I skipped last week’s Top Ten Tuesday because TV in general is not my thing (ask my wife how long I’ve been vaguely intending to watch all of NCIS…), and this week’s theme is so hard it makes me tempted to skip it too: “Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre”.
I mean, what genre do I even pick? (Well, fantasy, obviously.) And then how do I narrow it down? But here’s a bash at it…
- The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. And absolutely no one is surprised. I just love the hopefulness in it, the mindfulness of the main character, the clever linguistic stuff, all the characters and their flaws… I saw someone describe a five star read as being the sort of book where you love it even for its flaws, and I think that’s a very apt description of how I feel about The Goblin Emperor.
- The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I like The Hobbit, but I don’t love it in the intellectual way I love unravelling LotR. I studied Tolkien’s work during my degree, I’ve read the source texts and inspirations, I’ve gone a full circle from loving to hating to accepting and appreciating Tolkien’s style… Again, a book I love with its flaws and all.
- The Grey King, by Susan Cooper. It’s difficult to choose a single book of this sequence, but I think The Grey King is my favourite, for Bran. I love the atmosphere, the background lore and mystery, and I appreciate that we see a few more shades of grey in this book than in the others.
- The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The first book by GGK that I read, and one that has stuck with me more than the others, even when it isn’t stylistically, objectively the best. It’s a homage to previous fantasy, including Tolkien, and it includes characters whose loves and hates tear me apart. It’s another one I definitely love despite its flaws, and maybe even because of them.
- The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin. A Wizard of Earthsea probably means more to me, in that I connect with Ged’s self-discovery more than Tenar’s, but I’ve always loved the style of this one, the world it describes, the slow rituals of the Nameless ones, and the quiet moments of clarity Le Guin is so good at writing. I’m not sure I admit of any flaws possible in this book…
- Chalice, by Robin McKinley. This one snuck up on me, and I never expected to love it as much as I do. But something about the world McKinley created, the domestic aspects, the homeishness of the way it feels… This is one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to someone else, but it found a corner of my heart to live in.
- Among Others, by Jo Walton. Needless to say, really. I connect so strongly with Mori, her love of reading and imagining, and with some of her difficulties of identity too.
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. The first time I read this, I settled down to read a chapter — and promptly read the whole book. I love the world Jemisin created.
- In the Labyrinth of Drakes, by Marie Brennan. Or this whole series, really — I just found the latest installment so satisfying that it went immediately on my favourites shelf. The books have grown on me since the first time I read the first one, and now I think I’d happily devour them over and over.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I hesitated about this one, because it’s not the same sort of love I have for the other books. Instead it’s a kind of appreciation of how it was put together, the cleverness and care of it — not a passionate caring about the characters or even the world. It was the experience of reading it that I loved, more than the book itself.
That was easier than I thought — whew. What would be on your list?
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie around the theme “back to school”. I’m sure there’s plenty of YA novels out there people are recommending that involve schools, so I’m gonna take the other way and send y’all back to school — with some non-fiction books I think are awesome.
- A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor. The objects are all in the British Museum, so there’s definitely some problems with a very Western viewpoint, but I found it all fascinating and MacGregor does acknowledge the issues. There’s a little bit of history from all over the world here, even if it is only a very little bit in some cases.
- Pompeii, by Mary Beard. Going from the general to the hyperfocused, Mary Beard’s book on Pompeii is a fascinating survey of what we know and can guess about Pompeii.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. If you haven’t read this, I definitely recommend it: it’s a fascinating look at the development of cancer research, and the debts incurred along the way. There’s a lot of issues about race and consent that are worth considering.
- Shaking Hands With Death, by Terry Pratchett. Or the longer book which contains that essay, A Slip of the Keyboard. I’m wholly supportive of the initiative to pass laws on assisted suicide, and Pratchett’s words are to the point and heartfelt.
- The Ancestor’s Tale, by Richard Dawkins. This book is really the best of Dawkins — mostly devoid of sniping at religious people, and concentrating on the science. The Ancestor’s Tale tells the tale of human ancestry, back through countless common ancestors. Provided you believe in evolution, this might be the least controversial Dawkins book, since as I recall it doesn’t propose any new theories either.
- Spillover, by David Quammen. Are you scared about the idea of a pandemic? We’re making them more likely all the time, and this book is a very good look at how and why.
