A correction and a giveaway

Posted 11 November, 2013 by Nikki in General, Giveaways / 27 Comments

I missed someone out of my auto-read list. This is a bit mortifying as I’ve actually had personal interaction with the author and adore her books. She is lovely and offers good advice on home remedies for things like acid reflux. She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of Jo Walton’s Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.

This correction is important because now I am going to run a giveaway! I’m going to Belgium to stay with my partner at the end of this week, and before I go anywhere I usually announce a guessing game on Twitter: how many books am I taking with me?

To make this easier, we’re not including the comic books I’m taking to lend to Lisa, or books on either of my ereaders. We’re just talking about dead tree books. That’s all you have to do: guess the number of dead tree books I will take with me to Belgium. I don’t know yet myself, so I can’t give you any hints. The only guidance I can give is that I’ve been known to take anything from five to twenty books with me on this particular trip, I will probably read about a book a day, and I will be there two weeks, but I will be going to one of my favourite bookshops in the world while I’m there.

The prize will be one book, under £10, by any author mentioned in either my auto-read list or my reread list, which I will send anywhere in the world via Bookdepository. If you enter, make sure I have a way to contact you so I can get your address! The winner will be the person whose guess comes closest to the number of books I actually have with me on the train come Friday 15th November.

You can enter by leaving a comment here, or by emailing me at bibliophibianbreathesbooks[at]gmail[dot]com.

ETA: If two people guess the same number, that’s fine — I’ll just pick one of them to get the prize by a random draw.

Tags: , ,

Divider

Auto-read list

Posted 11 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Second Mango

Posted 10 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of The Second Mango, by Shira GlassmanThe Second Mango, Shira Glassman

The Second Mango is sweet and quite silly. It doesn’t take itself or its characters too seriously at all, and the story is sweeter for it — the image of a wizard turning himself into a lizard to cling to his lady love’s door and woo her at night where no one can see just tickles me, and because it’s knowingly absurd, endears the story to me. I love that the possibly obvious plot does not happen: nobody switches sexuality by magic and the main characters don’t have a big drama between them about it. It’s a world where same-sex partnerships don’t seem to be common, but for the most part it isn’t a major drama either, which is quite refreshing.

I also really like the fact that one of the main characters has food intolerances. That’s not a “disability” (for lack of a better term, meaning here that it’s not magical in origin or anything, but a physical limitation) I’ve seen much in fiction, if at all. The mix of cultural backgrounds was interesting, too: it’s not entirely clear where all of the religious background is drawn from, but the biggest influence is Judaism. Again, not something I see much!

It’s not some epic deep novel, but it’s light and fun, and it made me smile.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Jack in the Green

Posted 9 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Jack in the Green by Charles de LintJack in the Green, Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint’s Jack in the Green is quite lovely. It’s a Robin Hood story, sort of. It brings the spirit of Robin Hood to a Hispanic community in the US, during the recession, to steal from the bankers and give to those who can’t pay their bills. It’s not that different a story to Maurice Broaddus’ version of King Arthur in a black neighbourhood, but somehow I don’t mind it at all. It feels truer to the spirit of the Robin Hood stories, I suppose.

It’s written in a straightforward, easy to read way; the magic in it is just… accepted as part of the world, not over-explained or positioned in such a way that it takes over the story. I really liked that casual inclusion of magic, impossible things, because it somehow made it feel more believable.

Admittedly, for me the story was more an interesting intellectual exercise than something that involved me emotionally, but there’s an enjoyment in that, too, in something that makes you think, “How is he going to do this? How will he make it work?”

I should get round to reading more of Charles de Lint’s work.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Changeling Sea

Posted 8 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Changeling Sea, by Patricia A. McKillipThe Changeling Sea, Patricia A. McKillip

This is a gorgeous, bittersweet, perfect, completely unsatisfying story. It’s a fairytale that feels real. All of those things at once? Yes.

I didn’t like the other book by this author I’ve read nearly as much — perhaps not at all, I can’t remember. But this is lovely. It’s a story about longing, really, longing and love. It spellbound me, and managed to capture something I love about the sea: its beauty, humans’ fascination with it, its danger… Dar Williams’ ‘The Ocean’ comes to mind here, somewhat.

It’s not really a story tied together by plot, but by emotion, and Kir’s longing, Peri’s love and hope, the king’s sadness, it all got to me. The book is short, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while. Another comparison that comes to mind is Susan Cooper’s Seaward.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Imposter syndrome and an essay on Frankenstein

Posted 7 November, 2013 by Nikki in Academic / 4 Comments

I have a tragic lack of confidence in my own academic abilities. I know, intellectually, that I have two good degrees in English Literature from a reputable university. But I don’t really believe that. I worry that I was given my degrees out of pity, or favoritism, or due to a sheer mistake. I pretty much embody the idea of imposter syndrome.

