cash. So-Jin spends a chunk of this volume pulling together a team (unfortunately Shin-Bi refuses to join, claiming conflict of interest as the boys' coach) for a futsal game against the boys.

I'm not normally into sports, but got infected by World Cup fever when it was hosted in Korea (I was teaching there at the time). And futsal, a kind of mini-soccer, has the great virtue of not having any offside rules. But especially I liked that this book is just full of girls and women. It does have a bit of angst about short skirts versus the "beefy" thighs girls apparently inevitably get when they play soccer, but they're teenagers and I get the feeling soccer's going to win out here.

Verdigris Deep by Hardinge, Frances
A bunch of kids, stuck without bus money, steal some coins from a wishing well and discover that they're now obliged to grant the attached wishes. As a premise, this is straight out of Nesbit, a cross between Five Children and It and The Would-Be-Goods, but everything is tarnished with verdigris and the book is deeply creepy from first page to last - about half-way through I identified the feeling I had as similar to when I started reading Ella Enchanted, realised the scope of the blessing curse, and said "That's horrid!" so emphatically that I then had to spend a minute reassuring Irina (who'd lent me the book) that I meant the situation, not the book; the book was fantastic.

The children here are in a complex unhealthy 'friendship'; among their parents and other caregivers are breaking relationships, unethical jobs, and disturbing mental problems; the powers the kids receive are more frightening than cool; and good wishes go wrong and bad wishes go wronger until they (and the people around them) are in very very real danger.

It's absolutely horrid, and absolutely fantastic.

Marital Power Exemplified In Mrs. Packard's Trial And Self-Defense From The Charge Of Insanity: Or Three Years' Imprisonment For Religious Belief, By The Arbitrary Will Of A Husband (1870) by Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware
I really love these old "What it says on the box" titles.

Although, while Mr Packard clearly used "insanity" as his public excuse for trying to get her to come around to his religious views, several things make me wonder if "religious beliefs" wasn't his private excuse for packing her out of the way so he could have free rein over her property.

In any case, Mrs Packard was clearly an awesome woman, to not only have stayed sane in the asylum, not only to have get a court hearing which judged her sane, not only to then support herself when her husband had abandoned her, but also to then get the law changed in two states so that women could no longer be shut away as insane without an actual trial to corroborate their husbands' say-so. She was clearly also aiming at a broader reform, that would allow married women to have joint rights over children and marital property; I don't know how far she got in that after this was published, but would not be surprised if she was at least an influential forerunner.

I do wish she'd had an editor, though. This book isn't exactly loosely organised -- the structure makes perfect sense -- but she has this tendency to repeat her story and arguments over and over and over, and then to quote a whole lot of other people giving testimony to the exact same story and arguments. I'd have stopped reading half-way through, feeling I had the whole story already, if I hadn't been proofreading it for Project Gutenberg. And yet, on the first go-round she'll complete miss out something, and a chapter later make a vague allusion to it, and two chapters later narrate it, whereupon it turns out to be so important that you can't for the life of you figure out why on earth she didn't tell you this before.
Addendum: Not two days after I read and reviewed this, I came across a 1984 case of a woman losing custody because her husband and an "expert witness" claimed that she was mentally ill (OP says trigger warning for abuse of power, sexual assault, harassment, gaslighting). Well over a hundred years and nothing's changed. Well, they didn't lock her up, so I guess that's something? :-(

Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-story White House, North Showing That Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There by "Our Nig" by Wilson, Harriet E.
What it says on the box. An autobiographical novel, telling the early lifestory of Alfrado/Frado/"Nig", abandoned by her white mother and black father to a family where she was raised as an indentured servant. There's Free and then there's free. As a child, Frado can only dream of being taken to live with the son who most sympathises with her (and indeed would take her if he weren't so ill); she isn't free to attend church or even to openly read the Bible she's been given; it's not until she's eighteen that she can even begin to choose where to live and work, and even this hardly guarantees a comfortable life.

Available from Project Gutenberg.


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