Stacking the Shelves

Posted May 10, 2014 by Nikki in General / 34 Comments

Aaand time for Tynga’s Reviews‘ Stacking the Shelves. It’s been a busy week, book-wise. I didn’t think it would be, but then I ended up in an indie bookshop, plus I ordered one book Jo Walton recommended, and have now ended up ordering the whole series. Most of them haven’t arrived yet, though, so I’ll save them for next week’s post!

Review copies/ARCs

Cover of The Bluffer's Guide to Rugby by Steven Gauge Cover of My Real Children by Jo Walton

Library

Cover of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell Cover of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson Cover of The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley

Bought

Cover of Jhereg by Steven Brust Cover of Yendi, by Steven Brust Cover of Teckla by Steven Brust Cover of Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley Cover of A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney Cover of The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

The Vlad Taltos series is the one that’s dragged me in kicking and, well, not at all complaining, just flailing vaguely to get my book-balance. Enjoying it very much, so far. Will probably have finished Jhereg by the time this post goes live. That’s the plan, anyway. And of course I’m very excited to have My Real Children, though time and Steven Brust are conspiring against me getting round to reading it.

What’s everyone else up to?

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Review – Astonishing X-Men: Torn

Posted May 9, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Astonishing X-men: Torn by Joss WhedonAstonishing X-Men: Torn, Joss Whedon, John Cassaday

The copy of this I picked up has no indication of where it might come in a series. I was sure it was probably in the middle of something anyway, but I thought I’d give it a go, see if X-men is something I’m interested in following (’cause you know, it’s not like I’m following enough already).

If you’re already invested in the characters and know what’s going on the story, then I think this would be a gut punch of a volume. There’s some amazing stuff going on with Kitty Pryde, and all of the X-men are affected in one way or another by what happens here. Unfortunately, for me, I just don’t know enough of the background — everything I know about Kitty I know from Ultimate Spider-man, everything I know about Scott I remember from a cartoon when I was little, and a lot of them I don’t know at all. It looks like an interesting storyline, and the art is good, but I just can’t say I enjoyed it when I was so at sea for most of it.

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Review – Warbreaker

Posted May 9, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Warbreaker, by Brandon SandersonWarbreaker, Brandon Sanderson

There were some flaws for me with Warbreaker — like many other reviewers, I felt that the wrapping up at the end went way too fast — but all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve found that I like Brandon Sanderson’s world-building a lot, no matter what he’s doing: he seems to bring a flair to it, seems to be able to make it that bit different from the rest of the fantasy fare around. I wasn’t sure anyone could pull off some of the stuff in Warbreaker, like the princesses whose hair changed colours with their mood — it seemed like something right out of some kind of wish fulfillment fanfic, which generally doesn’t do much for me. I mean, it’s usually changing eye colour in those stories, but the super specialness applies.

The other thing is that Sanderson manages to keep things consistent. None of this felt like a deus ex machina, even when it kind of was: the various sacrifices, discoveries, etc, all seemed perfectly foreshadowed by the text. I didn’t find all of it terribly surprising — I figured out some people weren’t as trustworthy as they seemed to the princesses, for example — but I did enjoy it, and I felt it makes sense. The storytelling, too, works for me: it goes along at a great pace and kept me interested and going ‘just one more chapter, just one more’ again and again.

One thing I didn’t like so much was Vivenna’s character development. Or Siri’s, in a way: I liked that Siri became capable, learned to value herself, learned what she could do. I wasn’t enamoured of the way they basically swapped roles, though. And we spent an awful lot of time with Vivenna being self-important and self-righteous, neither of which are traits that appeal to me. I wasn’t, in general, very attached to Vivenna and Vasher at all; their stories were necessary for the plot, but emotionally I didn’t get attached. I suppose really, I was mostly attached to Lightsong and Llarimar: Lightsong’s character development was something I really was interested in.

The ending wraps up extremely quickly, and leaves things wide open for another book, but the story itself is self-contained as well, which is rare enough in this time of trilogies (and trilogies of trilogies). I loved that it wrapped up within one book, leaving things open and uncertain in the future for the characters, but without leaving any big gaps.

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On being Welsh

Posted May 8, 2014 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

I went looking for reviews of a book I picked up from the library yesterday, and boy, do I regret it. The book in question is The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, and the problem was the protagonist’s name. See, the protagonist’s name is Welsh: Myfanwy Thomas. I don’t think you could get much more Welsh unless you had a guy called Evan Evans or something. Now, the author screwed up to begin with, because he decided he didn’t like the way ‘Myfanwy’ is actually pronounced. He wanted it to rhyme with ‘Tiffany’. So that’s what he has his character say, on the first page. That’s… actually annoying enough to me that I’m considering dropping the book without even opening it, but that’s not really the thing.

