Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 12 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Top Ten Books I’m Not Sure I Want To Read”, which is an interesting one. Here goes…

  1. The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’m fairly sure I don’t want to read this anymore, with all the stuff that’s come out about Bradley’s child abuse, enabling of paedophilia, etc. And I know I loathed The Mists of Avalon. But it’s Cassandra of Troy, and that gives me this tiny spark of hope, because I haven’t read enough about her… but yeah, probably a bad idea.
  2. So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane. For no big reason, it’s just — they’ve been on my to read list for so long, and have never yet caught my attention and said “read me, now”.
  3. The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I know I’ve read books of his before, but the ones in this series haven’t really stuck in my mind, and I’m not sure I have the interest anymore.
  4. The Body at the Tower, Y.S. Lee. I read the first book ages ago and thought it was okay, but… the fact that I never went on to the second or third books, and I mean not even within two or three years, doesn’t really encourage me to go back and try them.
  5. Snobbery with Violence, M.C. Beaton. Did noooot get on with her Agatha Raisin books.
  6. Avempartha, Michael J. Sullivan. I liked the first book well enough, but it’s another where I just didn’t pick up the next.
  7. Empress, Karen Miller. I loved what she did with characters in the Innocent Mage duology, but some of the plot was just… argh, cartoon villains and such slow development of events. And other people have said they didn’t think she did a good job with the characters here.
  8. The Many-Coloured Land, Julian May. I tried these when I was younger and never got into them… Sorry Mum.
  9. The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker. Mostly just because it’s so dauntingly long.
  10. Lord Foul’s Bane, Stephen Donaldson. Sorry again, Mum! This is just one that’s never appealed to me that much, especially because of the way the character behaves very early on. (The description of his leprosy, etc, didn’t bother me at all; while others think that’s a slow beginning, I liked the way it set him up. But his behaviour? Ughh.)

So, what about everyone else? And if you tell me The Lord of the Rings, we need to have words. (You are allowed not to like it, I swear.)

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Review – Sarah Canary

Posted 11 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sarah Canary by Karen Joy FowlerSarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler

I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn’t going to enjoy it, since I haven’t enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that’s not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don’t get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren’t clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way life pushes them.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that kind of story, it just doesn’t really do anything for me. Well, I’m sure there are exceptions, but this wasn’t one — the best I can say is that I read it very quickly, I had no intention of stopping, and I did find it interesting. Partially because of the genre-twisty is-this-SF question about it, rather than because of it — ambiguous stories don’t bother me, but the combination of style and character here did.

On the other hand, I did like the portrayal of B.J. For all that he’s clearly “not all there” in colloquial terms, he’s good at heart and the way he sees the world makes for an interesting point of view. The passages from his point of view were maybe the best in the novel, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Seven Deadly Sins (of reading)

Posted 10 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Quite like this meme which I lifted from Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts.

GREED – What is your most inexpensive book?

Well, aside from all the freebies, bookmooched stuff, etc, I think it’d have been something from a charity shop. I have a copy of Raymond E. Feist’s Magician that cost me 20p, for example. (Why I bought it when I already own it in paperback and ebook is a mystery I’ll leave for you to ponder.)

WRATH – What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

Philip Palmer. The books of his I’ve loved, I’ve really loved (despite having giant problems with them, in some cases). And then two of his other books were so meh I wanted to shake him.

GLUTTONY – What book have you devoured over and over with no shame?

The Lord of the Rings, of course. Well, and The Hobbit; they come as a pair for me, really, but I’ve probably read The Hobbit more, since Mum wouldn’t let me read LOTR until I was old enough to appreciate it. I could pretty much start it again once I’ve finished it; it’d have to go with me to a desert island.

SLOTH – What book have you neglected reading due to laziness?

An awful lot of books. One example… Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. I’ve had it on my shelves for ages now.

PRIDE – What book do you talk most about to sound like an intellectual reader?

I don’t think I do that much. Maybe Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Which I honestly do love, though. I’d rather show you how smart I am by telling you all about how Tolkien used his sources in The Lord of the Rings, for all that it’s looked down upon by some “intellectuals”. He was a clever, clever man.

LUST – What attributes do you find attractive in male or female characters?

In any characters, male, female or otherwise, it’s compassion and loyalty. I am gaga for the stupidly loyal ones.

