The Warrior Princess, K.M. Ashman
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 22nd August 2017
I really appreciate that someone’s taken a bit of Welsh history and made a novel from it — there’s plenty of Welsh history to choose from, but apart from books based on the lives of some of the Tudors, I can’t think of many other books that really touch on it. While I knew about Nest ferch Rhys (Nesta, here; I believe that’s a popular version of her name which maybe sounds better to the English-speaking ear), I didn’t know anything about Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, for whatever reason, so if nothing else I’m grateful to this book for drawing her to my attention!
The style is a little disappointing, though; I found it rather wooden at times, even with the author’s attempts to vary the vocabulary by varying the inquits (asked, sighed, etc). The pacing was quite slow, too, and I felt at times like I was having the information dumped on me, rather than introduced organically. If you enjoy the author’s writing style, it’s likely you’ll enjoy this as well; it’s probably a personal taste thing as much as anything.
I did appreciate the historical note at the end — always good to get a bit of the background, so you know where to research if you’re interested.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb
It was a little odd rereading this, because it’s been quite a while since I read these books, and yet they’re still so very familiar! I know every beat, and I think I could practically recite some of Fitz’s monologues. It’s still a great book, though the familiarity perhaps spoils things a little bit — I know exactly where things are going, and how stupid Fitz is being about x, y and z. I always had the urge to reach into the book and shake him, and I definitely had that now. Especially, perhaps, because last time I read it I was a teenager, like Fitz, and now I am an adult and oh my goodness, Fitz, don’t be an idiot.
I love the characters so much, particularly Verity. I can’t imagine why people would ever have preferred Chivalry, because from the sound of it, he was just too perfect. In contrast, Verity is blunt, sometimes unthinking, but he’s so dedicated to his people. He’d sacrifice anything, and he also cares for the small people — including Fitz, whom others consider a liability or a worthwhile thing to sacrifice.
I find Burrich frustrating, because his opposition to certain things is just based on superstition, as far as it appears to Fitz — he expects Fitz to obey him without ever explaining why. Of course, we’re meant to feel that way, ’cause he’s a stubborn ass, but I still find him frustrating.
I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of the trilogy. Except for that bit — Hobb is all too good at making her characters suffer.
The Emerald Planet, David Beerling
I confess that I wasn’t expecting to love a book that focuses on photosynthesising plants; I don’t have a huge interest in plants, as a general rule, and I picked this up because it was one of the Oxford Landmark Science books. Buuuut this book definitely got me interested in the way plants work, the various types of photosynthesis, etc. It’s written in an engaging style — you can feel that Beerling loves his topic, and it really works.
I find myself recommending this to people now. If you don’t understand how much we rely on the photosynthesising part of the biosphere, well, maybe it’s time you got a wake-up call. And I think this book could get anyone enthused.
Defy, Sara B. Larson
I loved the sound of this — set in the jungle, with a heroine who has dressed herself as a boy and maintains her position in the prince’s guard. More than maintains it: she can beat any of them. It seemed typical in other ways, in fact reminiscent of Throne of Glass, but I was ready to follow along for the fun of it. Unfortunately, Alexa keeps nearly revealing herself as a woman by being uncontrollably attracted to men and prone to blushing.
Now one, attraction to men does not make you a woman. I know this is YA, but that’s not the first assumption people would necessarily make. And two, I know I don’t have any experience with overwhelming attraction, being ace, but I still haven’t much noticed people being this thrown off by random thoughts about how attractive other people are. With that and the fact that whoops, everyone seems to know she’s a girl and whoops, they start acting protective once that is out in the open… blech. I lost interest. The love triangle didn’t help, either. It just felt so. very. generic.
I mean, come on. If you’ve known someone is a girl for a long time and managed to avoid acting protective, why would you start up being protective just because the girl now knows you know she’s a girl? Especially when she’s been regularly thrashing every one of the guard in sparring matches since she first joined.
The Button Box, Lynn Knight
The subtitle kind of sums this book up: “The story of women in the 20th century, told through the clothes they wore”. It covers the wars, the periods when women went to work and when they were turned back out of the work force, suffragettes and suffragists, the New Look… It’s not my usual area of interest, but Lynn Knight makes this about more than fashion — it’s about how fashion highlighted the preoccupations of women and what it said about their status and expectations.