The thing was, going to look at reviews and finding a whole bunch where the reviewers are just so amused by this weird name. One of them said they constantly read it as ‘my fanny’. Some of them couldn’t spell it, even with it right there in front of them on the book or, even without the book, on the blurb on the very page they were reviewing on.

I remember as a kid asking my mum or dad why I didn’t have a Welsh name, since my mother’s all about being Welsh and proud. The answer I got was, “We thought other kids would make fun of you.” But there I was growing up with a strong Welsh identity in England, so although I’m assured by English people that this doesn’t happen, I was nonetheless bullied for that anyway. And the school sucked at dealing with it: a boy said ‘nigger’ to a friend in the playground, and the whole school got a half hour lecture about cultural sensitivity; I was bullied to tears, called Taffy and thief, on and on, and it was ignored. Inappropriate suggestions about me and sheep were also made, very graphically, from when I was eleven on up, but that wasn’t harassment of any kind.

I didn’t read a book by an author people recognised as Welsh until I was twenty-one (it was Margiad Evans’ Country Dance). In the introduction, Caitrin Collier wrote this:

I grew up in Wales in the 1950s and 60s, yet [Margiad Evans’] work was never mentioned at my school or local library. Whenever I asked the eternal question ‘What should I read next?’ I was directed towards Russian, English, American, German and French novelists. I discovered a few — a precious few — Welsh authors for myself, which only added weight to my teachers’s pronouncement that ‘people like you (translate as South Wales valley born) don’t write’.

That was my experience, too, though granted in England in the 90s and 00s. It mirrors stuff I’ve read about the experience of many more widely recognised minorities — people of colour, the queer community, women, people of non-dominant religions… Some of the discussions I’ve had about figuring out identity, about language — specifically, not speaking your ‘own’ language, or being encouraged not to — and fitting in all chimed with this issue for me.

I pointed out to a couple of these reviewers what kind of cultural issues they were trampling on. But nobody gives a shit, it’s ‘only’ Wales, it’s just a personal sob story about a name that isn’t even mine. (The fact that I don’t have a Welsh name because of exactly these issues doesn’t seem to mean anything.)

“Go and find your own place to tell these stories,” someone said to me, when I brought up that issue of identifying with those issues of other minority groups. “People will listen to you because you’re privileged, and they won’t listen to us. By talking about it here, you’re taking away the attention we need for our issues.”

I can understand why they wanted to keep the boundaries of their space clear, but I wonder why on earth they thought anyone would listen to me? I’m still looking for that mythical place where people will. Half the time, I find myself wondering if I’ve got anything interesting to say at all, but every now and then, someone else reaches back and says, yeah, I felt this too. So I’m not quite alone.

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What are you reading Wednesday: the sleepiest edition

Posted May 8, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. I was riveted in a way I haven’t been for a while, in that rare enchanting way that makes you want to grab everything written by the author. I still need to write up my review, but I think that’ll have to wait for tomorrow. I enjoyed it, though: he comes up with really cool ideas, and creates fantasy worlds that don’t feel in any way typical.

What are you currently reading?
I’ve rescued Elantris (Brandon Sanderson) from the stack of books languishing on my currently-reading pile, on the strength of Warbreaker and a memory of enjoying what I did read of it. I’ve started over to make sure I remember all the details, so I’m not very far into it.

The other two books are The Buried Life (Carrie Patel), which I still need to finish, and My Real Children (Jo Walton), because now I have an ARC. I’m only two chapters into that, which is only really enough to whet my curiosity. Must try and turn down work tomorrow, and just curl up in my nest of teddies, pillows and blankets to read.

What will you read next?
It’s pretty much been established that if I claim to have any real idea, I’m telling lies, but I think it’ll be a library book. My library today had a fun discussion with me on the somewhat baffling subject of how many books the machine will let me have at once: it started at twelve, spiked to fifteen, and then dropped again to twelve — only for me to find out that it’s only meant to let me have ten! Quite bemusing, but they checked out the books I wanted anyway, which made me a happy bunny. So I think The Rook (Daniel O’ Malley) or Attachments (Rainbow Rowell) might be next — though The Rook annoys me by, in the very first page, announcing that Myfanwy is pronounced like Tiffany. Granted, it notes that it isn’t the traditional pronunciation, but still. Arrghh.

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Review – Uncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed

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

Cover of Uncanny X-force: Let It BleedUncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed, Sam Humphries, Ron Garney, Adrian Alphona, Dexter Soy

I liked the art of this TPB, liked what little I gleaned about the characters and the line-up, but… I finished the book wondering what the heck happened here, whether it has any relevance to any other Marvel plotline I can think of, and whether I would have understood what was going on better with more X-force context. I agree with people who say it was a really fast read, etc, but that’s because little is happening. Maybe with some more emotional hooks, like knowing in advance what Fantomex and Psylocke’s relationship was, or more about Bishop, or… just about anything.

