The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys
You can read this novella online here, and it’s good background to have if you’re interested in reading Emrys’ novel, Winter Tide. It helps orientate you and figure out the characters, how they’re related, what they care about, where they’ve been. I paused in reading Winter Tide to read this, and it definitely clarified things. In fact, I liked it more than Winter Tide: it felt better paced, perhaps because it does have to have a beginning, middle and end in a fairly short stretch of words.
It’s beautifully written, as well; both this and Winter Tide are excellent reworkings of Lovecraft’s ideas concerning the Deep Ones, taking away a lot of the horror he held and expressed about anything Other. It stands alone well, even though it serves as a good introduction for Winter Tide. It’s definitely a good way to dip into Emrys’ work to see if you like her style and ideas.
The Book, Keith Houston
This is a really beautiful object. If you read the colophon, it has all sorts of details about the book’s binding and printing processes. The pages feel lovely, and though I’m not a fan of the cover — it’s just so… cardboardy, and gets easily scuffed — it looks good. The page design is really fun: when a new element like a title, bullet or indent shows up, there’s a label on it. Also for gutters, margins, etc. The photos and images included are in colour, too. All in all, it’s a great gift item, something to give to someone who loves books. It’s less readable for being such an object in its own right; I sort of want to keep it pristine rather than read it. Particularly given that it’s not cheap (though there is an ebook).
But, read it I did, and it’s a fascinating book. It’s split into a couple of different parts, following the development of the book: paper, writing, ink, the invention of the codex as the physical format. It’s clear and, as far as I can tell, accurate. I enjoyed reading it: the prose is clear and to the point, without being dry.
If you’re fascinated by books, not just for stories but for their scent and feel as well, this is probably well worth picking up. It’d definitely make a good-looking gift for someone so inclined. I found it both enjoyable and informative.
G’morning, people! It’s been a quiet week for me, as I got down to work on my second and third assignments. After this third one, though, I get a break again! Not too much of one… but still enough. Also, I’ve started playing Final Fantasy XV, and that’s just eating my free time.
Received to review:
My wish was granted on Netgalley, to my surprise! Looking forward to reading this; I wasn’t totally blown away by Rebel of the Sands, but it was definitely enjoyable.
Read this week:
4 stars to… Miranda and Caliban.
3 stars to… Natural Histories and The Family Plot.
A light reading week, for me. Alas.
Reviews posted this week:
–The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman. So much fun, and perhaps a little easier to follow having read it once before. I do love the sheer fun of these books. 4/5 stars
–Fair Chance, by Josh Lanyon. The characters continue to be fun and totally non-stereotypical, though the mystery relied a bit too much on coincidence. 4/5 stars
–Camelot’s Shadow, by Sarah Zettel. A reread just for fun, and one I enjoyed very much. Probably my favourite of the four books, this one features Sir Gawain, so, you know. 4/5 stars
–Grey Mask, by Patricia Wentworth. Not a bad read, but a bit too obvious. And oh wow, one of the main characters is just… silly. 3/5 stars
–Invisible Planets, ed. Ken Liu. I wanted to enjoy this more than I did, because it’s a great range of stories. But for me the translation doesn’t quite work. 3/5 stars
–The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. I still don’t get the appeal of Turkish Delight, but everything else about this book is a delight to me, despite the allegory. 4/5 stars
–A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson. With this one, I think I have to rule Wilson’s work just not to my taste. There is some great worldbuilding and sensual, lyrical language… but it just isn’t for me. 2/5 stars
–Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems. Books I wish more other people would read, so we can talk about ’em.
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson
Received to review via Netgalley; published 26th October 2016
I want to like A Taste of Honey, just as I wanted to love The Sorceror of the Wildeeps. There’s some fascinating world building in the back of this, and some beautiful, lyrical, sensual language. And there’s LGBT characters! And the cover looks awesome! It actually gives me more of the background I wanted from the other novella, and the relationship was also much more up-front; obvious from the start.