ENVY – What book would you most like to receive as a gift?

Other than a first edition of LOTR? Honestly, I’m not too acquisitive about books in that sense — I’m not envious of the books other people have, generally. Sometimes there’s an ARC that makes me flail — like, I missed out on Kim Curran’s Delete when it was on Netgalley, since I expected to be able to buy it soon after, except then there was Strange Chemistry’s demise… Now I’m jealous of everyone with a copy.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 9 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 41 Comments

Aaaand it’s time for Stacking the Shelves, a la Tynga’s Reviews, as usual. I’m still on a book ban until WorldCon (I think this is the third week now I haven’t bought anything), but I am still receiving ARCs and freebies, woo.

Via Bookbridgr

Cover of A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick Cover of Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene

Both of these sounded intriguing when I looked them up. I’ve already finished A Love Like Blood — review here.

Won

Cover of One Two Three by Elodie Nowodazkij

Won from Reading Is My Treasure‘s giveaway — can’t believe I forgot to include this last week. Thank you to her and the author for sending me this.

NetGalley

Cover of Hollow Crown by Dan Jones Cover of Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie Cover of The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas

I’ve been reading other stuff around the War of the Roses recently, so I guess it’s not surprising I jumped at that one. I’ve been looking at Gutenberg’s Apprentice for a while, especially since I read The Gutenberg Revolution earlier in the year. And The Hidden Blade just looked kinda fun. Swordswomen! Even if swordsmanship in that dress seems… unlikely.

What’s everyone else been getting their grubby hands on?

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Review – Mindstar Rising

Posted 8 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. HamiltonMindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising is a reasonably entertaining technological thriller, though I’m not going to touch the politics aspect of the speculative world Hamilton has created. The pace is okay, enough to keep you interested, and there are some characters that you get a little caught up in — Julia, for example, and her grandfather; I felt pity for the wreck he was in, and sympathy because of the way he adored her. And Julia… I sympathised with the way she was struggling to figure out how she fit into the world.

On the whole, though, I won’t be reading more of Hamilton’s work, at least until I’ve got this ridiculous stack of books down a bit (unless there’s another Hamilton book hiding in the pile). I think it’s something more in my sister’s line than mine, perhaps. Anyway, my main problem was the main character, Greg Mandel. He was just bland to me, up to the point where he used his psychic abilities to seduce a much younger, vulnerable woman. Then I started feeling twitchy. It’s one thing to use it against people in criminal investigations — although even then, I feel like someone’s thoughts and emotions are really their own business and no one else’s — but using it for the sole purpose of getting laid?

Also, man, I have had enough of the male gaze-y crap. There are intelligent women in this book, strong women, but I think every woman Mandel comes across is evaluated first in terms of how she looks. I’ve had quiiiiiite enough of that, thank you.

Entertaining, like I said, but I’m not feeling the enthusiasm.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – A Love Like Blood

Posted 7 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Love Like Blood by Marcus SedgwickA Love Like Blood, Marcus Sedgwick

A Love Like Blood is a pretty disturbing book. I wasn’t sure that to expect when I requested it from Bookbridgr, and I’m a little worried that everything I say or tag it with is going to spoil the story somewhat. It’s a mystery, a slowly unravelling one, and part of that mystery is actually what genre we’re in here. I suggest you don’t read beyond here in this review if you’re planning on reading this; while I’ll try not to include spoilers as such, it still might inform your reading of the novel.

Given Sedgwick’s previous work, I expected it to have paranormal elements; I wasn’t expecting the darkness of this story, though perhaps from this quote on the back, I should’ve: “the worst monsters are entirely human.” I’m still not sure how exactly I feel about that bait-and-switch — everything about it seemed to suggest a sort of gothic vampire novel, especially with Lindqvist blurbing it.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. I admire the structure of it, the way it plays with the reader’s expectations: it’s very conscious of other books in the various related genres, I think. I admire the way it comes together, and of course it leaves me thinking back over the story and what each little event described means — because it does all mean something.

I’m a bit baffled by the way some reviewers reached the end of this and then still complained the character was not likeable enough to follow for the whole book. Well, if you read for likeable characters, then that’s valid, but I can’t understand finishing the book and then feeling that Sedgwick accidentally made his protagonist a creep.

