Category: General


Books that define me

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

I’ve talked about books I reread, and authors for whom I will read anything they produce, which must go some way towards helping even the casual reader get to know me. But when I was thinking about possible posts for this blog, I wandered off into thinking about books that I’d give people to help them understand me — not non-fiction books, which would be too easy, but the fiction books which have shaped me or given a voice to something in me.

So I’ve come up with a little list of five and some explanations; you may also see these as recommendations.

  • There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards. If there’s a book that defines my whole childhood, I guess this is it. As far as I was concerned, there was a hippo on my roof too, and if there wasn’t, there should be. (And a giraffe in the garden.) My life is still filled with teddies, many of them hippos, and I keep a copy of this book in sight of my desk. And there’s still a hippopotamus on my roof, although sometimes now he worries about his weight, and trades in the cake for a diet of mushrooms. (Why mushrooms? That’s another story.)
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. I probably love The Lord of the Rings more than The Hobbit, but this is the book that enchanted me when I was a bit too old for Cat and Mouse or hippos on the roof. I could’ve read this endlessly, and often did. I remember one night when my parents were particularly determined to make me go to sleep, and I was equally determined not to, I read this book by the light of the streetlights down past the end of our garden, shining in just a little through my window. My imagination became full of dragons and trolls, and dwarves and gold, and wizards. And they’ve never left me either.
  • The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov. Once upon a time, my mother got me some Asimov books out of the library on her account, because they wouldn’t let me into that section and I’d read everything they didn’t drag out of my clutching little hands. I have no idea what the library fine was when I finally allowed her to take this one back, but it’s fair to say it was probably the most epic fine I’ve ever wracked up — and I did manage some epic ones in university. I loved Andrew and his struggle to become human, and still do, even if I’d happily move the other way. Also, Andrew’s struggle for his rights, for the respect of the people around him, certainly speak to me now on a level I wasn’t aware of back then. I had no idea at that age that civil rights would become an issue for me, or that they were an issue for people like me.
  • The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. I didn’t read this until I was about fifteen, sixteen, despite what everyone expects when they see my battered to death copy. I reread it just about every year, around this time; it seriously got under my skin. It’s magic with consequences: Will is an adult and more than an adult in a child’s body; Bran is isolated, motherless, starving for love; the Drews grow up over the course of the books; John Rowlands loses the love of his life, learning that she’s not the woman he thought she was… Things don’t really come alright at the end. And, of course, it draws on some of my heritage, Welsh legends, and deals with some of the tensions between Welsh and English. And there are themes about racism and bigotry, and some amazing passages about all sorts of things from justice to Englishness to responsibility.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton. I read this and thought, this is me. Of all these books, if you want to get to know me, this is the most important. Sure, there are ways in which I’m very unlike Mori, but her love affair with books, her thirst for them, some of the Welsh/English issues going on, many of the things she’s dealing with… I recognise them. For Christmas, I gave each of my ex-housemates a copy of this book. On reading the back, they all mentioned the immediate parallels between me and Mori…

Honourable mentions go to Enid Blyton’s Tales of Brave Adventure (I owned two much-loved, faded copies: one my father’s, one my mother’s), C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth.

And, perhaps surprisingly even to my mother, the old chapter-a-day retelling of the Bible for children which I had. I’m not a Christian, but I still think that a lot of the goodness in me, I learnt there.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 17 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

Some other blogs I follow do this meme, every Tuesday, and it seemed like a good idea. So! This week the top ten theme picked by The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten new-to-me authors in 2013”. This is pretty hard — I’m rubbish at picking top tens — but hey, with this one I just need to use Goodreads and look among my four and five starred books for this year, and hopefully I should be able to figure something out. They will not, I warn, be in any particular order.

  1. Cassandra Rose Clarke. I loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which reminded me of a more daring, personal The Positronic Man (Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg). All sorts of themes which I love, and there’s something so powerfully sensual about it, too — there’s a physicality to it that surprised me and moved me.
  2. Georgette Heyer. I think I may technically have read one or two of her detective novels in 2012, but I kept away from her Regency romances, because I thought that was obviously not my thing. How wrong I was! The Talisman Ring, The Reluctant Widow and The Grand Sophy were probably my favourites. Heyer’s romances are actually way more fun (for me) than her detective novels, and often wickedly funny too.
  3. Karen Lord. I’ve only read part of The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I’m enjoying it, and I really loved Redemption in Indigo. Folk-story type narration and structure, awesome female characters, etc.
  4. Martha Wells. I’ve only read City of Bones, but I loved it. Non-traditional gender stuff, avoids the easy way out, lots of tasty, tasty world building. I think I’ve bought almost all the rest of her books as a result.
  5. Franny Billingsley. Oh my goodness, Chime. Just, oh my goodness. I loved the narration, the magic, the things it said about abuse and surviving and living again. I also enjoyed The Folk Keeper and Well Wished — less so, and they’re less touching/heavy subjects, but they’re a lot of fun too.
  6. Arthur C. Clarke. Yeah, I know, I’m a bit late on this one. But I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t realise that I’d enjoy his writing style so much — I had him sort of filed away as maybe like H.G. Wells, interesting for ideas but not quite entertaining. Wroooong.
  7. Lord Dunsany. Yeah, again, I know. I read Time and the Gods and am determined to spend more time reading his stuff: it’s just the sort of mythic, rich stuff I can really dig into.
  8. C.J. Sansom. I’ve been meaning to read his stuff for quite a while, but this year I finally got round to it. I enjoy his writing style, and while there are bones I have to pick with the Shardlake books, I do enjoy his way of portraying that time period and his choice of protagonist.
  9. Chris F. Holm. About time another Angry Robot author showed up, doncha think? I love Dead Harvest, etc: it’s funny, it’s a good pastiche of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett et al., and the covers are amazing. I just had so much fun reading these books.
  10. David Weber. He and Aliette de Bodard fought a fierce battle for this last spot, but he won. I loved On Basilisk Station, despite many flaws I could find in it. I mean, ten pages of exposition slap bang in the middle of an epic space chase/battle. WHAT. But still. I love Honor and I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.