Knowing other people really enjoy both Wilson’s novellas for Tor.com, I guess I just have to include it’s a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me”. It’s harder to even put my finger on what I didn’t like about this one — it just felt so disjointed, so opaque.
It’s a shame, but unless I hear something very different, I probably won’t read Wilson’s work again. It just doesn’t work for me.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
This book is exactly what I reread Narnia for. Though it’s a blatant allegory (e.g. Aslan is Jesus, Edmund is Judas, the Emperor Over the Sea is the Christian God), it’s also a good story. Perhaps it helps that the story it’s based on is also a good one… In any case, there’s so much warmth in the narration, the way the narrator speaks to the reader and gently explains the characters’ faults and virtues. The scene with Mr Tumnus in his cave feels genuinely cosy, as does the scene with the Beavers. The treks through the snow feel genuinely freezing, and the slow dawning of spring feels like a breath of fresh air…
In other words, this book has some of the best of Lewis’ writing for children, in my opinion. The allegory doesn’t matter: I still care fiercely about Aslan, I still want Edmund to be redeemed. It mostly avoids being preachy. As with Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, Edmund’s thought process makes sense, and he’s a more sympathetic character too.
I still don’t get the appeal of Turkish Delight, though.
Invisible Planets, ed. Ken Liu
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 1st November 2016
It took me a while to get through this, as I found the tone of the stories rather same-y. I don’t know if that’s because of the translator (because granted, I had the same impression of Cixin Liu’s work in the novels Ken Liu translated). But it’s a great survey of Chinese science fiction and it’s well worth the read; I don’t remember well enough what I’d pick out now from the beginning of the book, but there’s quite a breadth of choice here. There’s usually several stories by each author, to give you a good taste of what’s out there.
The thing I find really often with novels in translation that the translation somehow deadens the feeling, and I found that quite a lot here. Maybe having different translators would’ve helped, I don’t know. I think that’s really where it didn’t work for me — which is a shame, because it’s a pretty awesome collection in other ways, but this was my main impression.
Grey Mask, Patricia Wentworth
Received to review via Netgalley; republished 28th June 2016
So far I’ve only read the first of the Miss Silver Mysteries: Grey Mask, which was published originally in 1928, and features mostly some young people whose lives have been messed up by a criminal network. Miss Silver is, in this book at least, a background character who comes in to solve all the problems, while Charles, Margaret and Margot are the characters who we mostly follow. Margot’s rather silly, but the aborted romance between Charles and Margaret is sweet — I found myself rooting for them before long.
I figured out the culprit pretty easily, but I was still interested in learning all the hows and whys, and there is quite a sense of tension in the last couple of chapters.
It’s fun, but not groundbreaking at this point; I’ll read more of the Miss Silver books, but I’m not hooked. If you’re a fan of Golden Age detective stories, this fits into that subset of crime/mystery novels well and will be of interest to you! Especially, perhaps, if you’re a fan of the genteel lady detective, Miss Marple style.
This week the theme is based on hidden gems read in the last year or so. I’m going to twist it slightly because I’m writing this on a train and my brain doesn’t want to work. Here we have books I’ve read and wish more other people would read (so we can talk about them).
- Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton. Victorian-esque dragons! Who wear hats! And eat each other. It’s amazing, I promise.
- The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. Honestly, I need to reread this, but I was blown away by the structure and the quality of it.
- Seaward, by Susan Cooper. I know I’m enthusiastic about her Dark is Rising sequence, but Seaward is more mature, and at least as beautiful.
- Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw. Or maybe Bradshaw’s work in general. Amazing historical fiction, and too much out of print.
- The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov. I loved this as a kid, and read it over and over. I haven’t seen the novel around very often, though. It’s worth reading.
- Always Coming Home, by Ursula Le Guin. I was reluctant to read this, once upon a time, because it’s not a novel as such. But it’s very, very good, and I do recommend it.
- Lifelode, by Jo Walton. Is this cheating? Still, this book is far too rare and really should get to a wider audience.