In terms of the writing style, I found it a pretty easy read. It’s written in a slightly old-fashioned style, since it’s narrated from the point of view of an educated Englishman during/post WWII; I thought that was reasonably well handled, though I do find myself wondering why the narrator is telling the story, and to who.

All in all, I think I’m rating this a slightly uneasy 3/5. It possibly deserves more in some respects, but I can’t say I liked it. This is a compromise between the fact that I found it interesting but also repellant.

Rating: 3/5

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Throwback Thursday

Posted 7 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

It’s been a while since I did Throwback Thursday, which some book bloggers are using to highlight books they’ve had kicking around for a while and haven’t got round to yet. But there’s definitely tons and tons of books on the list for me. Each time I do this, I narrow it down to three… So far, it hasn’t got me to hurry up and read them yet, but I live in hope.

The Alchemist of Souls, Anne Lyle

Cover of The Alchemist of Souls by Anne LyleWhen Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

It’s an Angry Robot book, so it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll get round to this in the end. And I do love alternate history scenarios, especially when they blend in magic. I’ve actually got the whole trilogy, so it’s really high time I got round to this.

River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay

Cover of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayRen Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

I love pretty much everything GGK’s written, so I’m excited to get round to this. That’s a while away, though, because I have a plan to read through all of his work, chronological order by publication, to watch his skills and themes developing. I’m on A Song for Arbonne.

To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts

Cover of To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny WurtsWhen Princess Anja fails to appear at her betrothal banquet, the tiny, peaceful kingdom of Sessalie is plunged into intrigue. Two warriors are charged with recovering the distraught king’s beloved daughter. Taskin, Commander of the Royal Guard, whose icy competence and impressive life-term as the Crown’s right-hand man command the kingdom’s deep-seated respect; and Mykkael, the rough-hewn newcomer who has won the post of Captain of the Garrison – a scarred veteran with a deadly record of field warfare, whose ‘interesting’ background and foreign breeding are held in contempt by court society.

As the princess’s trail vanishes outside the citadel’s gates, anxiety and tension escalate. Mykkael’s investigations lead him to a radical explanation for the mystery, but he finds himself under suspicion from the court factions. Will Commander Taskin’s famous fair-mindedness be enough to unravel the truth behind the garrison captain’s dramatic theory: that the resourceful, high-spirited princess was not taken by force, but fled the palace to escape a demonic evil?

I’ve been meaning to try Janny Wurts forever, ever since I was reading Raymond E. Feist’s books and she did work with him. I’ll probably get to That Way to Camelot first, but I’ve read the first few pages of this one and was very nearly sucked in…

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Thursday Thoughts: Bookstores

Posted 7 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

This week’s theme for Thursday Thoughts, hosted by Ok, Let’s Read, is “bookstores”. Which is actually a suggestion I made, so hee. (P.S. Looks like we’re running out of themes, so do go and drop in some prompts.)

My Favorite Bookstore – When it comes to buying books which store is your favorite? Do you prefer big chain stores or independent bookstores? Do you even have any independent bookstores near where you live? And, here’s the one that’s going to be the most revealing; How often would you say you go to the bookstore? Do you buy something every time you go there?

It really depends on what I’m looking for. For example, if I’m looking for comics, I avoid Forbidden Planet. I either go to Waterstones for TPBs, or my local indie for individual issues. It’s a tiny little place, I think the walls might be supported with comics/comics merchandise, and it looks like you can order online, so hey: Comic Guru.

Generally, the Waterstones stores in Leeds, Wakefield or Cardiff are where I do the bulk of my shopping. There is an indie bookshop in Cardiff, but it doesn’t have the biggest stock ever. If there’s something I want to order, they can do that, but if I just want to browse, I want to have a reasonably big store to wander around in. The indie is really friendly, but so are the staff in all the Waterstones stores I frequent, too. Some of them, I’ve been seeing working there for ten years. And yes, I recognise them and often they will also recognise me. Gulp. I might spend a bit too much time in bookshops. The reward system in Waterstones is good though…

There’s a secondhand bookshop in Cardiff that’s great, too. Generally I’d go there if I’m looking for something unusual, something I won’t come across as a glossy paperback. Lots of classic SF and fantasy there, as well as a big section for general fiction, etc. Some rare books too, I think, and a lot of individual issues of classic comics. All in all: you never know what you’ll be able to find there.

