I read this for Bruce Holsinger’s historical fiction course on Coursera. It’s based on the true story of the village of Eyam, during the 1665 epidemic of plague in Britain, though Geraldine Brooks doesn’t stick too closely to the names and details of exactly what happened there, but rather tries to recreate the sense of it. For her own comfort, I think, even where she’s based her characters on real people, she’s taken them a step or so away from them so that William Mompesson becomes Michael Mompellion, allowing her to take greater liberties.
At times, it seems pretty melodramatic, to me. The whole situation between Michael and Elinor, for example, seemed completely unnecessary (and barely even seemed to make sense to me); sometimes it just seemed to pile too much into the story that on its own would’ve seemed to make sense. The ending was worse; it felt like a complete flight of fantasy beside the historically grounded, patiently explored situation in the village.
So… overall, parts of this are a very powerful exploration of the tensions and also the support in Eyam at the time, and of the faith and fear and superstition of the time. But other parts of it work against the simple, touching aspect that those things give the story. I know it’s fiction and flights of fantasy are all a part of it, but it didn’t feel right to me.
I’m somewhat torn on the subject of Flavia de Luce. I find the books fun to read, but the hail-fellow-well-met Englishness (as portrayed by a Canadian writer who never went to England prior to starting on the first book). It’s just a total fantasy, and I can never tell how seriously people are taking it.
As for the mystery in this particular installment, I figured it out relatively quickly, but it’s still fun to follow along, and I love that the main character is a young girl who is fascinated with science. It all has rather a Famous Five feel, ultimately, with Flavia de Luce playing all five (well, maybe the four humans — her bike, Gladys, or maybe her family’s servant, Dogger, could be Timmy): how a kid solved the mysteries the police couldn’t solve, with the police coming in at the end to wrap things up. I can even see Flavia’s father as Uncle Quentin…
One thing that is bothering me is Flavia’s relationship with her sisters. It’s played lightly, yet it’s frankly abusive. She’s constantly being told that no one loves her, no one would want to spend time with her, that she’s frankly unworthy of love… and I can’t tell how seriously people (including Alan Bradley) are taking that.
There’s more than a touch of Dahl’s Matilda in Flavia, but it never seems to get any deeper than that. At this point, I’m starting to want to know why Flavia’s sisters treat her that way, what effect this is really having on Flavia, whether this is just meant to build up a picture of a “quirky” family (ugh), or whether it’s meant to be leading somewhere. Playing pranks is one thing, even fighting, but psychological warfare? It’s really starting to get on my nerves.
Reread this for my SF/F class on Coursera. I loved it more, this time: read it slowly, appreciated the details, just as the professor suggested. Partially because, of course, I knew it would be rewarding with Ursula Le Guin. I don’t think I was ready for this book when I read it before: the fierce joy and love in some parts of it, the devastation, the making-strange of familiar things and the making familiar of strange things.
Some parts were… maybe less subtle than I thought Le Guin would be. All the stuff about Orgoreyn seemed fairly obviously a commentary on the relations between the US and Russia; the portrayal of Karhide was more subtle, but the Voluntary Farm seems a fairly naked commentary on the gulags. I expected more subtlety, really.
I do love the world Le Guin builds. I was impatient with it last time, but having experienced more of her work, all the detail and background is part of the picture, part of the creativity, not ancillary to the plot.
Don’t read this if you’re not ready to be shaken up about gender, but really, that isn’t the important thing about it. The real importance of it is not the way Le Guin plays with and reflects on gender (Tehanu would be equally important for that, I think), but the way she thinks about dualism/wholeness, the imagery of Yin and Yang which her whole story invokes.
Firstly, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but oh I love the cover art so much. It’s done by Kinuko Craft, who has also illustrated at least some of Juliet Marillier’s covers, so that explains why it seemed familiar.
Alphabet of Thorn is beautifully written. It’s one of those books where it’s less about making things happen, and more about watching them happen — there is some degree of “stopping things happening”, but mostly people fall in love, and do magic, and learn things about themselves, and work in the slow silent world of manuscripts and translation, and… It’s not really about the plot, I think, but more about the characters and the world; less about things happening than about people in a situation. I don’t know if I can describe it — but all the same, I hope it’s clear that I loved it.
The mythical parts of the story, the floating school of magic, all of it felt — not real, but true, to me. It all worked seamlessly as a world, as a story. It also felt in some ways like something Ursula Le Guin could write (which is a very high compliment in my world): the Floating School is a cousin to the school on Roke.
If you’re not a fan of McKillip’s style and plotting, I don’t think this one could change your mind. But I do think it’s gorgeous.
I’ve wanted to read this since I was given the summary to have a go at coming up with a blurb, back when I visited Angry Robot for a day (especially with seeing the cover art, which to me seems perfect in its relative simplicity). So I gleefully pounced on the email offering ARCs, crossed my fingers, and waited. When I got back from Belgium, I had a whole package of books from Angry Robot, including Hang Wire, which I cracked open as soon as I could.
