Review – Year of Wonders

Posted 15 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Year of Wonders, by Geraldine BrooksYear of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks

I read this for Bruce Holsinger’s historical fiction course on Coursera. It’s based on the true story of the village of Eyam, during the 1665 epidemic of plague in Britain, though Geraldine Brooks doesn’t stick too closely to the names and details of exactly what happened there, but rather tries to recreate the sense of it. For her own comfort, I think, even where she’s based her characters on real people, she’s taken them a step or so away from them so that William Mompesson becomes Michael Mompellion, allowing her to take greater liberties.

At times, it seems pretty melodramatic, to me. The whole situation between Michael and Elinor, for example, seemed completely unnecessary (and barely even seemed to make sense to me); sometimes it just seemed to pile too much into the story that on its own would’ve seemed to make sense. The ending was worse; it felt like a complete flight of fantasy beside the historically grounded, patiently explored situation in the village.

So… overall, parts of this are a very powerful exploration of the tensions and also the support in Eyam at the time, and of the faith and fear and superstition of the time. But other parts of it work against the simple, touching aspect that those things give the story. I know it’s fiction and flights of fantasy are all a part of it, but it didn’t feel right to me.

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Review – A Red Herring Without Mustard

Posted 14 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan BradleyA Red Herring Without Mustard, Alan Bradley

I’m somewhat torn on the subject of Flavia de Luce. I find the books fun to read, but the hail-fellow-well-met Englishness (as portrayed by a Canadian writer who never went to England prior to starting on the first book). It’s just a total fantasy, and I can never tell how seriously people are taking it.

As for the mystery in this particular installment, I figured it out relatively quickly, but it’s still fun to follow along, and I love that the main character is a young girl who is fascinated with science. It all has rather a Famous Five feel, ultimately, with Flavia de Luce playing all five (well, maybe the four humans — her bike, Gladys, or maybe her family’s servant, Dogger, could be Timmy): how a kid solved the mysteries the police couldn’t solve, with the police coming in at the end to wrap things up. I can even see Flavia’s father as Uncle Quentin…

One thing that is bothering me is Flavia’s relationship with her sisters. It’s played lightly, yet it’s frankly abusive. She’s constantly being told that no one loves her, no one would want to spend time with her, that she’s frankly unworthy of love… and I can’t tell how seriously people (including Alan Bradley) are taking that.

There’s more than a touch of Dahl’s Matilda in Flavia, but it never seems to get any deeper than that. At this point, I’m starting to want to know why Flavia’s sisters treat her that way, what effect this is really having on Flavia, whether this is just meant to build up a picture of a “quirky” family (ugh), or whether it’s meant to be leading somewhere. Playing pranks is one thing, even fighting, but psychological warfare? It’s really starting to get on my nerves.

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Review – The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted 13 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

Reread this for my SF/F class on Coursera. I loved it more, this time: read it slowly, appreciated the details, just as the professor suggested. Partially because, of course, I knew it would be rewarding with Ursula Le Guin. I don’t think I was ready for this book when I read it before: the fierce joy and love in some parts of it, the devastation, the making-strange of familiar things and the making familiar of strange things.

Some parts were… maybe less subtle than I thought Le Guin would be. All the stuff about Orgoreyn seemed fairly obviously a commentary on the relations between the US and Russia; the portrayal of Karhide was more subtle, but the Voluntary Farm seems a fairly naked commentary on the gulags. I expected more subtlety, really.

I do love the world Le Guin builds. I was impatient with it last time, but having experienced more of her work, all the detail and background is part of the picture, part of the creativity, not ancillary to the plot.

Don’t read this if you’re not ready to be shaken up about gender, but really, that isn’t the important thing about it. The real importance of it is not the way Le Guin plays with and reflects on gender (Tehanu would be equally important for that, I think), but the way she thinks about dualism/wholeness, the imagery of Yin and Yang which her whole story invokes.

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Review – Alphabet of Thorn

Posted 12 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia A. McKillip, art by Kinuko CraftAlphabet of Thorn, Patricia A. McKillip

Firstly, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but oh I love the cover art so much. It’s done by Kinuko Craft, who has also illustrated at least some of Juliet Marillier’s covers, so that explains why it seemed familiar.

