So You Want to Be A Wizard, Diane Duane
I’ve been told to try these so often that I more or less assumed the recommendation would be apt, and got a bundle of the whole series in one of Diane Duane’s website sales. Unfortunately, something about this doesn’t work for me — I guess it feels too random and immature? Stuff like ‘Fred’, the ‘white hole’, who is the opposite of a black hole, and some of the logic of how magic worked just… I didn’t feel hooked by it. Once I got to the white hole burping up whole cars, I was more or less done; I just skimmed the rest.
I do actually like parts of the set-up: the idea of the book that starts the main character’s journey is pretty neat, for example, and I didn’t read the characters as just default white kids from the start — even if Kit Rodriguez’s name wasn’t a probable giveaway. I think maybe if I’d first read it when I was younger, and had that flexibility of imagination, I wouldn’t have questioned it so much and could have enjoyed it now if I was rereading it. Unfortunately, I come to this as a 27 year old about to get married, and so I just can’t engage with it on that level.
Not something I would recommend to someone my own age, but I might very well pass it to a kid young enough to feel the magic of waiting for your Hogwarts letter, or scanning the library shelves for books about what you can be when you grow up and finding a mysterious book which at first might seem like a joke, but turns out all too real…
Hasty Death, M.C. Beaton
Hasty Death is very much like the first book in tone, style and mystery. A series of coincidences seems to be all that keeps the characters from disaster — one particular chain of lucky coincidences involving a corpse who becomes unidentifiable before being found constitutes a whole side plot which just doesn’t feel satisfying, because it relies so much on sheer luck. Likewise, the detective skills of Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose are about on that level: it’s a wonder they manage to get anything done, but fortunately they’re a bit more intelligent than the police superintendent, Kerridge, so they do propel the plot along somewhat.
Despite that negativity, it is quite fun to read. I knew it was paper-thin the whole time, of course, and even the will-they-won’t-they of the love story is conducted with the same chain of coincidences (this time involving misinterpretation and misunderstanding, of course). And yet. It’s light enough fun.
Hey everyone! This week I have kind of had a bit of a spree, which I needed post Brexit-vote — I don’t really talk politics here much; suffice it to say my planned future with my Belgian partner is looking a wee bit more unsettled. Hurrah democracy, but boo, I wish this hadn’t come to pass!
A nice haul, right? A good mix of fantasy and a couple of the romance-suspense type novels I like for comfort reading. Hopefully it won’t take me long to repair the damage to my to read pile I’ve just done…
Received to review:
I heard good things about the first two, and requested the third on a whim.
I did get some good reading done earlier in the week, but the warm weather here took it out of me later in the week. I do recommend Being Mortal; it’s a really important examination of what dying is like in the modern world. It made me cry, but it’s very worth reading.
Books finished this week:
–Blood Price, by Tanya Huff. Fun urban fantasy with some unique features (like a protagonist with retinitis pigmentosa). Not Huff’s all time best or something, but a lot of fun. 3/5 stars
–Darwin’s Ghosts, by Rebecca Stott. We can be prone to thinking Darwin’s idea was totally original, but as he acknowledged himself, there were antecedents. This book discusses some of them — while acknowledging that Darwin’s theory is what finally made sense of all the data. 3/5 stars
–Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan. I didn’t love this as much as the Isabella Trent books, but that’d be a pretty high bar anyway. Midnight Never Come has a lot of interesting set-up, though one of the characters felt a little disconnected from the action. 4/5 stars
–King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. This book views Gen from the eyes of someone naive to his intelligence, and that makes it a lot of fun. Even though we made the same mistake when reading The Thief… 5/5 stars
–Unnatural Habits, by Kerry Greenwood. Lots of social commentary and a look at the deeper parts of Phryne’s personality, combined with a rather bitterly funny subplot. 4/5 stars
–Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. Lots of beautiful prose and not so much substance, for me. Probably deservedly a classic though. 2/5 stars
–Flashback Friday: The Children of Llyr, by Evangeline Walton. More than the first book, this is where I really fell in love with Walton’s evocation of the Welsh mythology. Beautiful and harrowing. 5/5 stars
–Top Ten Books from 2016 So Far. I didn’t really struggle with this, which surprised me! Looks like I’m pretty caught up.
How’s everyone been doing?