- Behind the Shock Machine, by Gina Perry. Stanley Milgram’s shock experiments are so famous that the findings have spilled out of psychology and into general knowledge. But Gina Perry examines the evidence from the experiments and raises some serious questions about Milgram’s ethics, and even his results.
- Stonehenge, by Mike Parker Pearson. Pearson was part of a huge project at Stonehenge to reinterpret the evidence and expand what we know. His theories are pretty well supported by the archaeology, on which he did a lot of work.
- Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. Our brains are really, really weird. Like, turns out that there are autoimmune disorders of the brain which can mimic various psychological problems, and pass almost under the radar — instead, Cahalan’s condition was dismissed as borderline personality disorder, psychopathy, etc. And yet she was curable, with antibiotics. It just goes to prove we don’t know everything yet.
- DNA, by James Watson. Skip Watson’s admittedly historically important The Double Helix unless you want to be enraged. DNA has much the same information and a lot more, while being more accessible and less sexist.
Tahdah! I know it’s a rather eclectic mix; that’s how my brain works, I’m afraid. Any of these catch your eye?
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is for books that have been on your TBR since before you started blogging… and you still haven’t read them. Well, I haven’t got anything (surprisingly) from before I started using Goodreads, but I sure as heck have a whole bunch from before I started this blog.
- Emma, by Jane Austen. It doesn’t help that my mother haaaates Jane Austen. I kind of gained some appreciation while doing my degree, but I’m still not filled with enthusiasm.
- Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. Everything about the idea of predatory cities chasing each other across the land appeals. I just fail at getting round to my backlist.
- The Island of Apples, by Glyn Jones. This was even a set book during my BA module on Welsh Fiction in English and I still haven’t read it.
- Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoy Marillier’s work, in general, and yet. And yet.
- Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree Jr. I am a bad feminist SF fan, I know.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Everyone and their mother has read this. Except me. (Well, and my mother.)
- Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany. I know, I can’t believe it either, this is a classic.
- Scott of the Antarctic, by David Crane. I know this is a bit of an odd one out here, but I actually find myself reluctant to go ahead and read it, because it’s the last book my grandad ever bought me before he died. While it’s still waiting on the shelf, it feels like prolonging something. The other book bought at the same time is one on railways, which is even more connected with my grandad.
- A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham. I think this was recommended by Jo Walton? Was that where I got this one from? Anyway, it’s been on my list since at least 2013.
- Point of Hopes, by Melissa Scott. Queer fantasy! Yesplz.
What about you? Anything been kicking around your lists for years? And do you feel guilty, or just go with the flow?
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Books in X Setting. And X iiiiis… post-disaster settings!
- Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews. I love magical apocalypses, and this is also snarky and pacy and full of tasty mythology.
- Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. It’s never entirely clear what’s happened, but this is our world aslant: full of magic and magical creatures.
- Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey. Welcome to Outpost: a town forgotten by most Americans, cordoned off as part of a murky war against uncertain opponents.
- Feed, by Mira Grant. Zombies! And also politics. This is mostly about ‘what happens after’; it’s not mindless gore or horror, but about trying to build a life despite a disaster that has changed everything.
- Farthing, by Jo Walton. Hopefully you do agree that compromises with the Nazis qualifies as a disaster for 1940s Britain…
- The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but the idea of cyclical disasters… well, that secures it a place on this list right away, plus it’s N.K. Jemisin, so I know it’s solid.
- The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. Maybe, anyway. Don’t you wonder about what happened to the Eldren?
- Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds. Humans wrecked the Earth in all sorts of fun ways, which included sentient algae blooms making rude gestures visible from space. It’s not as quirky as that makes it sound, actually, but the whole story is framed by that disaster and, along with it, the loss of knowledge as humanity’s digital past was all but erased.
- The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham. It’s a classic, and deservedly so.
- City of Bones, by Martha Wells. It’s post-apocalyptic fantasy. I feel like there needs to be tonnes more books like this.
So, what about you? Any you’d recommend for my list? Any TTTs I just have to check out?
This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is a topic you’ve missed over the years and want to revisit… and strangely, when I did a couple of searches on my blog, I didn’t find any posts about my bookish pet peeves. So here goes!
- Miscommunication. I think y’all know I hate this one, but it’s especially bad when it’s a couple or something, and you know they should trust each other — they’ve even given each other countless reasons to trust in the past. It’s the most annoying plot device, even if it really does happen in real life, because I just don’t want to spend time with characters who make the same stupid mistakes over and over.