Alphabet of Thorn is beautifully written. It’s one of those books where it’s less about making things happen, and more about watching them happen — there is some degree of “stopping things happening”, but mostly people fall in love, and do magic, and learn things about themselves, and work in the slow silent world of manuscripts and translation, and… It’s not really about the plot, I think, but more about the characters and the world; less about things happening than about people in a situation. I don’t know if I can describe it — but all the same, I hope it’s clear that I loved it.

The mythical parts of the story, the floating school of magic, all of it felt — not real, but true, to me. It all worked seamlessly as a world, as a story. It also felt in some ways like something Ursula Le Guin could write (which is a very high compliment in my world): the Floating School is a cousin to the school on Roke.

If you’re not a fan of McKillip’s style and plotting, I don’t think this one could change your mind. But I do think it’s gorgeous.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 12 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The ARC of Adam Christopher’s Hang Wire. Much fun, looking forward to going back to his previously published books. Also, in that case: superheroes! In this case, circuses and gods (including a trickster god!), a bit of a mystery, and maybe more than a touch of the thriller.

What are you currently reading?
Well, many things, as you can tell from this post. But most actively, Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia McKillip. And I am eager to get my hands on all her books, especially the ones with the gorgeous covers like the one for Alphabet of Thorn — though not just because of the gorgeous covers. I remember not getting along that well with Winter Rose, but I loved The Changeling Sea and I love Alphabet of Thorn too: I love the writing style, the lyricism in it, I love the world of kings and intrigue and magic — and libraries. I love the slow, contemplative pace, too.

But hey, who does the paintings for the covers?!

Oh, and thanks to Olga Godim, I started Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I’m barely started on it, but I’m intrigued so far: Olga suggested it as a better alternative to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, with emotions, magic realism and food. So far, I am enjoying it more. Particularly as it’s less conscious of being quirky than Lemon Cake felt. This one won’t count for my bet/incentive/thing with Mum, though, so really I should put it on a backburner…

What do you think you’ll read next?
One of the books from my currently reading list previously linked! Probably A Red Herring Without Mustard, since I find Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books really fast and easy to read, and I have an ARC of the latest to get to. I’m quite near to finishing Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin, too.

Books acquired:
I bought Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures (because it’s available for 75p!), and I’ve been given access to the ARC of Rachel Naumeier’s Black Dog on Netgalley — with this in the summary, how could I not? “Think of it as Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE but with werewolves instead of vampires.”

Okay!

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Review – Hang Wire

Posted 10 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Hang Wire, by Adam ChristopherHang Wire, Adam Christopher

I’ve wanted to read this since I was given the summary to have a go at coming up with a blurb, back when I visited Angry Robot for a day (especially with seeing the cover art, which to me seems perfect in its relative simplicity). So I gleefully pounced on the email offering ARCs, crossed my fingers, and waited. When I got back from Belgium, I had a whole package of books from Angry Robot, including Hang Wire, which I cracked open as soon as I could.

I have Adam Christopher’s other books with Angry Robot, except The Age Atomic, but I hadn’t got round to them yet. So this was my first book by Adam Christopher, which works fine, as it’s a standalone. It’s urban fantasy, with a touch of the thriller and a bit of fake Celtic magic, and real gods of various stripes, and real people affected by them. It took me a while to get together what was happening, partially because I never pay attention to dates at the beginning of chapters even when authors are so helpful as to give them, and partially because I have a cold. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

It’s an absorbing read, even if you aren’t quite hanging on and catching all the hints and implications, and it might take you some places you aren’t expecting. The pacing is really good: there was never a point where I could put it down and not wonder what was coming up next. The writing works well for me: I could picture things clearly, but it wasn’t fussy, either. There were some bits I still haven’t quite sorted out in my mind, but the plot carried me along fairly smoothly; I’d have to reread it to tell you if that was just me being dense (having a cold) or not.

Definitely an enjoyable one, and worth picking up when it comes out — and I’m veeerryyy interested in hurrying up and getting to read Adam Christopher’s other work.

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Review – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Posted 9 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of William Shakespeare's Star Wars, by Ian DoescherWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Ian Doescher

This is amusing as a quick read; I’m contemplating who might enjoy it as a quirky Christmas gift. It’d have to be someone who can appreciate the ridiculous literary touches (like R2D2 beeping in iambic pentameter), and who is a pretty big fan of both Star Wars and Shakespeare, I think. I’m not really enough of a fan of either to truly appreciate this.