I’m being good and sticking to the letter of the law: only a top ten. The top ten books I read in 2013 is coming up not next week but the week after: goodness knows how I’ll manage with that. But for now, off I go to bury my nose in the pages of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley).

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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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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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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 5 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Parnassus on Wheels (Christopher Morley). I’ll be posting the review on the blog once I’ve finished reading the sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, but I really enjoyed it. It’s available on Project Gutenberg — I do recommend it if you love books and talking about books or heroines who are nearly forty and describe themselves as fat and have adventures and fall in love. Or preferably both.

What are you currently reading?
Other than The Haunted Bookshop, there’s also The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairytales (Maria Tatar), which is a very readable study of the Grimms’ work, the various editorial decisions they made and why, etc. I haven’t finished reading it yet, obviously, but I think I’d recommend it, for all that it’s from 1987.

There’s also Alphabet of Thorn (Patricia A. McKillip), which is gorgeous and has me enthralled, and Hangwire (Adam Christopher), which I received as an ARC. I’m enjoying the writing, but am a little bit confused right now with the plot. Must get round to reading my other Adam Christopher books, anyway.

What do you think you’ll read next?
The Iron Wolves (Andy Remic) is pretty high on my list, plus a bunch of Chuck Wendig’s books. And because of my partner, it’s totally her fault, The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger). And I do want to finish reading the Ultimate Spider-man comics. But I think you know by now that I am terrible at reading what I think I’m going to read.

Books acquired:
I don’t think I’ve bought anything this week. Pretty sure I haven’t! I’m doing so well. But I did receive a bunch of ARCs from Angry Robot in the mail, including Hangwire and The Iron Wolves, and I picked up The Seers (Julianna Scott) and Known Devil (Justin Gustainis) from Netgalley, although I haven’t finished the previous books in either series.

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Depression Quest

Posted 4 December, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 4 Comments

I’m trying to mostly keep my blog about books, since that was what I established it for, but sometimes I come across things I really want to share, and this is one of them. Depression Quest is a text-based game (with audio), based on living with depression. It isn’t an easy game to play, emotionally, though it’s very simple in style — basically choose your own adventure — but I think it’s an important one.

You play as an unnamed, ungendered person who has a girlfriend called Alex, and the world is peopled with a support network — Attic, an online friend; Sam, a co-worker; your mother; your brother Malcolm; a therapist who an old friend helps you find. All of these react in different ways if you turn to them for help with your depression, just like real people.

I played through on more or less the route I’ve been able to take in real life: seeing a counsellor, getting on medication, talking to my partner and family fairly openly about it. Even so, parts of the game made me cry. I don’t want to open it up again and play through a different route. It isn’t perfectly representative of all the possible problems you can have when you’re depressed, but it offers a little taste that does, to my mind, two important things. 1) It tells people with depression that they’re not alone, that that uselessness and darkness they feel is experienced by others, and 2) it can provide a way for them to demonstrate to other people both what it feels like and the obstacles that face you.

Depression Quest is a game, a story, and an important contribution to openly talking about depression. It really makes me wonder if I should offer to write a script for “Anxiety Quest”…

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Carrie Patel

Posted 28 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Today Angry Robot announced a new acquisition — a new author, even. Today they’re giving a big welcome to Carrie Patel, which is extra-special to me too because I finally — finally! — get to tell you a bit more about the acquisitions meeting I went to, i.e., the name of the author we acquired. And pssst, it’s a secret, but I was rooting for Carrie all along.

The first book is called The Buried Life, and here’s the summary:

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

I’ve read the first five chapters, in preparation for that acquisition meeting, and I was really intrigued. There are strong characters — particularly strong female characters — and an interesting world. Lee Harris described it to me as a “steampunk adventure”, which seemed to fit what I was able to read: a steampunk adventure with cool, strong women — women from different walks of life/social classes, too.

I’m looking forward to seeing Carrie Patel’s book in print (I get an ARC, right? right?!). In the meantime, go say hi to her on Twitter @Carrie_Patel, or browse her website.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 27 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
A lot of Spider-man comics. I’m trying to read all twenty-two of the Ultimate Spider-man comics before I leave my partner’s and head back to Britain. I’m on volume thirteen. I don’t know if I can do it.

I also read a book from the local library, Tanith Lee’s White as Snow.

What are you currently reading?
Uh. Spider-man! And… more Spider-man. I’ve still got Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow partly read: I thought I’d finish that easily, but there have been so many distractions.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, I know I need to read The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) for my SF/F class this week, so that’ll probably be next. There’s also… a ton more Spider-man!

Books acquired:
I don’t think there’s been anything since last week! I’ve been tempted, but I’ve been good. Nothing on Netgalley yet, either, though I’m hoping for the latest Flavia de Luce book, and the conclusion of Maria V. Snyder’s current trilogy. Fingers crossed!

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The 2014 Sci-fi Experience

Posted 26 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Another readathon type thing readers here might be interested in…

2014sfexp200
At the same time as the Vintage SF reading group thing is going on, and Long Awaited Reads Month, although this starts earlier, we have a challenge/readathon all about reading SF. Again, something I can definitely get behind. I refer you to my Long Awaited Reads post for the books I might be reading…

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