Review – Six Feet Over

Posted 25 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Six Feet Over by Mary RoachSix Feet Over, Mary Roach

I don’t think I’m the greatest fan of Mary Roach’s style. It’s informal, easy to read, self-deprecating — but when it comes to a topic like this, I don’t want to hear all about Mary Roach unless it really illuminates the subject matter. Granted, stuff like near-death experiences and the various ideas of what happens to us after we die are things I’ve been interested in for a long time, and don’t really need an entry-level primer on. (I had to memorise the stages of an NDE as described by Kenneth Ring for my religious studies A Level.)

Still, where this deals with facts instead of impressions, it’s interesting stuff. A couple of the studies and anecdotes were familiar to me from what I already knew: I still find the case of the woman who saw the surgical tools being used on her despite having her eyes taped shut an interesting one. (It’s convincing because it wasn’t a typical tool, not something she’d have come across elsewhere, and she didn’t see the instruments before or after her operation.)

Overall, this probably isn’t going to convince you either way, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s certainly got some interesting snippets of information.

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Review – My Real Children

Posted 24 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of My Real Children by Jo WaltonMy Real Children, Jo Walton

So, first off: I am completely, utterly biased. Jo sent me a copy to review, I had my own pre-ordered copy several days before the book released, I love her work in general, and she’s been great to me. This doesn’t speak to me in the same way Among Others did, but all the same, it’s wonderful. I love the way the two timelines are handled, and I love the way that last chapter brings things back into alignment. I love that I was thinking all along that I wasn’t sure about the narration, and yet somehow it worked and brought me to tears.

The thing with the narration is, this is a short book to hold the sum of two lives. So at times the narration seems to summarise things that could have been interesting expanded. I wasn’t sure for parts of it whether the emotional impact would still be there, but it is. In some places, it fits perfectly the way things happen: matter of fact, sudden, without announcing themselves first. I was thinking about whether I’d want it to be expanded, but I don’t think I would. It would take away from the structure, the careful balance Jo builds.

I love the fact that this book is jammed full of people. Gay people, out and closeted both; unconventional relationships and love that doesn’t colour between the lines; families, built and chosen; people with disabilities who conform to no stereotype; pacifists and campaigners; scientists; women making their way in a sexist world and pushing the boundaries… All of them are handled with respect and care for their stories.

The whole plot… I don’t know how much is too much to give away, here. The final chapter just makes everything slide into place and come clear. You’ve got Pat/Trish living two separate lives, each with their own kinds of happiness and fulfillment. You think it’s going to be simple to choose which one you’d prefer for her, and then if you just tilt to the head you can see why that wouldn’t be the right choice.

And I don’t know if anyone else felt this, coming to the last page, but I don’t actually know which version of herself Patricia chooses. It looks like a straight-up choice between personal happiness and wider well-being, but the whole book shows us the importance of tiny actions by a single person. Trish is a person who takes care of other people, who sacrifices her own well-being for that: does Patricia choose to follow her path, because that’s part of who she is? Pat is a person who focuses on her family, who loves art, who makes the world a better place, but who is ultimately quite insular: does Patricia choose to follow Pat, because that insularity is part of her too? Saying that she couldn’t make any other choice only makes sense after she’s chosen.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 24 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 38 Comments

Oh. Oh dear. It’s been a busy week, and it’s time for Stacking the Shelves, as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! There was a library, and a second hand bookshop, and… things just escalated, okay? It doesn’t help that I’ve actually got hard copies of some of the books I originally got as ARCs from the library, just to make me feel guilty when I look at them. I’m not sure it’s working, but. Books! Also re-bought some books I already technically own, for the excuse to reread. You may have noticed I like doing that.

Library books

Cover of Six Feet Over by Mary Roach Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Cover of Honor's Knight, by Rachel Bach Cover of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell Cover of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley Cover of Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

Of this lot, I already had Fortune’s Pawn in ebook, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches and Wolfhound Century as ARCs, and I’ve already read and adore The Night Circus.

Second-hand bookshop finds

 Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillip Cover of Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ Cover of Dodie Smith's It Ends With Revelations Cover of The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith Cover of The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

These are all new to me, though I know Patricia McKillip is great, and I picked up the Dodie Smith books because, oh, how I love I Capture the Castle.

Ebooks

Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of Bloodshot by Cherie Priest Cover of Hellbent by Cherie Priest Cover of The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein Cover of A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia Fine

The Cherie Priest books are to reread, because I love them. <3 And omg, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf. I have been hoping for this to be published since I first heard of it.

Hardcovers

Cover of My Real Children by Jo Walton

Look what showed up!

Review copies/ARCs

Cover of The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I am so excited for this one.

So yeah, busy week! What’s everyone else been stocking up on?

