Tag: books

Review – What Matters in Jane Austen?

Posted November 16, 2014 by in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of What Matters In Jane Austen? by John MullenWhat Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan

I’m not a big fan of Jane — through I’ve come round somewhat on the subject since I couldn’t resist the urge to fling Pride and Prejudice out of a window — so you might think I was the wrong audience for this book anyway. But I am a big fan of close reading, and I find value in digging into what’s important in an author’s works in a way that I think the author of this would agree with, and I enjoy history, literary history, and all kinds of random facts. So I was hoping that though I’m no obsessive Austen fan, I’d still find this book of interest.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be quite sure where it’s aimed at. As a non-fan, I don’t know the books well enough for all the little details he references without fully contextualising to be exactly revelatory to me; as an MA in literature, I thought it was still a pretty simplistic level of analysis — is anyone really surprised that yes, Austen was saying that Lydia Bennet had sex outside of marriage? — and as a general reader, I didn’t find the stuff that interesting on its own merits either. It startles me more that apparently there was a fuss kicked up about ~Was Jane Austen Gay?~ because of her intimacy with her sister than that sisterly conversation or the lack thereof is centrally important in her work.

Overall, whatever the target audience was meant to be, I’m not it.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Court of Lightning

Posted November 14, 2014 by in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Court of Lightning, by Amy Rae DurresonThe Court of Lightning, Amy Rae Durreson

I ended up reading this because Lynn mentioned it, and I felt like something fairly light and quick. This worked for that, and as a bonus, the worldbuilding is great. It’s not just the sort of story where the plot and world are a sketchy scaffold for a romance to hang on, but a world that feels much bigger, that invites more story and asks you to imagine the past and future of the world it contains.

It helps that the two main characters are fun — funny, in Shan’s case, and adorably awkward in Tirellian’s — and their relationship feels real. The way things work out between them feels right and natural, fits perfectly in the story and in the world, without taking away from everything else that’s interesting about the story. There’s no sudden three chapter interlude of sex before the plot gets underway — while there are some sex scenes, and you don’t have to read them to follow the plot, the point of the story is not about the sex; the sex is just part of that relationship, which is just part of the world, etc.

All in all, definitely a fun one, and I need to hurry up and read The Lodestar of Ys, clearly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Drunk Tank Pink

Posted November 13, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Drunk Tank Pink by Adam AlterDrunk Tank Pink, Adam Alter

Drunk Tank Pink is one of those pop psychology books that’s fairly slight, doesn’t provide citations in-text, and presents a lot of experimental and theoretical thought as if it’s a fact. Taking it for what it is, it’s an enjoyable little survey of interesting facts, written well enough to keep the interest, and not getting into technical details which might bog down and confuse the interested but uninformed reader.

For me, since I’ve read a fair amount of pop psychology already, some of it rather higher standard, this had some anecdotes I hadn’t heard, but mostly referenced research I already knew about, or had read about in a lot greater depth. (For example, for discussions on colour, skip this and go for Through the Language Glass, by Guy Deutscher, which has a much more thorough approach to the issues of language, labels and how we perceive colour.)

All in all, it was okay, but probably (for me) not worth the admission fee.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Wonders of the Invisible World

Posted November 12, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillipWonders of the Invisible World, Patricia A. McKillip

Of all Patricia McKillip’s writings, perhaps this one is the most accessible. The short stories seem to have a different tone to her longer works — something less poetic, more matter of fact. It’s a great collection: pretty much all of the stories are strong, and each one contains a whole world — and each world is so very different from the next. There are some which are more like her novels, and oddly they seem to be ones which people who’re fans of her novels like less, based on the review. Maybe it’s because a novel may digress, may take time simply being lovely: poetry and short stories have to go right to the heart of it, whatever that heart is. Something that feels a bit too vague and artsy can come up totally inconclusive as a short story: that’s how I felt about just a couple of these, particularly ‘Xmas Cruise’. On the other hand, the twist and uncertainty in ‘Hunter’s Moon’ works really well — I’m just not sure that I’m meant to feel so vague about ‘Xmas Cruise’. It made me feel like I was missing something.