I found it really restful and, yes, interesting — I love the concept of rummaging through a family button box to look at past garments and fashions. It makes me wish I’d dug through some of my grandmother’s stuff sometimes. I think even my mother has some odd buttons and so on lying around; in a way, ready-made clothes being such a thing has cut my generation (and somewhat the previous generation) off from the continuity with family we used to have through rag bags and button boxes. That’s not all a bad thing, but I loved the anecdotes from Knight about playing shop with the buttons for payment, the buttons that reminded her of home made clothes…
If you’re a fan of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, you’ll probably love this. If you’re a fan of microhistory, again, it’s probably up your street. And if you need something restful to remind you of a childhood playing with buttons and doll houses, well, it might also be for you.
The Ghoul King, Guy Haley
I was intrigued by Quinn in the previous novella, and this one takes much the same stance: rather than following Quinn directly, the bulk of it is told from the point of view of someone who happens to be protected by him during a journey. It reveals a little more of the world-building and the reason certain things are as they are, while still leaving a whole lot still to explore. I hope there’s going to be more, and soon.
I love the way it becomes apparent to the narrator-character, Jaxom, that Quinn is a good man — not a fun man to be around, not a safe man, not good company or just mildly principled. He’s a good man, prepared to take risks for others even if he doesn’t like them, because his word is his bond.
I still mostly didn’t get into Jaxom’s story for his sake — I was interested in Quinn, what happened to him, what he’s seeking, where he’s going next, and who opposes him. Ideally, I’d like to learn why, too.
Like I said, I hope there’s more, and soon.
The Deeper Genome, John Parrington
I should have reviewed this when I read it, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere. I’m left with only general impressions and the knowledge that I intended to give it a four star rating. That alone should tell you it’s decent pop-science, delving into the genome and trying to give the reader a deeper understanding of it — not just the basic string of AACTGGA or whatever, but more detail. The first chapters are more basic, of course, giving the reader a bit of a background against which to evaluate all the new research.
I recall it being clear and easy to read, and where it went into epigenetics, microRNAs and piRNAs, I was fascinated. Some of this stuff, it only touches on, because it’s complex or not fully researched yet. Still a good read!
Harkworth Hall, L.S. Johnson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st August 2017
I picked up Harkworth Hall thanks to Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review; it sounded like a fun piece of Gothic romance with horror along the lines of William Hope Hodgson, rather than, say, Stephen King. All in all, pretty much up my alley — and even better, it features a relationship between two women (about which I’d better not say too much; Bob’s review already has a minor spoiler). I loved the women of the story: yes, they’re of their time, but they’re not completely circumscribed by the most strait-laced options available to women — Caroline has an independent streak, for one.
As for the horror aspect, it doesn’t go into that too much. It’s more of a sense of unease, of something uncanny, rather than all-out gore and cheap thrills (though there is a scene or two in which the threat is realised!).
I have just one quibble. At one point, two women are talking about being sensible, in the sense of being responsible and not rushing into danger, etc. Then one comments that they lack “sensibility”. Nooooo, that’s not what that word means! “Sensibility” is about appreciating and responding to emotion, not “being sensible” in our modern sense. Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is contrasting the two in its title, not pairing two like words.
That said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Caroline’s adventures, for sure.
Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real, Brian Gordon
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 10th October 2017
I’ve seen the Fowl Language cartoons around now and again, but I’ve never really sat down to read a bunch of them. I know I’m not a parent, but I have rabbits, so I totally related to a lot of these. I’m not even kidding. Rabbits are just as contrary as a small child, and even less capable of explaining what they actually want…
The art is cute, but pretty samey; the theme is basically “parenting is hard but worth it”. It’s not a big revelation or anything, but it’s still a fun little collection — especially for a parent, I imagine.
An Unsuitable Heir, K.J. Charles
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017
I’m somewhat cautious when it comes to picking up LGBT fiction sometimes, because the quality often leaves something to be desired. Frankly, sometimes you wonder how some of it is published while some glorious writers stick to fanfiction. Still, I liked the sound of this book – and others by this author have been praised by friends – and I am, in fact, very glad I read it. It doesn’t feel like a book just written to get a pair of hot gay men together: it feels like plot and character come first, and the fact that these particular characters are attracted to each other and fall in love is second. Not secondary, because it is important to the story, but it feels natural.
Also, one of the couple has one hand due to a birth defect, and the other is non-binary, feeling that neither gender entirely suits him. Not that he has a word for it or a pronoun, given the setting, but the exploration of his gender identity is also integral to the story, explaining how he reacts and what he’s willing (and unwilling) to do.
The sex scenes, though not something I’m interested in per se, are tastefully written and avoid being just “insert tab A into slot B” – it’s not mechanical or forced, but feels natural to the story and characters and where they are in their relationship.
I imagine if you’ve read the previous books in the same series, you’ll enjoy the cameo appearances of a couple of other gay couples. For me, I’ve gone ahead and bought those books on the strength of this one, and I’m looking forward to it.