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Review – Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

Posted 23 May, 2014 by Nikki in Academic, Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. TolkienBeowulf: A Translation and Commentary, J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

I’m full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf — Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England — but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here — the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations, mythic and historic origins — and dealt with in a confident, convincing way. Tolkien’s close reading of the text is exemplary. I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to criticise his work, but I do know that it’s incredibly worth reading.

As with most of the other posthumously published work by Tolkien, though, this isn’t really something for the layman. It’s not exactly technical, but in delves into the minutiae so much. For a translation of the poem for an interested but not greatly knowledgable layman, I’d still recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation as lively, well-considered and interesting. For commentary on the poem, general introductions are still enough. But for anyone who is more deeply interested in Beowulf, then this is an amazing resource. His treatment of the plot of the poem as a short story, ‘Sellic Spell’, doesn’t entirely convince me as a precursor story to Beowulf (it rings very strongly of fairytales, to me, and not so much to a sort of mythic background) but is interesting nonetheless.

In terms of fans of Tolkien’s fiction as well as or instead of his academic work, there are gems here for us too. His translation of Beowulf really emphasises the Beowulfian elements in The Hobbit, and the way he phrases things, though slightly more archaic, is definitely familiar. His commentary mentions words you might recognise from his novels — maþm, OE ‘gift’, for example, as long as you remember that þ = th…

All in all, this may be because of my personal interests and the fact that I have done some academic work on Tolkien, but I think this is generally more valuable than most of the other work brought out posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, and I found CT’s editing most logical and less of a barrier here than ever since The Silmarillion. I got very excited about it, and while I got an ebook to have it right away, I will shortly obtain a hardcover for my collection, and count it worth it.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 22 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Uh. God. I think the most recent thing might be Attachments (Rainbow Rowell), which is lovely and warm and I love surprisingly much. Wow, that’s not a good sign — I’m not reading as much as I should. On the other hand…

What are you currently reading?
A lot. I started Patricia A. McKillip’s The Riddle-master of Hed while waiting for my grandmother to get an x-ray, and nearly finished it all in one go. I’m still reading My Real Children (Jo Walton), because I don’t want anything bad to happen to the characters in either timeline and I’m a little worried something will. I’m also reading Six Feet Over (Mary Roach), which is about what might happen after death from an attempted objective point of view. So far, not sure what I think of that. And then there’s also Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), which sucks me in as much as Attachments, but which I’m a little unsure about because of all the criticism I’m reading about it re: racism. Oh, and I’ve started reading Yendi (Steven Brust), and am still in the process of finding my feet, narrative wise.

What will you read next?
Ahaha, does anyone believe a word I say about this, honestly? But the idea is: more Patricia A. McKillip, a reread of The Night Circus (Erin Morgernstern), finally finishing Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell). More Steven Brust. And getting round to Rachel Bach’s books. I think that about covers my immediate, laughably unlikely plans!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 20 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I haven’t done the Top Ten Tuesday thing for a while, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I like this topic — top ten books about friendship.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. The friendship between Ged and Vetch, the quiet solid thereness of it… you know for sure that Vetch would never let you down if he could help it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually thought of this because they’ve got it in their list, but it’s still true. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli… even, in a way, Frodo and Gollum, because Frodo manages to reach out with pity and sympathy to Smeagol.
  3. The Prize in the Game,Jo Walton. Ferdia and Darag. “Your name in my heart,” indeed. (Okay, there’s romantic aspects to that, but I think first and foremost they’re friends.)
  4. The Grey King, Susan Cooper. Bran and Will. The way they fit together, understand each other better than anyone else, and the way they still hurt each other because neither of them is perfect.
  5. Captain Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol and Steve! Carol and Jessica! Carol and Monica!
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker. Steve and Bucky. Just, Steve and Bucky. I know this is a movie quote but, “I’m with you till the end of the line.”
  7. The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay. Paul and Kevin, primarily, although all the bonds between the group are great. Kim and Jennifer, particularly. Just the way there are these deep loves that come entirely out of friendship. Guy Gavriel Kay is also pretty good at this in other books, too, like Tigana.
  8. The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence. Alex and Mr. Peterson. So unlikely, and yet Extence made me believe in it.
  9. Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff. Arthur and Bedwyr. Ouch, ouch. “I could have cried out to him, as Jonathan to David, by the forbidden love names that are not used between men; I could have flung my arms around his shoulders.”
  10. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman. Crowley and Aziraphale. Because of course.

I am a little bothered by the fact that almost all of those are male friendships. It’s partly a function of the books I’ve loved since I was a kid, before I was really choosy in any way about what I read, but still. Rec me your books with female friendship!

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Trigger warnings in lit courses

Posted 18 May, 2014 by Nikki in Academic, General / 2 Comments

The latest thing I’m seeing coming up a lot on twitter is trigger warnings — not in fandom, this time, but in literature courses. Here‘s an article in The New York Times about it; I’ll wait.