Most of the time, though, the stories are pretty strong. I wasn’t sure about some of them, and then they revealed themselves — the Arthurian twist in ‘Out of the Woods’ made me smile, and the way it contrasts the two worlds by laying them side by side, never saying anything explicitly about one or the other world, how they fit together. I think my favourite story was ‘Knight of the Well’; McKillip builds up a whole fantasy world, acquaints you wish it, turns it upside down and settles it down again in the space of what’s still a pretty short story.

Overall, a great collection; McKillip’s way with words remains a strength. The contemporary feel of a couple of these didn’t sit that well with me, partly because I was expecting something more olde-worlde, something to match the mythical look of the cover. Other people might find it the best ‘in’ to McKillip’s work they’ve ever had, though.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Song for Arbonne

Posted November 11, 2014 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel KayA Song for Arbonne, Guy Gavriel Kay

I can understand people who don’t like Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. I think I’ve said it before, but there are definite quirks of style, ways he plots and deals with characters, that can drive even me mad in the wrong mood — which is why I first picked this up to reread in April, and now it’s November when I’ve finally finished. I do love most of Kay’s work when I’m in the right mood, though, and A Song for Arbonne is additionally up my street because of the Court of Love, the troubadours, all the stuff that’s part of the Arthurian legends as well once they hit France.

I don’t think, though, that I fell for this book quite as much as I have for some of the others. I’m not as attached to Bertran as to Alessan or Diarmuid; not held in sympathy with his rival and enemy, Urté de Miraval, as I am with Brandin in Tigana, not until the very end of the book; not really caught up in Blaise’s story, in his fight for a throne, as I am with Aileron’s or Alessan’s. There’s some good stuff here, but some promising background characters didn’t really come to full bloom for me — Valery, Rudel, even Hirnan — and despite the women-centric society, we didn’t have female characters as striking as Catriana or as pivotal as Kim. Rosala was probably the female character I was most interested in, but she comes somewhat late into her own, and I felt as though I should be more aware of the other female characters. They shadowed the story, they were behind it, and yet they weren’t the visible drivers. Not quite the story Kay was aiming to tell, I think.

Still, all of that sounds harsh, when I really do enjoy this book. When Kay gives you a scene, a character, a moment, he expects you to remember. He will use it. One character’s chance word reveals another’s secret, one introspective passage becomes suddenly important. It’s a rich world he creates, and some parts of it dance with life — and ache with sadness.

It’s just, it does pale when held up against some of his other books. Even the flaws of The Summer Tree and the other two books of that trilogy are brilliant. I was a little surprised to like this book possibly less this time than last, which may be some combination of mood and timing; normally I like Kay’s work better with each reread.

Regardless, there’s always something to treasure in Kay’s work.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted November 11, 2014 by in General / 28 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten characters you wish would get their own book”.