- “I like you just as you are… so I’ll make sure you never change.” That’s not actually love, guys. People change and grow and make free choices, and make mistakes, and you have to let them. It’s creepy as fuck when one character decides that they get to say what another character will do for the sake of their purity or whatever.
- Insta-love. Unless there’s a reason, like you’re the reincarnation of Guinevere and he’s the reincarnation of Arthur and when you meet you feel the weight of your history, or… whatever, just something that explains it, something that gives it weight. Else it’s just a cheap way to add drama.
- People are the real evil. I think this is true in many respects, but I hate it when a horror novel or something over-focuses on people being awful. I’m here for witches and ghosts and monsters, and not the human sort.
- Privilege flipping. It’s been done well by someone, I’m sure, but most of the time it’s really tone deaf, and in some cases just wouldn’t work — e.g. a whole world where gay relationships are the only sort allowed. If that’s the case, then you have to address the issue of procreation, and then also deal with the way that changes society. If there are artificial wombs, fine, but it changes things as well.
- Changing just one thing. In reality, it’d be like the first in a chain of dominoes. That’s why we have the whole ‘butterfly beating its wings’ saying; a small change here or there will change something else, which will change another thing, which will have a cascading effect. I don’t think there’s any choices we can make that don’t affect something. If I wear my purple socks today, I can’t wear them tomorrow, and I can’t have a conversation about my hedgehog socks today.
- Stories where women apparently don’t communicate. Like somehow there’s all these housewives who just stay in their houses the whole time and never even cross paths to borrow a cup of sugar, or… It just makes no sense. Even if all your main characters are men (why?) then the female characters in the background will still interact with each other, and if not, there’d better be a good reason.
- Narrators. Okay, narrators in themselves aren’t a pet peeve, but if you have someone narrating a story, I kind of want to know why they’re telling it. I love it when a story gives you context for the narrator narrating: this was an interview with x, this is y’s diary, etc. Otherwise, who the heck are they talking to? Themselves? And if they are, then why do they need to explain what their favourite colour is and how tall they are?
- Just one exception. A character can read everybody’s mind… except one. No reason, it just complicates their relationship. If there’s a rule in your fictional universe, every exception needs to have a purpose. How does it drive the story?
- Inquits. You really don’t have to look for a gazillion alternatives to “said”. They stick out like a sore thumb when you have characters yelling, bawling, crying, shouting, whispering, choking, gasping… “Said” is perfectly useful for attributing dialogue. If you’re using another word, it needs to be doing twice the work.
So there’s my somewhat random set of pet peeves! Share any? Disagree? Feel free to chip in!
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a theme after my own heart: what ten books would you buy if someone handed you a fully loaded gift card right now?
- Ultimates: Omniversal, by Al Ewing. I’ve never much liked the sound of the Ultimates as such, though I enjoy Ultimate Spider-man, but this line-up just sounds straight-up amazing. America Chavez and Captain Marvel? Sign me right up.
- Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight, by Tara Butters. Okay, I love DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel, but I love the character too, and I’m excited to see what a new writer has done for her.
- Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier. Because I don’t have a physical copy, and I haven’t got round to reading it yet either.
- A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. I’ve read this twice now, but I still don’t own a physical copy. What’s wrong with me?
- Gunmetal Magic, by Ilona Andrews. I’m jolted by the gap in Andrea’s story that Kate’s books just bridged in a matter of sentences. Gimme more Andrea!
- The New Avengers: Everything Is New, by Al Ewing. The number of Avengers teams is going to get confusing but excuse me is that Hulkling on the cover? And Wiccan?
- The Dragons of Heaven, by Alyc Helms. I got intrigued by Robert’s review.
- Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. I borrowed it from the library, but didn’t get round to it before I had to return it. And now I’ve seen it in a bookstore here…
- Blackout, by Mira Grant. I apparently don’t have this third book of the trilogy? And nor does the library? Arghh.
- Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s not out until the 13th, but I’d totally put in my preorder now.
What’s anyone else dying to get their hands on?
This week’s theme from The Broke and The Bookish is “top ten things books made me want to do or learn”. Now I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with some serious answers (like the way The Grey King by Susan Cooper always makes me want to learn to play the harp — or the way books on archaeology really make me reconsider my childhood dream of working with Time Team), but it’s waaaay too warm here, so you get the silly version.
- Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. Magic! Obviously! I want to be able to dress myself or cook a meal with a word. That’d be really handy.
- Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews. I want to be able to sword fight like Kate. I mean, okay, I am a total wuss about pain in reality, but I’d be badass anyway.
- Hawkeye, from Marvel. Or countless other archers in my reading past, like Katniss. Because archery looks fun.
- Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I want to know when people are lying, like Lying Cat. Okay, that would probably actually really suck. Some lies really do smooth the way between people.
- Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I want to rock a monocle like Lord Peter. And say things like “I’ll make a noise like a hoop and roll away.”
- Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton. I want to be a dragon. That counts for this list, right? And I want to wear really cute hats. As a dragon.
- The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North. Maybe not all the time, but I’d love Hope’s ability to be forgotten. Especially when I’ve just embarrassed myself.
- A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. Studying dragons would be really super easy if I was a dragon (see #6).
- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. The title says it all.
- Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. I want to know how to make tea. No, really, I suck at it. Nobody likes my tea.
Anyone else done a silly version…?
This post is a little later in the day than usual, because apparently I suck at timekeeping. Sorry! This week’s theme is “books set outside the US”. Which does actually cover a fair old number of books I know, since I come from the UK, but I’ll see what I can do to make an interesting list!
- Cocaine Blues, by Kerry Greenwood. This is the first book in the Phryne Fisher series, set in Australia. It’s a lot of fun, has LGBTQ characters, found families, and a proactive, capable female lead.
- The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. This is a solid historical fiction, based on real findings about Roman Britain, and suitable for just about all ages. The protagonist, Marcus, is injured seriously, early in the book, and throughout the book there are also excellent depictions of how he deals with the pain and disability.
- Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch. Urban fantasy, but set in London and the surrounding environs, this is the start of a series which features Peter Grant, a police officer who turns out to be able to use magic and thus solve magical-related crimes.
- Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan. This is historical fantasy set in Elizabethan England. I might not love it quite as much as the slightly-alternate-reality in Brennan’s Lady Trent books, but it’s awesome nonetheless.
- The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North. This hops all over the place, but it starts in Dubai and spends a good portion of the time there and in other countries round the world.
- Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds. Most of the action takes place in an alternate version of 1940s France; some takes place in the future, in floating habitats in Earth’s atmosphere. (Guess who managed to mess up the environment.)
- The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Very fine historical fantasy, set in the reign of Mary Tudor. It’s partly based on the ‘Tam Lin’ story, but it also becomes something very much its own.
- The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig. Noticed how many of these are fantasy set in our world? It’s my thing, sorry. This one, too, set mostly in Hawaii and using mythical aspects of life in Honolulu.
- Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m not a huge fan of the first book of this series, but the second book took off for me. Alt-Regency, with an interesting form of magic…
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This one is pretty popular, but I must put it in the list anyway because I love how very British it is (though it does feature other places in Europe). It’s a huge tome, but worth it, I promise.
Now let’s hope I find some time to visit other people’s posts for more bookshelf inspiration!
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about me. Well, by that I mean, the theme is ten facts about me. As in, ten facts about the blogger writing the post.
Yes, I am this awkward in person, too.
- I can read in a lot more languages than I can speak (with some help from a glossary, dictionary or simultaneous translation, in some cases). I can read modern English (obviously), French, Anglo-Saxon, Middle English and Old Icelandic. I can only really speak English, though my French is starting to become usable. (I’m also learning Welsh and Dutch, but I am very, very far from being able to read in either. Though I do know how to say “I’m reading a book” in both.)
- I can taste words. I’m a lexical->gustatory synaesthete. So, in fact, is my mother. I did not know this was not a thing until I read a book which included synaesthesia as a character trait. The word “torture” tastes of dark chocolate. The Hobbit as a whole tastes like Werther’s Originals. The associations do not necessarily make sense, but sometimes they really do. (Among my favourite words to say: steps, stepped, swept, slept, crept, leapt, crypt… I don’t even know what they taste of, but I like it. When I say words in French or Dutch, they do not have a flavour. Welsh does, though. Brains are fascinating!)
- I still can’t pick a career, and I’m 26. Nearly 27. I mean, at this point I have an MA in English literature… but am now partway through a BSc. I read a non-fiction book and promptly want that to be my career. Microbiology, genetics, archaeology, psychology, neurology, literary theory… Can’t I do it all?
- I couldn’t read until I was seven. So please stop talking about how real bookworms teach themselves to read at two, people.