- Chime, by Franny Billingsley. I remember a few people reading this back when I read it, but I don’t think I’ve seen people talking about it lately. But it’s so good!
- The Falling Woman, by Pat Murphy. I only read this in 2016, and I really wish I’d read it sooner. It’s very good, with great atmospherics.
- Postcolonialism Revisited, by Kirsti Bohata. This mostly just because I would love to be able to talk to more people about Welsh literature as post-colonial literature.
I’d say I’m looking forward to other people’s lists, but “dreading” might be the better term — I don’t need more books on my wishlist!
Camelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel
I’ve read this several times now, and I always go back and forth on it a little. Initially, I think I was a teeeeeny bit ashamed to be caught reading something that is a romance in both the modern and the medieval senses of the word. Then I included it in my dissertation and had to think about it critically. And now… now I get to read it just for pure fun. Which is great: it makes me realise how much this version of Gawain is exactly what made me love the character in the first place, and that this retelling of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’s story was what guided me toward reading and loving the Gawain ballads.
It’s fun, with and without the romance; I love this version of Camelot, which is practical at the same time as romantic. There’s the knights, but there are also Saxon boys staying at the court as hostages. Guinevere is a queen and a figure of romance, but she’s also Arthur’s other half, managing Camelot alongside Kay, maintaining a whole set of duties belonging to queenship. There’s no polite ignorance of the need for an heir: Gawain is openly Arthur’s heir. (And definitely worthy of it; this version of Gawain doesn’t kill women or go on mad rampages yelling for blood. He’s courtly, though human — somewhere between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte Darthur‘s least flattering sections.)
And Rhian is a great character too: determined, but not foolhardy; clever, but not infallible; cautious, but not immune to Gawain’s pretty face. Brave, but not insensible.
The two make a great pairing, and it’s a joy to read — as it’s also a joy to read of Arthur and Guinevere’s genuine love.
There are some frustrating aspects to this, like a certain judgemental quality around women who have sex (but not men), and an unfortunate editing slip-up where even when “father” is being used as a name, it isn’t capitalised… but it’s still fun, and I’m glad I got the chance to read it in a relaxed way like this.
Sidenote: I don’t understand why the US version has changed Rhian’s name to Risa. Well, probably to avoid people thinking it’s pronounced “Ryan”, but that doesn’t mean I like the decision — Rhian is a pretty and Welsh name, and it fits much better in the context than “Risa”.
Fair Chance, Josh Lanyon
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st March 2017
Fair Chance is a follow-up to other books featuring Elliot and Tucker, Fair Game and Fair Play. As such, no wonder I wanted to get my hands on it! I enjoy the relationship between Elliot and Tucker. The lack of stereotyping in their relationship is refreshing. It doesn’t hurt that I also like the background characters around them. Elliot’s dad Roland is a key figure, for example. Elliot and Roland still have a fascinating bond, despite the events of the previous book.
The emotional connections feel real, and the mystery feels urgent. Particularly in this book, where Tucker is the one in real danger. I enjoy that though he’s stereotypically masculine, he expresses his feelings more than Elliot. He’s the one more prepared to discuss and compromise and figure things out. And better, Elliot is beginning to really trust this. The doubts are still there, but he’s getting used to the idea he can rely on Tucker. The deepening emotional closeness adds to the urgency.
Like I said, development.
It also feels good that at the end of the book, Elliot gets a shot at going back to the life he wanted originally. I did enjoy that he was ex-FBI, that he was a professor and had adjustments to make. All the same, it’s satisfying to see him ‘come home’ and find a new place for himself, doing what he wanted all along.
The resolution of the mystery isn’t too obvious or anything like that. I feel it relies too heavily on coincidence, and Elliot’s ability to connect the dots. It’s still a satisfying conclusion to that thread of the story. Or at least, one hopes it’s the end of that story, and Elliot’s now finally done with Corian.
On a final note, the sex scenes are okay: not too awkward, anyway. They make sense as part of depicting Elliot and Tucker’s relationship. They’re also skippable if you’re just here for the emotional content.