My online courses, though they fill me with joy in one sense, are just making that worse. In my literature classes, I am getting bad marks. Literature classes! My ego is bruised and sullen, my imposter syndrome thinks it’s justified, and I’m feeling the urge to quietly withdraw from the course and possibly the entire internet in mortification at my own stupidity.

Because that’s a bloody stupid idea, here is my mini-essay on Frankenstein written for the SF/F class on Coursera, with bonus reference to Beowulf. I’m not going to pretend it’s utter genius, and it’s very short (all essays for this class are 320 words long or less), but it’s an idea I would like to develop and think about some more, and it’s an analysis based on literary context, not completely pulled out of thin air.


The Mark of Cain

There are many Biblical references in Frankenstein, particularly revolving around Genesis and the creation of Adam (“I ought to be thy Adam”, chapter ten). Biblical imagery offers a powerful way to read the novel, and one Biblical story closely connected with that of Adam, though not mentioned in Frankenstein, is the story of Cain and Abel.

The murder of Abel by Cain has its echoes in the murder of Victor’s brother by the monster. Though it is the monster which kills William, Victor is complicit in that death because of his neglect of the creature he made. Both Victor and the monster are set apart from humankind, as Cain is: “a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be” (Genesis 4:12), God says to Cain, and that is equally true for Frankenstein’s monster. But it is also true of Frankenstein himself: “I saw an insurmountable barrier placed between me and my fellow men; this barrier was sealed with the blood of William and Justine” (chapter 19).

The monster’s exile is not solely due to his crimes, but also to his appearance, which suggests a link with the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15). Another link worth noting is that monsters are sometimes described as being descended from Cain: Grendel, in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, is identified as kin to Cain. He is a “wretched creature”, as Frankenstein’s monster is so often described, “siþðan him scyppend      forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne” (“since the Creator had condemned him with the kin of Cain”, ll. 106-107).

Though this connection is not made explicit by Mary Shelley in the text, the similarities are there; Frankenstein’s monster acts out the first chapters of Genesis in a compressed form, going from creation (as Adam) to acquiring knowledge (i.e. comparing the interlude where he observes Felix and his family with the Fall) to the first murder of the human race (that of Abel).

 

Works cited:
Anonymous, Beowulf (Published online, 2012: http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html), quoted translation is my own
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein (Project Gutenberg, 2008: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm)
Various, The King James Bible (Accessed online: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-4/)

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

If I can just be persuaded to log off LOTRO, perhaps you can have my “what are you reading Wednesday” post before it’s Thursday…

What did you recently finish reading?
Other than what I’ve posted reviews of here, which is a little obvious, I read Jacky Hyam’s Bomb Girls, an account of what women working in munitions factories did during WWII, including their own stories and opinions. Before that, it was Frankenstein for my Coursera class.

What are you currently reading?
The Holders by Julianna Scott, which is an ARC I’ve had for a little while. Still reading my book on panic attacks, still reading half a dozen other things at least, but none of them particularly actively. At the moment I’m focusing on knocking down one… book… at… a… time. Which is difficult for me, as I’ve always been a bit prone to reading at least half a dozen books at once. Which is fine, until it gets overwhelming.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve been neglecting a couple of ARCs which I’m already partway through, so I think I’ll work on those — it’ll be relatively easy to knock them off the list and stop feeling so guilty about them! So that’ll be The Darwin Elevator (Jason M. Hough) and Republic of Thieves (Scott Lynch), though I’ve since bought the Scott Lynch for myself…

Books acquired:
A few P.G. Wodehouse books from the second hand store (Troutmark Books in Castle Arcade, in Cardiff, always excellent) — not the Jeeves & Wooster books, sadly, but still. Wodehouse. Should be fun. I think there’s also been a few fantasy books involving dragons, including The Second Mango (Shira Glassman), which has me very curious from the title alone. It’s also a lesbian fantasy story, which should be interesting.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Divider

Review – Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet RevoltOff-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt, by G.R. Reader

I have, broadly speaking, not got involved in the protest reviewing surrounding Goodreads’ new policy on the deletion of reviews and shelves which refer to author behaviour. I think I’ve “liked” a few particularly creative ones. It isn’t a coincidence, though, that I’ve set up a book blog of my own now after years and years of relying on Goodreads.

This is not an off-topic review. The subject of this book is Goodreads’ own policy, and it contains genuine commentary and opinion backed up by facts. I recommend it for understanding the issue in general terms — it’s available on Lulu for $0.99, or it’s been put on Dropbox free here.