The Children of Llyr, Evangeline Walton
Originally reviewed 29th May, 2011
The second of Evangeline Walton’s retellings of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion, The Children of Llyr is heartwrenching. The story of Pwyll, Prince of Annwn — it’s harrowing enough at times, fearing that he’s messed everything up, that nothing will be good again… But the story of the children of Llyr is something else again, the destruction of two races, of a whole way of life.
It’s better than the first book, to my mind: it got under my skin so much, so that I could hardly bear to keep reading, but I could hardly bear to stop. I fell in love with Manawydan, especially, and ached for Branwen, for Nissyen, and even at the end for Evnissyen. Evangeline Walton really brought the tales to life, here, and made them feel vibrant and urgent and pressing. She had to add less, I think, to make the story interesting, so it’s also perhaps more true to the source.
My only complaint is the slight preachiness, near the end, where Bran the Blessed talks about governments and so on. It’s an anachronism, which the text acknowledges, and it pulled me out of it.
There’s such a sense of inevitability, of doom, of all the bright things going dull… I loved it. Much as I love the stories of the Mabinogion, my heritage, they weren’t set on fire for me until reading this.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
I had to write my review for this as soon as I was finished with it, because I know that I won’t be able to capture what I think about it if I leave it until I’m caught up on my reviews. I feel really weird about it: I know it’s a classic and I know how other people love it, and I even love some of the turns of phrase and the images and the ideas —
But the prose drives me batty. Taken as a whole, it just… it looks gorgeous, feels gorgeous on the tongue, but then falls all to bits and doesn’t seem to mean anything. Or it doesn’t suit the character, or it just obscures what the action of the scene is meant to be. The prose is beguiling and bewitching, but in the end didn’t seem to lead me anywhere. I read a part of it aloud to my partner — not even a bit I found the weirdest, just a passage that stood out to me — and reading it aloud sort of helped make it less opaque, but… But.
I really don’t know where I am with this book. It does have all the great things people have said about it, and it has all the over-exuberant piles of adjectives too. At times it feels more like poetry than prose — and like some poetry, best just absorbed and thought about later, analysed later or not at all, just savoured for the heaps of images and snippets of sense that do come through.
Unnatural Habits, Kerry Greenwood
Unnatural Habits is one of the more memorable entries in the series, in that it has a lot of social commentary and some really appalling details which are, as far as I can tell, historically accurate, like the laundry run by nuns, the lying in homes where unmarried women had their babies and they were taken away, white slavery, etc. There’s also some interesting stuff with the Blue Cat Club — a gay club which apparently really existed — and the newspaper office where Polly Kettle, wannabe ace reporter, works. Phryne gets into quite a lot of trouble in this one, and the expanded circle of her minions, including Tinker, stand her in good stead.
The book also has the delightful side plot that someone is going around in a nun’s habit, knocking men out, and very skillfully and carefully operating on them so they can’t have any more children, in cases where they mistreat their wives/children, don’t provide for them, etc, etc. It’s problematic, of course, because it’s an assault, but it’s also just glorious poetic justice in a fictional context, so I don’t feel too bad for laughing about it.
The ending is predictably dramatic, and Phryne predictably kickass in bringing things to a neat conclusion. And I love the glimpses we get beyond her armour in her reaction to the laundries and what she sees in the lying in home.
The King of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner
If you’ve read The Thief, Gen won’t have you fooled in this book, but it sort of doesn’t matter because the point of view character is Costis, a young soldier in the ranks of Attolia’s guard, and he is completely taken in by Gen. As are most Attolians. It’s a joy to watch Gen fooling the characters around him in just the way the reader is fooled when reading The Thief — and to try and keep up with the way he’s thinking, why he’s doing what he’s doing, etc.
It doesn’t gloss over the problems inherent in the situation: the difficult relationship between Irene and Gen, the difficulty of getting her Attolian subjects to accept him, Gen’s continuing issues with being so closely watched over by the God of Thieves… It keeps all the balls in motion, hinting at the further difficulties that will arise as Gen really becomes Attolia’s king, while delivering a more or less satisfying storyline for Costis as well. He’s a bit bland (not to mention easily fooled, at least from the reader’s point of view, and not that perceptive), but his growing loyalty to Gen works well.
