Black Dog, Rachel Neumeier
I quite liked this one. I had the author on my blog for a blog tour post a while ago, here, and I was sure I’d finish this in no time. But, life happened, I got a job, and this lingered tantalisingly on my Kobo, just waiting for me to finish it off and put together my thoughts.
So, I originally requested it because of the comparisons to Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, which I think are actually fairly apt. It has an interesting take on werewolf mythology, in the same way that McKinley did something a bit different with her vampires, and a magic system and world building that work well together. There’s even hints of a magic-related disaster where vampires run amok.
But, it’s also got an intriguing cast of characters who, gasp, are not all white. Natividad and her brothers are great, and their relationship seems more important than the other relationships in the book. Natividad doesn’t automatically fall for Tall, Dark and Sexy, and in fact there’s a lot of issues around that which have to be worked out.
My only problem with Black Dog is that I did have trouble picking it back up once I put it down. It builds tension well, but it’s hard to jump back in at that point when you’ve been busy. It then starts to feel quite slow. Still, very enjoyable and, importantly, something a bit different. I don’t know about the YA label — goodness knows I hardly ever agree with people about that — but it’s a good story.
Deeds of Men, Marie Brennan
At first, having won this on LibraryThing FirstReads, I intended to wait until I read at least the first book of this series to read this, but it sort of surfaced on my ereader today and I thought, well, why not? If I don’t understand the world, I can always stop and save it for after I’ve read the other books. Actually, I found it a decent introduction to the world. You have to be ready to be pretty spry in your thinking to understand some of the rules that shape the world, but for me it came together fairly well.
The story itself is suitably novella-sized, and even though I did see the conclusion from a mile off in terms of the resolution to the larger plot, I enjoyed seeing the process of how it came about. I suspect Deven is a character from other books, and Lune as well, but while details of their relationship were lacking, their problem still worked as a drive for the structure.
One odd thing was the way the narrative jumps about in time. I caught on to the pattern easily enough, and the alternation made sense, but it could be a little disorientating. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one, and am looking forward more to reading the other books of the series.
The Water-castle, Brenda Chamberlain
There’s something strangely absorbing about The Water-castle. The relationship between Elizabeth and Klaus feels painfully real, which of course is because this is partially autobiographical. If it were a romance story, they’d have found some way to be together. As it is, it’s something real and painful, and unresolved.
Brenda Chamberlain’s writing is relatively simplistic, as if this really is a woman’s journal where she bears her thoughts without constructing them for an audience, which makes it work all the better. I’m glad in the finished version, she went with the ambiguous ending rather than the dramatic one: I’m not sure how the latter would have worked with this story; I don’t think it would have fit.
Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, Richard Fortey
A lot of reviews comment on how dry they found this book, but I rather enjoyed it. I like Richard Fortey’s style of writing, despite his tendency to ramble and get distracted. It’s more of a biography or history of the Natural History Museum than a chronicle of the science that goes on there, but there’s some of that, too.
I liked the sense of exploring a wonderland — Fortey plainly finds everything in the Natural History Museum a delight and a revelation, and I shared in that. He got in some apt comparisons, too, like comparing the museum’s storage to Gormenghast.
I was vaguely aware of most of the broader details here about trends in collecting and displaying, but most of the details about the actual scientists and curators were completely new to me. This book has a distinctly gossip-like feeling, which I didn’t mind at all.
The Midnight Side, Natasha Mostert
The Midnight Side is an interesting enough slightly supernatural thriller, but I didn’t find it exceptional. Alette sounded like the sort of person you wouldn’t want to know from the very start, to me, so I was wary of her from the beginning — I didn’t buy into the whole plot of revenge from beyond the grave because I didn’t buy into Alette and her story.
The writer isn’t a bad writer, and the plot moves along at a fair pace, but I wasn’t entranced by the characters and I really didn’t think Isa was being very sensible. The twists didn’t really surprise me, in the end, because I was expecting something like that from the whole set up and structure.