  1. Verity Farseer (Realm of the Elderlings, Robin Hobb). Or maybe his wife, Kettricken. Either way, they’re both great characters, I love the idea of “Sacrifice”, and I wish we’d seen more of Verity being awesome. I don’t think there’s really space for a Verity book in the series, and arguably his crowning achievements are in the Fitz books anyway, but for dreaming about, there’s all the time before Fitz is born, or the time Verity spends alone in the mountains before Fitz and company catch up.
  2. Faramir (Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien). I had the biggest literary crush on Faramir; I think he’s one of the strongest characters we see in Middle-earth. He’s as worthy as Aragorn in his way — both consciously resist the Ring — and he had pretty short shift from his father. He deserves more!
  3. Jane Drew (The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper). Arguably Greenwitch is her book, but it’s so short! She’s the only girl in the Six, and it’d be great to see more of her.
  4. Susan Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis). She deserved more than being dismissed as too interested in “lipsticks and nylons”. As of The Last Battle, she’s still alive and there’s room for redemption or reinterpretation of what’s going on with her. I don’t think Lewis could ever have really handled her with subtlety, but you can dream…
  5. Ysanne (The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay). We only briefly see what Ysanne is like and get hints of her history. A story set entirely within Fionavar that ties up some of that would be lovely.
  6. Mel (Sunshine, Robin McKinley). There’s so much mystery around that character that was never resolved. It adds an interesting background to Sunshine, but I think everyone wants to know more about him.
  7. Jasper (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin). He’s just a plot element, really, to set Ged on his path. He vanishes out of the story and we never really know why he leaves Roke, whether he ever gains some redemption. He’s presented a little too simplistically — I want to know more, even though he’s not a pleasant character.
  8. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones). Because Calcifer.
  9. Anafiel Delaunay de Montrève (Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey). We know a little about his past, and enough about him to sketch in what we need to know, but I’d like to get to know the character close-up, rather than through Phèdre’s eyes.
  10. Prim (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins). We see her through Katniss’ eyes, but it’d be fun to know what Prim’s thinking, what drives her — what little rebellions are in her, against Katniss and for her, as they’re growing up and Katniss is doing all this self-sacrificing. She’s presented as pretty much totally cute, but there’s gotta be more complex things going on.

What about you guys?

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Review – Ms Marvel: No Normal

Posted November 10, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Ms Marvel: No Normal by Adrian AlphonaMs Marvel: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

I’m going to pretend I haven’t seen/read the comments and reviews that basically boil down to “a Muslim American can’t be a superhero, and because this story is about a Muslim American teen, it’s not really a superhero book”. Despite the fact that in many ways, this is Spider-man: family issues, school issues, identity issues, except it happens to be a female character who also happens to be a person of colour and a Muslim. There is nothing in the set of issues here that wouldn’t be right at home wearing a different mask in Spider-man. He spends just as much time building up to getting the costume, just as much time or more actually becoming a superhero.

I did find that this TPB stopped just where I wanted things to really begin for Kamala. It’s a little too short, not giving me enough to really hold onto. I like Kamala, I like her family, I like the quirks of the art and what we’ve seen so far — I just haven’t seen enough yet to know how much I’m going to like it. This TPB is really just an origin story, and we have yet to see Kamala meet the wider world.

It’s great as an origin story, but I’m not hooked yet.

And before you ask, Spidey took me a while too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sleeper and the Spindle

Posted November 9, 2014 by in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil GaimanThe Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle is a gorgeous book: the illustrations are all in black and gold, and there are some really beautiful pages. Riddell was just the right illustrator to bring the story to life, I think. The copy I have is really great: the dust cover is transparent, with the pattern of roses on it; the cover of the book itself is the sleeping woman.

If you know Neil Gaiman’s work, the rest of this is perhaps not surprising. It takes both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and puts them in a unified world that is a little darker, a little different, a little more mature than the sanitised stories we see so much of now. This ain’t Disney. It’s still a fairytale, but it’s something different, too — something a little bit creepy, even.

The LGBT representation that I have seen this book being lauded for is… not exactly. There’s one kiss which appears to be so if you see the illustration on its own — and it’s a gorgeous illustration — but it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean, in context. Which is a little bit of a cop-out, really, since there’s excitement around this book on the back of it.

But really, romance isn’t at the heart of this fairytale. A search for autonomy is really what’s going on; a shrugging away from the familiar fairytale ‘happy ever after’.

Rating: 4/5

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On Requires Hate

Posted November 8, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

Shortly after I created this blog, there was a whole kerfuffle on Goodreads and Twitter about reviewers who noted author behaviour in their reviews. There were many sides to the argument, about whether it was fair to judge the book by the author’s behaviour, whether these people were becoming as bad as the behaviour they were calling out, etc. I generally occupied a medium ground: I won’t buy anything by Orson Scott Card, but I did really enjoy Ender’s Game back when I read that. Given authors’ expressed attitudes to homosexuality, race, gender, mental health issues, etc, I’ve quietly avoided some of them, even if I’ve thought before their work was pretty good.