How often I go there, well — every few weeks, probably? Or whenever I’m close by. I don’t always buy something, but I quite often do, because I’m a fast reader and, more importantly, weak.

Mind you, at the moment, I don’t go at all. Book ban for me until WorldCon.

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Review – Gloriana

Posted 7 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gloriana by Michael MoorcockGloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen, Michael Moorcock

When I started reading Gloriana — maybe even before that, when I read about the premise — I was very doubtful about whether I’d like it. The way the plot revolves around the fact that Gloriana can’t have an orgasm just baffled me: it made it sound like that was the most important thing in life, which… it isn’t. Still, actually reading the book, and especially the ending, made me think that aspect of it is actually a metaphor. I understand people who find the ending abhorrent: there’s a rape scene which may seem to imply that someone who is anorgasmic just needs to be raped.

Reading both the original and revised endings, though, I don’t think that was where Moorcock was going with that. In both, he emphasises that what finally allows Gloriana to find fulfilment is not anything really to do with sex, but that for the first time in her life, she can focus solely and entirely on herself. For the rest of the book — the rest of Gloriana’s life — she’s too concerned with being a queen, with being a country. But here, in both scenarios, whether she takes control of it or not, she becomes an individual in her fear.

Now, why that had to be via sex and sexual violence is a question that’s definitely valid to ask, but it is important to read something carefully if you’re going to critique it. More immediate to me are the questions about consent concerning children and animals, which are not dealt with critically at all — rather the opposite.

In any case, all of that aside, I really liked Gloriana. Not so much for individual characters as for the whole idea, the plotting and scheming, the setting. Which is not to say that the individual characters weren’t of interest — they were, in their tangle of motivations and confusion of feelings. Montfallcon, particularly, was interesting because of the way his motivations were unveiled piece by piece, slowly. The labyrinthine world of the court as a whole, though; that, I really liked. I haven’t actually read Gormenghast, but from what I know of it, I think Moorcock made a worthy tribute to it in many ways here.

The writing itself was, to my mind, easy to read. He doesn’t go for any false archaisms, though the style isn’t contemporary, and while he piles on the adjectives and so on, I do feel that’s an intentional embarrassment of riches, like the court itself.

I can understand why people dislike this book, or never finish it, but I’m glad I did.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Mindstar Rising, by Peter F. Hamilton. I think it was his first novel, according to the back of it, so I might try something from his later stuff, but this didn’t impress me that much. It was aaaaall about the male gaze, as well: the first thing we know about female characters is whether they’ve “let themselves go” or how young and nubile they are. Ugh. So in the end, not impressed.

What are you currently reading?
Some of the things I’ve been featuring on this list for a while are quite big books, so they don’t go on the bus with me, etc. So The Vanishing Witch (Karen Maitland) and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Thomas Sweterlitsch) are still in progress…

My reading in the clinic is currently Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, which works for the Strange Chem reading month, and which I’ve had for a while. Because of it, I ended up on Wikipedia last night reading up about Roanoke, Croatoan, and then all sorts of missing persons stuff — though I did also read about the genetic testing being done to see if the lost colonists actually assimilated with the local Native American tribes, which is more plausible than some theories, and quite interesting. I want to know what they find!

At home, for ARC August, along with the others I’ve also picked up Marcus Sedgwick’s A Love Like Blood. I’ve been slightly spoilered for the ending by an injudicious review, but I don’t have a great problem with spoilers, so I don’t mind too much. It’s interesting, though very similar in tone to other books in the genre in many ways.

Aaaand from my epic library clean-up, I’m reading Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters (Patricia Pierce), which is very interesting, although there’s a lot about the various men in the profession who overshadowed Mary Anning, which I regret a little in a book that wants to cast light on her.

What will you be reading next?
As usual, heaven knows, but Strange Chem-wise, I think I’m going to fiiiiinally read Stolen Songbird, and that also covers ARC August as well. Even if the “advance” part is kind of dead in the water, I still received it as an ARC and I feel obligated to get round to it.

Library-wise, I think it’ll be Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler), which will also cover my ten-new-to-me SF Masterworks goal.

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