The thing is, trigger warnings are pretty widely accepted in fandom. Not completely, because there are various arguments against them, like the fact that giving a trigger warning takes away from the intended emotional impact and any surprise factor. That’s fair enough, and it’s why fanfic archives like AO3 have a “choose not to use warnings” option. People then are aware going into it that it could be anything, and perhaps the fact that the author chose not to use warnings is enough of a warning in itself. Certainly, you can’t then blame the author that they didn’t warn you: they told you they wouldn’t.

The idea of trigger warnings, though, is to help protect people from things they’re not in a safe place to read. An abuse victim can avoid stories about abuse that might take them back into the part of their mind where they were so badly hurt; a rape victim can avoid being taken back to memories of that rape, etc. With PTSD, certain triggers can make you have flashbacks, panic attacks, maybe even lead you to hurt yourself — or others.

A lot of arguments against using trigger warnings in lit courses and other serious settings revolve around censorship, narrowing the discussion, etc. I think it depends on what you think trigger warnings are for. For me, in that context, they’d be saying, “We’re giving you advance warning that you need to be in a safe space to read this. Don’t try to cram it in at the library before class. Give yourself time, and space, and kind people around you. It’s still required reading, but we’re giving you a chance to make yourself as safe as possible.” And if you then make the choice not to read it, the impact on your grade is your responsibility (unless you can prove extenuating circumstances through existing methods).

It’s not actually a good idea to use trigger warnings to avoid stuff all the time. Avoiding something increases your fear of it. Take it from the person with GAD. You know, I actually have an appropriate bookish situation to bring up here: in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged stirs up an awful dark power which chases him, which intrudes into his life in nightmares and shadows, even when he thinks he’s safe. And as long as he runs from it, it gains in power. When he finally turns to chase it in turn, to hunt it, he is at last able to defeat it.

That’s where I am with my anxiety, with the aftermath of bullying and all sorts of attached problems I don’t want to talk about (and let’s avoid discussion of the specifics of my personal issues). I’m chasing it. I like to think I’m somewhere out on that impossible shore, like Ged, closing on my fear and about to name it with my own name and make it part of me, a part of my strength, not something which oppresses me. It helps. This isn’t the only narrative there is, and maybe some people will never be strong enough to turn and face their fears, and that’s not their fault. The least we can do is give everyone the opportunity to take care of themselves, though.

It’s difficult to make a hard and fast rule. Some triggers are just not common — I’m terrified of insects and parasites, for example — and it’s hard to figure out where the line is between ‘this is offensive’, ‘this may cause harm’ and ‘this isn’t a comfortable read’. But to my mind, warnings for basic triggers like abuse, violence, rape and gore would help protect people and actually foster debate, not stifle it. If you give people the tools to protect themselves, they will know they’re safe engaging with the material you’ve set, rather than holding back out of fear.

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Review – Attachments

Posted 18 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Attachments by Rainbow RowellAttachments, Rainbow Rowell

I unexpectedly adored this. I was tempted to stay up late to finish it. I pretty much devoured it. I feel the urge to defend it against bad/lukewarm reviews. And I don’t even really know why — there’s something in the writing style, the characters, the warmth I feel from it.

I love that it deals with heavy issues like self-esteem and miscarriage and self-loathing without making them seem incidental and trivial: Lincoln falls in love with Beth partly because of how she comforts Jennifer, and so did I. She seems a wonderfully warm character, wise, and yet not perfect. If she were perfect, she would have seen her relationship with Chris for what it was. Jennifer is a side character, but she’s not just a plot device: I cared about her issues with having a baby, with her grief and guilt. I cared about Lincoln’s mother’s issues, his sister.

Also, I loved the nostalgia. I was a kid at the time, I guess, but I still remember the new millennium, the worry about the Y2K issues with computers, and I remember those email filters on the school computers and… I think that’s likely to seem like a completely different world to readers only a little younger than me, but I was a bit charmed by the nostalgia factor there.

Bottom line, it’s not a life-changing book, it’s not going to shake your world view in any way. But it’s enjoyable and sweet, and I loved it. It’s a chick flick in novel form, in terms of theme and plot, but it takes serious things seriously, and that makes the whole thing work.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 17 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 28 Comments

Time for the Stacking the Shelves meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. Busy week! These actually came in an assortment of omnibuses, but seeing the individual books with their old covers seems more fun to me.

Cover of Taltos by Steven Brust Cover of Phoenix by Steven Brust Cover of Athyra by Steven Brust Cover of Orca by Steven Brust Cover of Dragon by Steven Brust Cover of Issola by Steven Brust Cover of Dzur by Steven Brust Cover of Jhegaala by Steven Brust

Also received my print ARC of Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life! <3

Oh, and some comics…

Cover of Marvel's Captain Marvel, issue three

Oh, and one final review copy…

Cover of Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick

I’m not a big fan of Emma Rios’ style, but I do enjoy Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, so I’m excited. And yes, this post is pretty much the Steven Brust and Kelly Sue DeConnick show.

What’s everyone else been up to?

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