It’s a lovely looking book, but it doesn’t seem to be a good starting point. Which is odd, because I thought that was somewhat the point of Marvel Now. Alternately, it’s just not a very good comic anyway.

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Review – The Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby

Posted May 6, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Bluffer's Guide to Rugby by Steven GaugeThe Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby, Steven Gauge

I was at the Wales vs England game during the Six Nations in 2013. I know enough about rugby to know that other Welsh people will often want to kick me when I declare this, given that Wales won. Especially when I point out that my grandfather’s seats are just over the centre of the pitch, at a nice height to see everything but still close enough to pick out the individual players and feel the heat from those enormous flares they set off. Apart from all that, however, I pretty much rely on the other spectators to keep me vaguely orientated towards what is actually going on in the game. (The last game I attended was Wales vs Italy with my sister, and she helped me figure out precisely when to scream at the ref, etc.)

Anyway, this book helps somewhat with that, explaining amidst the humour what each member of the team does and a few of the rules. Mostly, though, and unhelpfully, it advocates not bothering to know the rules and just playing it by ear. It’s true that I suspect most teams of doing that, but I would like to acquire a vague idea of why the referee is awarding penalties, assuming he knows why he’s awarding penalties and isn’t just doing it because he doesn’t like the look of the hooker (not that kind of hooker).

It’s funny, and somewhat helpful, but not really substantial.

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Review – Market Forces

Posted May 4, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Market Forces by Richard MorganMarket Forces, Richard Morgan

I’m torn between the fact that I like Morgan’s writing — it’s slick, tight, packs a punch — and the fact that his world is just too ridiculously ultra-violent for me, and the characters I like don’t come out well. I liked Chris’ wife Carla, but of course, she loses her husband in the worst of way: he’s not dead, but he’s thrown himself into a life she hates, and refused to accept her help in getting him out of it. And he’s cheated on her, of course: let’s not forget that.

I find the world-building interesting, though in this case not entirely convincing (duels in cars? how does that really come about? it doesn’t sound like something top executives would realistically end up doing), but of course all of it is a way of examining capitalism and the free market, of making brutally clear the way that competition can ruin lives.

If the point then is to take a guy who seems decent at the beginning, like Chris, and watch as that competition warps him, then Morgan does a great job — but it’s hard to enjoy it as a story, particularly given the bodycount. Very much a case of not-really-my-thing, though, and I’m sure that people who’re less squicked out by violence will enjoy this a lot more than me, assuming our tastes are otherwise the same.

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Review – The Rithmatist

Posted May 3, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Rithmatist by Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

I haven’t read much of Sanderson’s work yet, but I have a generally good impression of it. I was hesitant about The Rithmatist (I think I preferred the original title, Scribbler) because it’s YA and some people have made comments about the magic system being too complex, some even feeling it’s boring. But! I actually loved it.

In a way, it’s nothing new. It’s essentially set at a wizarding school, there’s a Snape-like character, there’s a red-haired sidekick (more Ron than Hermione, despite being a girl), there’s people who can do magic and people who can’t, and various divides between them… I was also reminded of Garth Nix, somehow; something about the world-building, I think.

There are differences, too, of course: it’s definitely a world of its own, and I liked the magic system a lot. I didn’t find it boring at all — beyond me, at times, yes, but not boring. I loved Joel’s enthusiasm for it, his boundless wonder for the whole thing. His interest made what could have been boring, all the detail of the magic system, quite interesting.

I loved that some things weren’t typical: a second chance at something doesn’t always make you special and fix what went wrong the first time, I didn’t see Joel’s conclusions at the end coming, I don’t feel that romance between Melody and Joel is inevitable at all (possible, I guess, but definitely not so clearly telegraphed that it warps their personalities and the plot)…

All in all, I read this in a couple of hours, and even stayed up late when I really shouldn’t to finish it and get my work done. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did pick it up to fill out a three for two offer way back whenever!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted May 3, 2014 by Nikki in General / 17 Comments

Yep, you guessed it, it’s Saturday, time for Tynga’s Reviews‘ Stacking the Shelves. I haven’t bought anything this week, either, but for some reason the library has increased my borrowing limit so I indulged a little there, and I have one ARC.

ARC/review copy

Cover of Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood

Library books

Cover of The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews Cover of Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve already started on Warbreaker, since I enjoyed The Rithmatist earlier this week. I wasn’t quite ready to dive into the Mistborn books…

What’s everyone been reading?

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