Grimm Fairy Tales: Oz, Joe Brusha
Definitely not a fan of this one. I gather it’s part of a wider ‘verse of stories, which might have helped my opinion of it, but I wasn’t enchanted by the rewrite of Oz (though I’m not a big fan of Oz to begin with either, so maybe my reaction is somewhat to be expected).
I’m not a great fan of the art: the faces never seem to stay quite the same, and while scantily clad women are a common problem in comics, that doesn’t make it any less wearing. I mean, what the hell is Dorothy supposed to be wearing? How does she get a bra on invisibly under that get up? Etc.
So yeah, thanks for the Netgalley access, but in general, no thanks.
Journey into Mystery featuring Sif: Stronger than Monsters, Kathryn Immonen, Valerio Schiti
I liked this quite a bit. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Sif’s character explored anywhere else in Marvel-verse, whether it be the comics or MCU, but I was just glad to see her front and centre. I liked the art, and I liked the tie-in to known Norse mythology (the concept of berserkers). Other stuff, I think I’d have picked up on more if I was used to the version of Asgardian mythology created by Marvel, but it still worked pretty well.
I think some people talking about her just being bloodthirsty and so on missed all the points where she held back the other Berserkers and forced them to behave fairly. So the spell gives her “licence” — but she fights that even before she knows anything about it.
I did like the bits with Heimdall, too. Also nice to see Asgard with barely a trace of Thor. (I like Thor, but he steals the show.)
The Biggest Bangs, Jonathan I. Katz
This is supposed to be written for a layman, or so the introduction says, but it pretty much made my eyes cross with the technical stuff. I mean, I can follow the explanation of how gamma rays free electrons which then cause damage to neighbouring atoms, and then the energy of all this and the ‘healing’ atoms makes the other element glow with heat, but I have a limited amount of tolerance for pages on pages explaining the difficulty in getting a direction for the gamma ray bursts from that.
Just, generally, too much information for me. I suspect that someone more interested in astrophysics would enjoy it more, but mine is a casual interest. I’m most interested in gamma rays when Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are studying them to locate an object of immense power in the hands of most emphatically the wrong person.
(Or if there was a description of the effect of gamma rays on DNA. That too would’ve got my attention as surely as a giant green ragemonster.)
An Introduction to English Poetry, James Fenton
This is a very clear introduction to the formal aspects of poetry, but it also serves as a reintroduction for someone who has an English Lit degree but never got very interested in the technical aspects of poetry.
We disagree on quite a few things — his characterisation of Anglo-Saxon poetry as “not English” (because of course, it is quintessentially English: the Anglo-Saxons became the English), for example, and his doubtfulness about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (there are dialect words in Sir Gawain which survive still: just because Chaucer’s Middle English is closer to what became universal doesn’t mean Sir Gawain is irrelevant). Also his relative dismissiveness of tight forms like the villanelle: he rightly praises one of the most famous, Dylan Thomas’, but is otherwise fairly unimpressed by it. I love villanelles, and I think more people have “done them right” than he suggests.
Still, with short, easy-to-digest chapters, clear explanations, and a helpful glossary, not to mention the addition of his thoughts as a practitioner of the craft, this is an interesting and informative introduction to a cross-section of English poetry.
Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behind,
I enjoyed this enough that I’ve reserved the other books by Richard Fortey that my local library has. He has a somewhat rambling style, though, which might not be to your taste. I enjoyed the ride, in general; in terms of the science, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, concept-wise, but some of the animals and habitats Fortey described were new to me.
It was quite personal to him, in a way, covering stuff he’s particularly interested in and documenting his travels to find these creatures (to the extent of talking about sipping gin and tonic from a plastic cup while sat on the balcony of the inn at Yellowstone). That might be less than interesting to some, but I did quite like knowing about the wider habitats surrounding these creatures, and the human context that they’re so often really close to, maybe even endangered by.
The inserts with colour photos are nice: words generally work better for me than pictures, so I wasn’t that interested, but it does give you a glance at some of the stranger, more anciently derived creatures of our planet.