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.

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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.

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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/)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Reviews – Poltergeeks & Student Bodies

Posted 3 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Poltergeeks, by Sean Cummings Poltergeeks, Sean Cummings

Poltergeeks is really fun. It’s definitely very adolescent in tone, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, sometimes it’s almost too flippant, which would be my main criticism — but it made up for that for me by having a solid, meaningful relationship between the mother and daughter at the centre of the story. Not a perfect one, I hasten to add, but a strong one, and one where neither of them is portrayed as evil in any way for butting heads. Julie doesn’t go off on her being all Wondergirl; she has her mother, and she has… well, the rest is spoilers.

The story has a romantic relationship too, but that isn’t overpowering and fits neatly in with the plot. I like that there’s relatively little drama between the male and female leads, and that they’re so solidly best friends.

Overall, solid and enjoyable.

Review on Goodreads.

Cover of Student Bodies by Sean CummingsStudent Bodies, Sean Cummings

Ouch. Wow, ouch. I got this from Netgalley a while ago — that’s the main reason I moved Poltergeeks up in the to read queue — and had no idea it would stomp on my heart. I wouldn’t have expected it from reading Poltergeeks, either: the first book is light and easy, with some drama and moments of worry, but nothing really dark or deeply affecting.

For the first hundred pages or so (as my ereader counted it, anyway), this was going to get about the same vote from me. And then the final showdown. Wow. And the aftermath of it. Wow again. Now I need another book where all of this gets sorted out, stat. If I thought things went a little too smoothly in the first book, well… that ending at least made up for it.

I know very little about Native Americans, so I’m just not going to comment on that aspect of the story, other than to say that it’s pretty awesome there are Native American characters, who have their own power and an important role to play.

Review on Goodreads.

And let’s pause a moment to enjoy those gorgeous covers, yeah?

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Something a little different

Posted 2 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

Here’s something a bit different from the rest of the content on the blog… I’ve been using Coursera.org to do several MOOCs, and one of those was on comics and graphic novels. The final project was to create your own four page comic. The point isn’t to judge the art, but to think about the use of the grid and comic conventions, think about adding colour, etc. I’ve decided I’d like to share mine here as well as on the forums there — I make no great claims about my art, but I really enjoyed the process.

Click on the cover to view the PDF, and feel free to ask questions, etc!

Cover of a comic by me, reboot

Creative Commons License
reboot by Nikki Walters is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Reading resolutions

Posted 1 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

It’s a new month and a new start and a new chance to make some resolutions about What I Will Get Done, which I probably won’t get done. It’s always worth setting out some goals, though, because I never know when I’m going to be pigheaded and insist on following through. My main problems at the moment are overflowing shelves, a backlog of books I’ve started and not finished, a backlog of ARCs, and the fact that I’m butterfly minded somet

Joking aside, here we go. I read about a book a day usually, maybe more depending on my mood and how busy I am, so I’m going to give myself a goal of twenty-five books. Normally I’d probably pick specific books, but that tends to arouse my mood of rebellion more than anything else, so I’m going to go for five categories, instead. Why five? Because I like it, that’s why.

  • Read five ARCs
  • Read five books that were in progress before 31st October
  • Read five books bought in 2o12
  • Read five books bought in 2013
  • Read five books from the library
  • BONUS: Give away five books, either on Bookmooch or as some kind of contest on here

I can do that, right?

Right?

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