I don’Cover of The Archer Who Shot Down Suns by Benjanun Sriduangkaewt think any of it has ever been on the scale of Benjanun Sridungkaew, aka Winterfox, Requires Hate, etc. I was interested in reading her work and I’ve included her book covers in a fairly recent Stacking the Shelves post. I didn’t know about her other identities then. I’m sorry if that gave anyone any unpleasantness: I didn’t know.

I did actually come across Winterfox back on LiveJournal, and because I’m an unabashed fan of N.K. Jemisin, I caught the edge of some of the hate. Never anything particularly severe, but enough that I dropped out of sCover of Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaewome communities, avoided participating. I didn’t really know back then the sheer scale of what was happening, but there’s no excuse now. There’s a report here which I suggest you read, in that it relies on data as best as possible, and presents evidence, etc. It definitely contains a lot of graphic threats of violence quoted from the original blog, however, so be warned.

I’m not saying Benjanun Sridungkaew’s apology isn’t genuine, because I can’t judge that. Maybe she’s trying to atone for the harm she’s done, even. I haven’t seen that, either. I’m not saying other people have to make the same decision, publicly or privately. I do know that I remember the bullying tactics, and I’m not going to read Benjanun’s work. It sounds great, it sounds right up my alley, but I can’t maintain interest in the face of the behaviour described in the report. I can always go back to it if circumstances change, but as of right now I’m drawing a line.

If you’ve been targeted by Requires Hate, then let me say: I believe you, I hear you, we’re with you now.



Review – Fangirl

Posted November 8, 2014 by in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Fangirl, by Rainbow RowellFangirl, Rainbow Rowell

I have some friends with reservations about Fangirl, and then there’s lots of people who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It took me a while to read it because of that, but I think on balance I like it a lot. The primary thing I enjoy is that it involves neuroatypical people; Cath’s anxiety, her dad’s bipolar, Wren’s potential alcoholism. It feels true to life in the way the twins grow apart and come back together, in the way university life works. I’ve totally been with Cath, eating energy bars instead of finding the cafeteria, talking to people online instead of going out and enjoying the fun.

One thing that does bother me is the characters who try to drag Cath out of herself like it’s that easy. Reagan mentions medication once, but after that there’s no indication that Cath gets therapy or any kind of substantive help with her issues. She’s just kind of friended-and-boyfriended out of it to a large extent, which — I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but when I was in Cath’s position, it took medication and therapy as well as the friends.

Also, Levi’s “nice guy” thing was just — ick. I mean, in many ways he seems like a genuinely nice guy, but then he admits he was doing the whole nice guy thing to try and get Cath to date him. And he wouldn’t respect her wishes about her name or letting her carry her own damn laundry, so how I’m supposed to believe he respected her about anything else, I’m not entirely sure. You’re not such a nice guy if you’re trying to be a nice guy to make a girl like you, you know? And that aspect didn’t fit with the rest of Levi, who seemed too good to be true in many ways — the kind of guy who rescues kittens from trees and helps old ladies cross the road.

Anyway, most of the scenes between Levi and Cath are really well done: early awkwardness, the slow evolution of their relationship, even the misunderstandings — which normally really annoy me in romantic stories. I did feel that their relationship was real, even if Levi himself was a little too good to be true.

I do still really like the way Rowell writes; it’s really easy to just settle into, nothing pretentiously getting in the way of reading it, nothing trying to be too flowery. And the excerpts of fanfiction and “Gemma Leslie”‘s work made me smile; Rowell does understand fandom, as was also clear when I went to her talk/signing, and she gets the comfort and excitement of that online community just right.

Rating: 4/5

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