- If I can’t buy you books, I don’t know what to do with you. There are some great people in my life who just don’t read, and I cannot figure it out at all. What on earth do I buy you for presents???!
- As a piece of geeky silliness related to #3, I once came up with a genetic cross which shows why I’m such a bookworm. It is, of course, entirely spurious and unlikely (though of course there’s probably genetic influence in me being an introvert, the synaesthesia, etc, which all contribute to making me a reader), but I had fun. TAHDAH.
- I read to my house rabbit. She likes it and has been known to bite me if I stop before she’s ready.
- My imagination is completely non-visual. My memory also. I remember things in text; I can’t picture things the way other people seem to. Instead, I have word-pictures, and sometimes that means I have more of a ‘feeling’ about a character than a mental image. So Faramir in the LOTR movies is wrong not because he looks wrong but because he is not as noble and capable of resisting the Ring as the real Faramir. (Even though the reasoning for changing that for the film completely made sense.)
- The only thing I recall my parents banning me from reading as a kid was The Lord of the Rings. This was purely for the reason that my mother wanted me to be old enough to properly appreciate it, not because they ever policed the content of what I read.
- My biggest library fine on a single book was something like four times the actual value of the book. It would have been cheaper to just pay for a replacement. And it was on my mother’s library card. Whoops. (The book was The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and I note with distress that I cannot find my copy. Which is doubly annoying as my partner bought it for me early in our relationship, after I mentioned reading it from the library a gazillion times but never seeing another copy since then.)
Welp, I hope that was a suitably entertaining set of facts!
This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Underrated Books’ — books with less than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads. Some of these only have a handful of ratings, though some are more popular; I tried to pick a range, because if I just picked the most underrated books it’d all be Welsh fiction, and y’all probably wouldn’t be that interested. (But if you are, go forth and read Kate Roberts, Rhys Davies, Menna Gallie, Margiad Evans…)
- The Man Who Went into the West, Byron Rogers. A biography of R.S. Thomas, this was a lovely mix of fact and rather chatty character portrait: it makes R.S. Thomas come alive, as a man of contradictions and contrasts.
- The Hidden Landscape, Richard Fortey. Or any of Fortey’s books, really; something about his style made even geology fascinating to me, and I’m not actually that interested in geology. There’s a poetry to the landscape and the long shaping of it which Fortey sees and communicates very clearly.
- Cold Night Lullaby, Colin Mackay. Only read this collection of poetry if you want your heart to be ripped from your chest. It covers the poet’s experiences in Sarajevo as an aid worker, and inspired Karine Polwart’s song ‘Waterlily’. The video here includes Polwart’s introduction to Mackay’s life and work.
- Dead Man’s Embers, Mari Strachan. Painful in a different way, this book follows the recovery of a man returned to his Welsh village after the Great War. There’s a touch of magic realism, but the emotional heart of the story is very real.
- A Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. I haven’t read this in ages, and in fact need to reread it, but I remember it very fondly — and remember passing it round to various friends and relations, hence why my partner has a stack of this series tempting me to reread now…
- A Taste of Blood Wine, Freda Warrington. I really didn’t expect to fall so in love with a gothic vampire romance, but it’s so unapologetic about examining the effects of the vampires and the way they choose to live on the people around them that I fell for it all the same. I think fans of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books would probably be a good fit.
- Iron and Gold, Hilda Vaughan. A classic fairytale situation, in a Welsh setting; it humanises the fairytale, making the pain of it really hit you, while also examining human relationships and how they work.
- The Complete Brandstetter, Joseph Hansen. I’ve been amazed at how little I’ve ever heard about these books since my housemate wrote a dissertation on gay detectives in crime fiction. It deals with so many issues — AIDs, racial issues, homophobia, and beyond that into aging, relationships in general… and also delivers solid story after solid story.
- Exiled From Camelot, Cherith Baldry. I read this for my own dissertation, which probably accounts for how fond I am of it. It’s not perfect, but the bond between Arthur and Kay is painfully real (and something often neglected in other modern fiction). It’s also an interesting mixture of materials, with stuff straight from both the Welsh sources and the much later Continental tradition.
- The Fox’s Tower, and Other Tales, Yoon Ha Lee. I love microfiction, and this is one of the few collections I can think of which I would fairly whole-heartedly recommend. Yoon Ha Lee gets the art of the really short story.
I’ll be interested to see what other people have picked out this week — especially if you talk a bit about why. Link me!