Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 20 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Let’s see… mostly comics. The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells, was the last novel — read it for my SF/F class, though I discovered I hadn’t actually read it before anyway. Comics-wise, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, Avengers vs X-men: VS., and Young Avengers Presents. All Marvel comics.

What are you currently reading?
Actively, P.G. Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor, Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland; the latter, is once again, for my SF/F class.

What do you think you’ll read next?
The plan is to read Captain America: Winter Soldier, I think. Then maybe I’ll get round to the acclaimed Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie).

Books acquired:
Last book before I came here was Nicola Griffith’s Hild, I think. Then there was a little shopping spree in Brussels and Leuven: Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation (Ruby Blondell), The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (Caspar Henderson), The Prisoner (Thomas M. Disch), The Song of Troy (Colleen McCullough), In Search of Shakespeare (Michael Wood), The Folding Knife (K.J. Parker) and Alphabet of Thorn (Patricia A. McKillip). Some bought for me by my partner, eee. Also I bought her Fly By Night (Frances Hardinge).

There was also a library trip. I have to report that the library in Leuven is pretty good for English-language books. So my haul from there was Mockingbird (Walter Tevis), The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, The Lover’s Dictionary (David Levithan), and White as Snow (Tanith Lee).

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Review – Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

Posted 19 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Avengers: The Children's Crusade, a Marvel comicAvengers: The Children’s Crusade, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Olivier Coipel, Alan Davis

Children’s Crusade is pretty awesome. It’s not exactly a pure Young Avengers comic — it’s definitely a crossover comic — but it does feature quite a lot of Billy being awesome, supported by the other Young Avengers, and a fair bit of Teddy being awesome. It also features their first (I think) on-page kiss, and is generally more blatant about their relationship than the other comics so far. There’s some awesome dialogue, and some lovely funny geeky bits about Billy and Teddy.

It also pulls in the X-Men, the Avengers, backlash from House of M, and features quite a few characters we know and love (or hate).

It’s also not without consequences, as even the Young Avengers lose people from their line-up.

On the other hand, I can see some other people’s problems with it: it seems to go back on some previous Marvel events and erase their consequences, and it really is one gigantic squabble between various superhero groups, with the teenage Young Avengers coming out as maybe the most mature.

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Competition winner

Posted 15 November, 2013 by Nikki in Giveaways / 2 Comments

The winner was Rachel, who guessed that I’d be bringing seven books with me to Belgium. I actually brought six books with me (along with my ereaders and a bunch of comic books to share with Lisa). Rachel picked the author — Guy Gavriel Kay — and left the choice of the exact book up to me. I picked Tigana, which I will be sending her as soon as finances allow!

For the curious, the six books that came with me:

-Rose Tremain, Restoration
-Katharine Beutner, Alcestis
John Williams, Augustus
-P.G. Wodehouse, The Small Bachelor
-Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
-Robert Llewellyn, News from Gardenia

This surprised pretty much everyone, including myself.

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Review – Fun Home

Posted 15 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison BechdelFun Home, Alison Bechdel

I first heard of Alison Bechdel through fandom and the Bechdel test. This is a simple way of evaluating the gender bias of a film:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

Because it’s simple, it’s not always true. (Do Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill talk to each other in Avengers? No. Are they all female characters worth watching and identifying with? Yes.) But quite often, it is. (Sorry, Supernatural, but really. Really.)

I actually came round to reading anything of Alison Bechdel’s — beyond that simple strip that gave us those rules — through my comics and graphic novels course. I was only very vaguely aware that Alison Bechdel identifies as a lesbian, and not at all aware of her family story. Fun Home is essentially a memoir in comic form, though.

I enjoyed the literary allusions quite a lot, and I liked the art style as well. It’s not immensely ornate or anything like that, but it has feeling and personality. To say it has warmth is a bit of a stretch when you’re talking something that deals with such heavy topics and which has such an emotionally distant family at its heart, but you can feel for the characters. Fun Home feels like it was a catharsis for Bechdel, putting into words and images things she’d always felt and not voiced, making parallels that were helpful for her, figuring out links — even engaging in a bit of wishful thinking.

It’s interesting how, in my experience of reading this book, there were three levels of acceptance of gay people: not at all (Bruce Bechdel), as part of the women’s movement (Alison Bechdel) and as part of life (me). It opens a little window on what might have been my life. Not everything that Bruce Bechdel did could be excused, and I don’t want to assume too much about Alison Bechdel’s feelings, but I do feel lucky not to be trapped like Bruce and even Alison.

My coming out experiences with my parents…

ME: Mum, I’m bisexual and I’m dating Lisa.
MUM: Don’t cut your hair! You know sexuality is a continuum, right? I don’t want you to label yourself just because of something you’re feeling right now.

[Some years later]

ME: Dad, if you haven’t noticed that me and Lisa are dating, you’re possibly a bit stupid.
DAD: I didn’t.
ME: Oh. Well, we are.
DAD: Okay.

I do still needle my mum about the stereotyping behind “don’t cut your hair” (it was my pride and joy at the time, waist length and thick and a little bit curly — and I’ve since cut my hair pretty short, and she likes it), but… thank goodness for my family and the fact that there was no one walking in front of a bread truck.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I finished reading was David Levithan’s The Realm of Possibility, which is a prose-poetry novel/collection of short stories. Ultimately I liked it a lot more than I expected to when I realised about the format. Before that, it was short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, for my SF/F class — and they are really, really boring (to me). Bah.

What are you currently reading?
More homework from my counsellor: Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman. And I started Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany today. Other than that, still reading The Holders by Julianna Scott — not sure I’ve even touched it in the last week, oops — and various other ARCs and novels I’ve been partway through for Far Too Long.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I should probably just focus on what I’m already reading… but knowing me, that won’t happen. Right now I’m thinking Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, for a start, and then I should probably catch up with Apex and Beneath Ceaseless Skies…

Books acquired:
Well, today me, Mum and my sister had a bit of a shopping spree, so… Shadowmarch (Tad Williams), Augustus (John Williams), Fun Home (Alison Bechdel), The Algebraist & The State of the Art (Iain M. Banks), A Dance of Cloaks (David Dalglish) and The Ghost Hunters (Neil Spring). Recent ARCs include Poets Translate Poets (ed. Paula Dietz) and Signal to Noise (Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean).

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Review – The Realm of Possibility

Posted 13 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Realm of Possibility by David LevithanThe Realm of Possibility, David Levithan

I didn’t mean to read this in one go, it just sort of happened. I wasn’t sure at all about the form, particularly: it’s very hard to please me with poetry because I look for very specific things. And honestly, I’m still indifferent to that choice even for this book, which I enjoyed quite a lot. On the one hand, it works: poetry is so personal, and it brings out the different voices in this interlinked collection — and being poetry, some of it is very dense and allusive. I enjoyed figuring out the links between poems, who knew who, and where and why their lives overlapped.

On the other hand, I prefer my poetry to be very dense and allusive, more so than in most of these. I think if it were all written like that, you’d lose all individuality of the voices, so it’s probably for the best.

I liked the whole range of people and personalities, all warm and handled with respect. They’re all people trying to get on with life, not clear good guys and bad guys. And the diversity of the characters — straight, gay, black, white, Goth, church-goer, rebel… — and their stories too. It’s not all about who loves who, but also about family, friendship, faith, loneliness, fear, courage.

I think I’ll have to go ahead and say I highly recommend this, even though I’m not so fond of the format.

Review on Goodreads.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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