I have Adam Christopher’s other books with Angry Robot, except The Age Atomic, but I hadn’t got round to them yet. So this was my first book by Adam Christopher, which works fine, as it’s a standalone. It’s urban fantasy, with a touch of the thriller and a bit of fake Celtic magic, and real gods of various stripes, and real people affected by them. It took me a while to get together what was happening, partially because I never pay attention to dates at the beginning of chapters even when authors are so helpful as to give them, and partially because I have a cold. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
It’s an absorbing read, even if you aren’t quite hanging on and catching all the hints and implications, and it might take you some places you aren’t expecting. The pacing is really good: there was never a point where I could put it down and not wonder what was coming up next. The writing works well for me: I could picture things clearly, but it wasn’t fussy, either. There were some bits I still haven’t quite sorted out in my mind, but the plot carried me along fairly smoothly; I’d have to reread it to tell you if that was just me being dense (having a cold) or not.
Definitely an enjoyable one, and worth picking up when it comes out — and I’m veeerryyy interested in hurrying up and getting to read Adam Christopher’s other work.
This is amusing as a quick read; I’m contemplating who might enjoy it as a quirky Christmas gift. It’d have to be someone who can appreciate the ridiculous literary touches (like R2D2 beeping in iambic pentameter), and who is a pretty big fan of both Star Wars and Shakespeare, I think. I’m not really enough of a fan of either to truly appreciate this.
I can also imagine that you could be too much of a fan of Shakespeare (or Star Wars) to appreciate this. It’s best taken lightly.
Definitely a gift for a geek, anyway. As someone approaching it casually, I could appreciate the ideas and the way some of the lines were rendered, but then the joke wore thin.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
I don’t really know about this book. I hoped to find it light but charming, but it’s not really light and only the premise is charming, and the rest of it just sort of gets too much. I mean, there’s a point where it just gets beyond magic realism and becomes absurd, for me. The idea of tasting emotions in food doesn’t seem so strange to me, but there’s a point where this story crosses the line.
Some of the writing worked okay for me, but the narration didn’t, quite: when is she narrating this? Why? To whom? The lack of speech marks and the sentence fragments didn’t bother me too much, it all seemed to be part of the voice Aimee Bender was trying to build up for her character, but… For a story that could be so rich and sensual, it ended up being “hollow in the middle”, like the flavour of sadness the protagonist tastes in her mother’s cooking and baking.
The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar
The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales is a pretty good discussion of, not the origins of the tales in the Grimms’ collection, but in how the Grimms treated them and why. It looks at some of the publication history and the issues surrounding different editions, the changes in audience, and it deals with some pretty common interpretations of some of the tales (e.g. why Bluebeard is considered a cautionary tale about the evils of curiosity instead of, you know, the evils of killing your wives and butchering their dead bodies and then marrying again) and how they came about.
I guess it’s probably a bit dry if you’re not particularly interested in the topic, but I found it perfectly readable. It does help that I recently reread selections from the Grimms’ work, and looked at some of them in my SF/F class — I notice myself falling into some of the traps of thinking about these stories which Tatar discusses and evades — so that the whole topic is fresh in my mind and relevant to what I’m thinking about lately.
If you’re looking for salacious details of the “real” Bluebeard, or the real Hansel and Gretel, seek elsewhere. Tatar doesn’t really go in for that kind of interpretation of fairytale/folklore origins.
The Antigone Poems, Marie Slaight, Terrence Tasker
I originally entered the LibraryThing Early Reviewers draw for this and didn’t get it, so when I spotted it on Netgalley I picked it up right away. Antigone is a figure who always fascinated me: her burning passion for her duty, her righteousness, her tragedy… but also the sense that this was a sort of teenage rebellion against authority; the worry that she was acting more for her own sake, to be a symbol, than for her brothers.
This collection of art and poetry was apparently originally created in the 70s. I’m no particular judge of art (but I know what I like, as people say), and the art didn’t really appeal to me. The poetry felt fragmentary, hard to connect with the figure of Antigone at times and then at other times perfectly clear. There are some bright, sharp images that I really liked; at other times I was ambivalent.
Another one read for my Coursera SF/F class. As usual when I’ve just finished a book, I have no idea what I’m going to write my essay about, but I have one day left to figure it out…
The thing that interests me most, I guess, is that Mars colonises the colonisers. In different ways in different vignettes, but it’s there — particularly in that last chapter/section. In a sense it feels like a recent book: the commentary on the spoiling of the world, and on colonisation; in others it feels so dated — the treatment of people of colour, women, the obsession with nuclear war (which is still an issue, but not the same kind of deep-seated fear, I think)…
The science itself (how long it might take to fly to Mars, being the obvious example) isn’t really important to the story/themes: it’s there as a backdrop, not at all used in the way H.G. Wells used science.
As with most of Bradbury’s work which I’ve come across so far, there are some gorgeous sections of prose here, and it’s all very well crafted and easy to read, as you’d expect.