One thing from the book that was particularly interesting to me was Emma Sea’s commentary on why the deletion of reviews that focus on author behaviour is censorship: she points out that most current literary theory goes against that. You’ve still got ‘The Death of the Author’ as an influential piece and idea, yeah, but you’ve also got Marxist and feminist readings. I’m basically a new historicist, myself, I “aim simultaneously to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature, which documents the new discipline of the history of ideas.” (Confession: definition from Wikipedia. I’m bad at defining my critical approaches.) Part of the historical context is inevitably the issue of the author.

Now, I can see comebacks on that like, “an author’s behaviour may not be relevant to their book when it isn’t reflected in the contents of the book”. To which I kinda say, yes and no. The author’s behaviour may not impact the content of a book, but it still has an effect on the context of the book, and it may frame the content of the book in a new way. Which is relevant.

Now maybe Goodreads really wants to say they don’t want any new historicists or Marxist critics or feminist critics here, only people who will always and only use practical criticism to judge a book on its own merits, bereft of any context. But somehow I really doubt it. There are still plenty of ways I no doubt haven’t thought of to disagree with Emma Sea, but I like that this is a serious attempt to engage with the issue not on a visceral reactionary level, but on a theoretical one.

I haven’t got involved in protest reviewing because I wanted to abide by the rules of the site. I’ve loved the site for a long time and contributed to it in many ways, and I’m not making immediate plans to leave — or to make it easy for people to get me to leave! But this is not an off-topic review; this is not an off-topic book. In fact, my review and rating are very, very sincere: I’m amazed and pleased at the passion for the community at Goodreads which people have displayed in putting this thoughtful book together, in making it more than a prank. I very much hope Goodreads don’t follow up their previous policy of deleting this book and all the “off-topic” reviews.

Still, if they do, you can still find me and this review at The Bibliophibian and LibraryThing. Unless you are my mother, in which case, please stick to The Bibliophibian. I love you, but let’s maintain some boundaries, yes? I won’t look too closely at your pen collection, and you’ll pretend not to notice my groaning shelves? It’s a deal.

See this review on Goodreads… for now, at least.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – She Walks in Darkness

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline WaltonShe Walks in Darkness, Evangeline Walton

She Walks in Darkness is a posthumously published book written back in the 60s by Evangeline Walton, the author of The Mabinogion Tetralogy. It’s a Gothic novel, and reminds me somewhat of some of Mary Stewart’s work: the heroine, the cultural/historical background, the overall tone… not a bad thing, since I quite enjoy Mary Stewart’s work. Both invoke the atmosphere well, though Stewart’s heroine is in general a bit more proactive and generally intelligent than Barbara, our narrator.

The narration itself confused me a little. Not in detail, but in style and execution — the tense wavered, and sometimes Barbara would be telling another person’s story so closely that it would slip into third person narrative, as if she’d been there and could know everything that happened, only for a jarring transition back to Barbara’s opinion on it.

Other than that, though that’s a pretty big but, it’s well-written and I liked the basis on Etruscan history/mythology and theory. Some of the imagery of the statuary and paintings was just gorgeous.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Those Who Went Remain There Still

Posted 5 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie PriestThose Who Went Remain There Still, Cherie Priest

I didn’t get on with the first Cherie Priest book I read (Boneshaker), but I enjoyed Bloodshot and Hellbent enough that I’m starting to try her other stuff. It seems like she can be a bit hit and miss, with me: I wasn’t a big fan of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, either, but I enjoyed this short horror novella. It’s mostly the atmosphere that works, the fact that she invokes her three narrators’ voices well, brings to life the valley and the simmering resentment between the two halves of the family.

She doesn’t over-explain or even over-describe her monster, letting it be more frightening because the characters have no idea, because we can’t even really picture it. It’s just a fear in the dark, huge and formless, and I think that stories that invoke that are really the horror stories that work. It ends abruptly, without any consolation or certainty, and I really like that — I like that Cherie Priest knew when to stop the story and let the reader go on uncomfortably wondering, because it takes as much skill to know when to do that as to carry a story through right to the inevitable end, if not more.

Still, her narrators are still somewhat talkative, and I don’t think this is one my partner will be enjoying anytime soon, since she didn’t get into Bloodshot with its more engaging (to my mind, anyway) narrator and characters. It’s not exactly creepy — or maybe with my anxiety issues I just can’t tell when I’m creeped out and when I’m just normally jumpy — but it’s intriguing and has that breathless, edge of the seat quality where it counts.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , ,

Divider