I can also imagine that you could be too much of a fan of Shakespeare (or Star Wars) to appreciate this. It’s best taken lightly.

Definitely a gift for a geek, anyway. As someone approaching it casually, I could appreciate the ideas and the way some of the lines were rendered, but then the joke wore thin.

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Another bibliophilic problem: update

Posted 8 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

My mother is attempting to incentivise me actually finishing books by giving me a £5 Amazon voucher per 5 books I finish. Obviously, as she says, it has to be books from the list of books/books in series I’m currently reading, or she’d be bankrupt in no time. So, for her sake, and for some people’s curiosity, here’s the list.

Bold denotes a book I’ve already started, underline an ARC. They are at least roughly alphabetical by author.

Rosie Best, Skulk.
Lauren Beukes, Zoo City.
Katherine Beutner, Alcestis.
Alan Bradley, A Red Herring Without Mustard.
Alan Bradley, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.
Alan Bradley, Speaking from Among the Bones.
Alan Bradley, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.
Gillian Bradshaw, Render Unto Caesar.
Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders.
Adam Christopher, Hang Wire.
Wesley Chu, Deaths of Tao.
Jeffery Deaver, The Empty Chair.
Diane Duane, The Door into Shadow.
Diane Duane, The Door into Sunset.
Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates.
Steven Erikson, Memories of Ice.
Ian C. Esslemont, Night of Knives.
Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator.
Jason M. Hough, The Exodus Towers.
Jason M. Hough, The Plague Force.
Stephen Hunt, Rise of the Iron Moon.
Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne.
Molly Beth Griffin, Silhouette of a Sparrow.
Nicola Griffith, Hild.
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death.
Fritz Leiber, Swords in the Mist.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Wizardry.
Scott Lynch, Republic of Thieves.
Patricia A. McKillip, Alphabet of Thorn.
James A. Moore, Seven Forges.
Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop.
Thomas Penn, The Winter King.
Joanna Russ, The Female Man.
Brandon Sanderson, Elantris.
C.J. Sansom, Heartstone.
Julianna Scott, The Holders.
Julianna Scott, The Seers.
Michael J. Sullivan, Avempartha.
Michael Swanwick, Dancing With Bears.
David Weber, The Honor of the Queen.
David Weber, The Short Victorious War.
David Weber, Field of Dishonor.
David Weber, Flag in Exile.
David Weber, Honor Among Enemies.
David Weber, In Enemy Hands.
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni.
Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird.
Chuck Wendig, Cormorant.
Tad Williams, The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

This list doesn’t comprise all the ARCs on my backlist, just all the books I’m currently reading. Or should currently be reading, at any rate.

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Another bibliophilic problem

Posted 8 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

A while ago I confessed that I have a problem: I buy too many books. Well, I’m actually doing okay with that at the moment, I think. Possibly I’m blanking out epic shopping trips, but I think the joy of getting people stuff for Christmas is mostly keeping me in check (that and the fact I have most of the books on my more recent wishlists). No, my other problem is… starting a ton of books and never finishing them.

Well, not never, but suffice it to say there’s half a dozen on each ereader, about seven stacked by my bed, a library book I should be reading on the floor…

I need to incentivise clearing my currently-reading list, and then I need to incentivise catching up with my ARCs. (Come on, Harlequin MIRA, I want to read Taste of Darkness. If you approve me for that I will probably read the whole trilogy in a glorious rush. That’s what I do with Maria V. Snyder’s trilogies. I don’t want to wait any longer!)

Any ideas?!

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Review – The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Posted 8 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee BenderThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender

I don’t really know about this book. I hoped to find it light but charming, but it’s not really light and only the premise is charming, and the rest of it just sort of gets too much. I mean, there’s a point where it just gets beyond magic realism and becomes absurd, for me. The idea of tasting emotions in food doesn’t seem so strange to me, but there’s a point where this story crosses the line.

Some of the writing worked okay for me, but the narration didn’t, quite: when is she narrating this? Why? To whom? The lack of speech marks and the sentence fragments didn’t bother me too much, it all seemed to be part of the voice Aimee Bender was trying to build up for her character, but… For a story that could be so rich and sensual, it ended up being “hollow in the middle”, like the flavour of sadness the protagonist tastes in her mother’s cooking and baking.

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