Pacing-wise, I think this might be the most successful so far, but I don’t have recent enough memories of The Thief to be sure. But really, I just enjoy the heck out of Gen making his own way through life, and darn how Eddis or Attolia or the gods think he should go about it.
This week’s theme is “Top Ten 2016 Releases So Far”. And I’m not sure I’ve read ten yet… But let’s have a shot.
- This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab. I had this as an ARC and it’s finally out; it’s awesome, and possibly my favourite of her books so far.
- The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North. Fascinating core idea and well-executed. I think I like it more than Touch or The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and I did like those too.
- The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher. Fun lesbian retelling of ‘The Snow Queen’. No, I’m not kidding.
- In the Labyrinth of Drakes, by Marie Brennan. Enormously satisfying for fans of the series, and it keeps on bringing the awesome.
- Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. For a novella, this was very satisfying, and it’s definitely encouraged me to get on and read more of McGuire’s work.
- The Winner’s Kiss, by Marie Rutkoski. Picked right back up again after I disliked some things about the second book, and gave us an excellent end.
- The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente. A lovely end to the series, and avoided the trope I was really scared of.
- City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Give me mooooooore…
- Kingfisher, by Patricia A. McKillip. I suspect I’ll appreciate this more if I ever come back and reread it. It has her usual magic all the same.
- The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig. Fascinating setting (Hawaii, 1884) and some awesome characters. By which I mostly mean Kash.
Well, that was surprisingly easy! I guess I’m keeping up better than I thought.
Midnight Never Come, Marie Brennan
I actually picked this up before I ever got into the Lady Trent books, which I have loved so much, but I bought it again when Titan reissued it with a pretty new cover. Fired up with enthusiasm for Brennan’s work and knowing there’s a wait until the next Lady Trent book, I finally decided to read it. I was a bit daunted by the length, but in the end that felt perfect: just the right amount to dig into. The faerie court is interesting, and I enjoy the fact that Brennan kept it period and geography-appropriate in terms of which sorts of fae were present. Genre-wise, it feels more like historical fiction than fantasy, in the sense that I think the pacing and politicking belongs to a historical novel, and the fantasy is situated within that historical context (rather than the other way round).
To me, reading it that way, the pacing was mostly really good, though some of Michael Deven’s sections were frustratingly disconnected from the main plot — partly by their mundanity, and partly because Michael isn’t a major player or even properly clued in for a lot of the book. Lune’s sections work better because she is more aware of the situation on a macro-level, and though her goal is personal advancement, at least her eyes are open to the wider implications of what she’s involved in.
The only part that didn’t quite work for me was Michael and Lune’s relationship; I felt a little lukewarm about them individually, so it didn’t add up to much more with them together, and so parts of the plot which relied on their relationship fell a little bit flat for me. I was really more interested in some of the background, the history of Invidiana, the links between the courts, etc. But overall it still worked pretty well for me, and I’m excited to read more in this universe. I suspect it’ll get better as it goes along, too, knowing how much I enjoy Brennan’s most recent work.
Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists, Rebecca Stott
If we’re not careful, we end up thinking of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as something completely revolutionary, standing alone, unprecedented and bitterly opposed by a world totally unprepared for it. In some ways, it is true, but Darwin himself knew there had been other theorists before him — even if he didn’t agree with their conclusions — who had seen descent with modification at work and tried to come up with explanations, mechanisms, reasons. Rebecca Stott’s book redresses the record somewhat, engaging with various different theories which glimpsed a part of the truth which Darwin, in the end, really managed to explain and prove.
This is not so much a book which proves evolution or explains Darwin’s theory, although it does cast light on it. Jerry A. Coyne’s Why Evolution is True might be more what you’re looking for, explaining the nuts and bolts of the theory. Stott’s book is more about historical context and the scientific framework Darwin had to work with when he wrote On the Origin of Species.
Stott did well at explaining some of the diversity of opinion and thought before Darwin, and without sounding patronising about the theorists who were, after all, wrong. In some cases, it’s even apparent there were aspects which they got right (Lamarck, for example, may have been wrong in scale, but the existence of epigenetic modifications to DNA shows he was not all wrong). I did find the book dry at times, and it felt more like history than science — very accessible on a scientific level, and somewhat biographical about the people mentioned. A lot of it was not new to me, which might have been part of why I found it dry.